A group led by Alliance Coal CEO Joseph Craft recently proposed donating $7 million to the University of Kentucky for a new dorm for the men’s basketball team. The catch, however, is that the dorm would have to be named after Craft’s true love: coal. The proposed change sparked intense protests from local environmentalists and students. One professor said that as universities become “models for new energy sources,” putting “coal” on a prominent building could “make it difficult to attract top students and faculty members to the university.” Last night, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation, discussed the controversy. Watch it:
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This afternoon, the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees voted 16–3 to approve the proposal for the new dorm, which will be named the “Wildcat Coal Lodge.” Significantly, two of the “no” votes were from faculty representative Ernie Yanarella and Student Government President Ryan Smith, who said he opposed the motion “as a voice for the student body.”
Students in the audience were reportedly not allowed to speak at the meeting. After the vote, people began chanting, “Move forward, not backward,” forcing the trustees to temporarily recess. More on the events at the meeting:
The vote set off shouts from about 30 protesters, mostly students, who attended the meeting.
“Big Coal is about to go down, and the university’s going down with them,” said Cor de Jong, who described himself as “a Lexingtonian and a basketball fan.”
A statement from students was passed out to board members moments before the vote. “They did not read our statement,” said Katie Goldey, a senior majoring in international studies. “They weren’t even given a chance to read it.”
Ironically, because the building costs more than $5 million, it is required to “meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.”
The coal industry has been taking a greater “public role” in the University of Kentucky lately. While Craft has already donated millions of dollars and has a basketball practice facility named in his honor, this is the first time that coal is being specifically recognized. Last weekend, however, there was a “students only” basketball practice “sponsored by Joe Craft and the Friends of Coal.”
The battle over America’s clean energy future is increasingly being fought on college campuses. As Greenwire reported recently, environmentalists are turning to student activists to get the word out about dirty coal, while American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity — the coal industry’s biggest lobbying group — “spent the summer sending activists to 264 cities in eight states, where they attended community events and visited college campuses.” More here and here on efforts to get dirty coal off U.S. campuses.