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Thursday, May 23, 2024
<p>The University of Kentucky</p>

The University of Kentucky

Right now, a university is suing its student newspaper.

It’s a lawsuit that came about after the university refused to release information about a case involving an associate professor being accused of sexual harassment and assault. The independent student newspaper got a copy of the records and began writing articles — so now the university is suing its own students.

And don’t worry, it’s not us. It’s the University of Kentucky.

Now, unless you happily live in blissful football ignorance, you probably know the Gators play UK this week, and that means we’re smack in the middle of Kentucky Hate Week. In light of that, we at the Alligator would like to offer one more reason for your dislike — and a reason to send some support to the staff of the Kentucky Kernel.

This whole saga began in the Spring when UK investigated associate professor James Harwood on charges of sexual assault after two complainants and a total of five victims reported instances of sexual assault or harassment. Harwood denied any wrongdoing, and before the end of the semester, he had signed a resignation agreement that allowed him to receive continued pay and benefits up until last  week.

The Kernel reported on it and submitted a public records request to the school for the paperwork from the investigation — a request that was denied. When the state attorney general told the school to provide the documents, UK refused and then sued the student paper over the decision the attorney general made.

First of all, we at the Alligator would like to thank the Kernel staff members for their commitment to the ideals of journalism and dedication to uncovering this story. It’s not easy to stand up to the school that educates and houses you, especially when it involves potential legal consequences, and we applaud all of the outstanding work you continue to do.

And to UK? Shame on you.

Shame on you for protecting a faculty member over your own students, the ones who say a professor they trusted assaulted and victimized them. Shame on you for trying to cover this up by withholding public records. Most of all, shame on you for taking on a student newspaper in a desperate attempt to keep the truth from the students you serve.

Thanks to the First Amendment, it’s our job and our right as members of the press, students or not, to write stories that inform and educate, especially if this means bringing attention to problems involving people in power.

Many states, including Kentucky, have various laws surrounding public records and the access thereof. For the most part, these laws give citizens the right to access public documents upon request, barring numerous necessary exemptions. And the records the Kernel requested weren’t exempt. Thus, the university has completely violated those public record laws by withholding the investigation documents.

As students, we attended higher-education institutions to acquire exactly that: higher education. In turn, it is a university’s responsibility to nurture that quest for knowledge and help us flourish in that pursuit. But UK is doing the exact opposite. It is an attempt to extinguish the student paper’s efforts to be better journalists: people who hold their authorities accountable. Universities should encourage students to strive for excellence in each of their chosen fields of study — not sue them for it.

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