A few months after wealthy businessmen established a center to celebrate entrepreneurship and free enterprise at the University of Kentucky’s business school, a group of faculty wants to establish a center that looks at social justice and inequality.
The interdisciplinary UK Center for Equality and Social Justice would draw from the work of numerous faculty in different fields, said Christia Brown, a psychology professor who has worked on the proposal since last fall.
“There are a lot of us at UK that do research on issues related to equality and social justice,” Brown said. “For many years we’ve held symposiums and taught classes on these topics, but we’ve never had an organization that brings all these scholars together.”
The center would be structured around three main topics: research, policy studies and law, and community engagement and advocacy. The center then would help scholars and students connect through these areas “with the aims of better understanding social inequality through scholarship and collaboration; shaping policies and practices to reduce existing inequality; and empowering scholars, students and the community to advocate for greater social justice.”
The center also would have a speaker’s series and a scholar in residence, and it would offer graduate and undergraduate student fellowships. It would be housed in the College of Arts and Sciences but would work with scholars and students from across campus.
Numerous other schools have similar centers, including Princeton, the University of Oklahoma and the University of California at Irvine.
It’s not clear how much it would cost to hire speakers and provide fellowships, but start-up costs would be low because so many resources already exist on campus, Brown said. Unlike the Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise, which was started with $12 million from pizza magnate John Schnatter and the Koch Foundation, UK will have to find money from within.
Despite looming state budget cuts, top administrators say they’re enthusiastic.
“Just as cures of chronic illness and disease are often found at the intersection of disciplines, so too are answers for issues such as income inequality, racial and ethnic disparities, and violence,” UK Provost Tim Tracy said in a statement. “UK’s distinctive depth and breadth make us an ideal institution for this kind of scholarly activity, which complements our strategic plan’s emphasis on inclusivity and diversity. ... Although discussions are still very preliminary, there is a profoundly powerful idea behind bringing scholars together across disciplines to tackle some of the issues and challenges of the day.”
Tracy also said that recent discussions about race and identity at UK have further helped focus the idea of the center.
Melynda Price, a law professor who directs UK’s African American Studies Program, said she hoped the program would have significant engagement in the community, where issues could range from affordable housing to racial or environmental justice to equitable public schools.
“We want to engage with people who are interested in questions about the ongoing difference in achieving certain types of equality and justice,” Price said. “In Kentucky, we have a very broad understanding of the ways class and education access can impact one’s access to resources.”
The proposal will go to the university’s faculty senate. If that body approves it, the plan will be sent to the board of trustees for final action.