Students revive The Colonel, a satirical publication at University of Kentucky

lblackford@herald-leader.comJanuary 1, 2014 

The bearded, disembodied head of Col. Sanders is back, providing a voice of satire at the University of Kentucky.

This just in from The Colonel:

"E. Britt Brockman, chair of the UK Board of Trustees, released the 2014-2015 budget on Monday. To exactly no one's surprise, the budget reveals a startling swath of radical new cuts. What was surprising was that faculty salaries have been completely removed from the budget.

"The board of trustees issued a statement. 'This year the budget was extremely tight,' the memorandum said. 'Universities across the country are cutting back. We all have to make sacrifices.'

"The memo continued for pages and pages of vague and bureaucratically suitable (B.S.) reasoning. It detailed the 'indispensable' programs such as basketball, football, a new Honors College dorm, and a giant wrought-iron Cat. In light of these campus essentials, there was 'just no room' to pay professors."

First conceived by Gaines Fellow Yuriy Bronshteyn in 2005 as a class project, The Colonel (UKcolonel.com) has been resurrected by three recent Gaines students as their junior project.

After Bronshteyn graduated, the publication faded away. What hadn't faded was the need to poke fun and poke holes in mainstream coverage of all things UK, Atanas Golev, Nicole Schladt and Ben Norton decided. So last year, they got together, started writing, started editing, revived the website and spent much of their free time bringing an alternative viewpoint back to campus.

"There's no dearth of material," Norton, now a senior, noted dryly.

He writes most of the political articles. Golev covers many campus-wide issues, and Schladt does all the print and digital design, and handles all other business. Golev also is circulation manager, which means twice a semester he totes 2,000 copies of the publication to various spots on campus.

"We don't think the Kernel (UK's official student newspaper) covers everything it should in the right way," Schladt said.

Hence some recent headlines: "2014 Budget Revealed: Faculty Salaries Completely Cut," "Jesus Officially a Tea Party Supporter" and "I Love the NSA."

In the age of The Onion and Jon Stewart, much of the reading public is accustomed to getting a few laughs along with their headlines. Like similar national publications, The Colonel is working from a steady stream of outrage aimed at making people think.

"I'm very angry," Norton said. "Everything that fuels that entire work is anger. The world is so screwed up in almost every facet."

Golev said he had always been infatuated with The Onion and "the ability to promote social change in addition to being hilarious."

The Gaines Fellowship program, a multidisciplinary humanities scholarship awarded to about 12 students a year, often promotes academic projects that are connected to community improvement. Lisa Broome, interim director of the Gaines Center, said the Colonel project meets that definition.

"It takes a lot of thought to put together something satirical," she said.

Journalism professor Buck Ryan has been an adviser to the group.

"As an academic exercise, trying to resuscitate The Colonel as a satirical publication on campus provided invaluable lessons for three Gaines Fellows in teamwork, creativity, consumer behavior and media freakonomics," Ryan said in an email. "Satire, at its finest, gets people to laugh, then to think. If The Colonel gets people to think, then it has succeeded in its mission."

It seems to be catching on. The Colonel now has about 15 writers who contribute to the site, the publication and its Twitter account, @ukcolonel.

This month, the editors hope to drum up interest with an article-submission contest to see who can write the best satire. When the current trio graduate in the spring, they hope that other enterprising satirists will keep it going.

Schladt said The Colonel is flying under the radar, "although it's funny who chooses to be upset."

The old Colonel provoked some wrath from university administrators, but this time the administration seems OK with satire, even when it leads to the Board of Trustees being depicted as a Council of Elders "led by the decayed head of the university's first president, James Kennedy Patterson, sitting atop a robotic crab-body."

"Our stance tends to be the more voices, the better on a college campus," spokesman Jay Blanton said. "Diversity of voices is a good thing."

Editorial meetings are pretty loose, Golev said.

"People write about what they're passionate about," he said. "We say, go out and write about whatever you're passionate about, and do it in a funny, satirical way."

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359 Twitter: @lbblackford.

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