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February 11, 2011 11:00 AM Glorious Wildcat Coal

By Daniel Luzer

Coal1.jpg

Some members of the University of Kentucky community object to the naming a new campus residence hall after coal. According to a piece in Inside Higher Ed:

When the University of Kentucky announced that its new basketball dormitory would be named, at the request of donors with ties to the coal industry, the Wildcat Coal Lodge, some of the campus objected to such an honor for an industry associated by many with environmentally harmful practices.

1. The University of Kentucky has a “basketball dormitory.” 2. Said dormitory references a combustible sedimentary rock often used as fuel. 3. I understand that the school mascot is the wildcat but what is wildcat coal? How is that different from regular coal?

It turns out the school wasn’t just throwing coal into the name of the building, strange as that may be. According to an article by Linda Blackford in the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Joseph W. Craft III, who heads Alliance Coal and is a UK graduate, organized a group of donors to give $7 million for the building; an anonymous donor later gave an additional $1 million, UK officials said.
The gift agreement, obtained by the Herald-Leader under the state’s Open Records Act, said the building “will include an exhibit in the primary entrance lobby which presents in print, photographic, sound, video, DVD and/or other format, a discussion of and tribute to the importance of the coal industry to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which exhibit shall be reasonably acceptable to Craft.”

The building will house 32 students.

In retaliation, writer and environmentalist Wendell Berry, also a UK graduate, withdrew his personal papers from the school’s archives. In December 2009 Berry wrote angrily to the school’s board of trustees that,

The University’s president and board have solemnized an alliance with the coal industry, in return for a large monetary ‘gift,’ granting to the benefactors, in effect, a co-sponsorship of the University’s basketball team. That — added to the ‘Top 20’ project and the president’s exclusive ‘focus’ on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — puts an end to my willingness to be associated in any way officially with the University.

Despite the lobby tribute, in keeping with UK guidelines the Wildcat Coal Lodge will actually be powered entirely by renewable energy. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer