Letters to the Editor

Letters to editor/UK issues: Dec. 26

University of Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks leads his team off the field during halftime of the Eastern Kentucky University game in October.
University of Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks leads his team off the field during halftime of the Eastern Kentucky University game in October. Staff

Wrong UK institute

I am dismayed that the University of Kentucky has accepted $12 million from John Schnatter and the right-wing Koch Foundation to create a new Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise. I am concerned that ideology, rather than free and genuinely critical inquiry, will prevail despite assurances to the contrary.

I don’t believe UK really needs extra money for this endeavor. Apparently, the Gatton College is already doing a good job of promoting free enterprise.

If it sincerely wants to show what free enterprise is all about, all it needs to do is offer field trips to Eastern Kentucky. Here, the coal industry has brought us thousands of mining deaths and injuries, a wanton disregard for safety and human well-being, black-lung disease, union busting and worker intimidation, mountaintop removal, environmental devastation, a mounting health crisis for populations exposed to toxic streams and wells, political corruption, persistent poverty and climate-change denial.

That’s what free enterprise looks like.

If UK is as concerned about serving its students and the commonwealth as it proclaims, why not seek funding to better support Gatton’s Poverty Research Center and create new institutes for economic justice, labor studies and human rights?

Dwight B. Billings


Crybabies on march?

Boy, have we got troubles right here in River City, and you seemed to miss it. The Koch brothers are infiltrating the University of Kentucky by donating money. I'll bet the crybaby social advocates will be parading soon. When do they go to class, or is this some sort of class? Some of these people, heaven forbid, may turn out to be community organizers. What are they anyway and who pays them? Please tell me that it isn't taxpayers. Maybe they can tap into the Koch donations.

Stephen Stinson


Wrong coach fired

The moment I read that University of Kentucky football's offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson was fired, my mind went to head coach Mark Stoops. Why? Because if Stoops knew how to handle the time clock, as a head coach always should, then UK could have a record of 6-6 (or better) and would have gone to bowl game. In addition, there were so many dropped passes by our “veteran” receivers in close games (many for touchdowns or first downs) there is no way Stoops could blame that on Dawson. Too bad we cannot keep Dawson and replace so-called “coach” Stoops.

Darrell Gross


Ease up on Labissiere

If sports writers and others continue to write or speak in such a negative way regarding Skal Labissiere, we could find this talented young man leaving the University of Kentucky for another program where the fan base does not feel that basketball is more important than God.

Erwin Jones


Blame Stoops

The University of Kentucky’s football coach reportedly stated that changes were being made. UK has the talent for a great football team; all they need is proper training and coaching. The sad part of this is that Mark Stoops’ staff will in the end be blamed for the team’s shortcomings.

As I stated in a previous letter about the University of Louisville basketball team, the blame should be placed where it belongs, with the head coach.

It's always easy to place blame on the people working under your supervision, but as everyone knows it's usually not the worker but the supervisor who is responsible for what happens. I am a big fan of UK sports and wish them all the best.

Estill Smith


No to new brand

Changing the University of Kentucky logo to get rid of Memorial Hall is not a logo decision. It’s a loco decision. Grrrrr

Tom Dixon


Defend expression

I urge everyone who is interested in the University of Kentucky and the controversy over the Memorial Hall mural to read Wendell Berry’s thoughtful and articulate Nov. 30 op-ed . While we should always seek to learn from history, we should also be mindful that we cannot change history.

This controversy is an opportunity for UK to reassert the role of freedom of speech on the college campus and the role college administrators and faculty play in fostering an environment that encourages an open exchange of ideas. The infantile concepts of microaggressions, trigger warnings and safe zones have no place on a college campus where young adults are learning from more educated and experienced adults.

The only safety the university owes its students is the physical safety from harm while they are on campus. Rather than follow the crowd that seems bent on appeasing self-entitled students, UK should demonstrate moral courage and leadership by adopting the principles outlined by the University of Chicago’s Committee on Free Expression.

David L. Patton


Teachable moment

Thank you, Wendell Berry and Herald-Leader editorial staff, for thoughtful pieces concerning the Memorial Hall mural. The situation presents to this retired teacher a teachable moment. A university and its president have a responsibility to teach for the broader good, not to seek to satisfy everyone through committees that often spend years addressing members' personal issues.

I suggest these steps:

Close the foyer to the public immediately to protect the mural.

Rip off the Ku Klux Klan sheet that attempts to obscure art and history.

Properly clean the mural; decades of smoking in the foyer have darkened its colors.

Train docents, knowledgeable in the artist, the art and period to be present when the foyer is open to the public for performances and tours.

Develop a brochure that locates art on the University of Kentucky campus and explains each piece’s significance.

Include the mural in a Central Kentucky tour of the area’s several murals.

In short, give this mural the historic significance it deserves and thereby teach young students, the only worthy role for this university.

Once again, the University of Kentucky basketball program has it right. Those pre-integration championship banners still herald UK's greatness in athletics.

Pat Esrael


Mural demands dialogue

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto’s well-worded statement mounted underneath Ann Rice O’Hanlon’s now draped mural states that it “sanitizes history, painting over the stark reality of unimaginable brutality, pain, and suffering represented by the enslavement of our fellow women and men.”

I have read two descriptions (one in Wendell Berry’s op-ed) that suggest the painting may symbolically acknowledge that U.S. prosperity resulted from enslaved workers’ toil. Perhaps that was as far as O’Hanlon could go in 1934 to positively represent African-Americans at a rigidly segregated university. Or, perhaps she was a racist. (Berry, her niece’s husband, asserts otherwise.)

Slavery and race relations are the ugliest parts of U.S. history. That ugliness does not disappear because we ignore or cover it. Capilouto’s message invokes “the evolutionary trajectory of our human understanding and our human spirit.” That trajectory can only find its true bearing with open, rational consideration of all materials and points of view — any university’s mission.

My suggestions: Uncover the picture so we can know what we’re talking about; consider commissioning an additional, alternative mural, and analyze both murals in relevant classes.

Only thoughtful, good-faith dialogue will enable the “better angels of our nature” (Lincoln, not Capilouto) to win the day.

William P. Pope


Mural inspires pain

Wendell Berry defends displaying Ann Rice O’Hanlon’s fresco by citing its accuracy: “It shows people doing what they actually did.” Berry’s list of scenes is telling. Black people working in fields, black musicians playing for white dancers, Indians threatening settlers. Sure, people did these things, but to designate this collection as objective history is to engage in the type of censorship Berry warns against.

As far as I can tell, every nonwhite character exists only in relationship to white characters. This is not a history of Kentucky but of white people in Kentucky. Because Berry recognizes this history as his own, he designates it as apolitical. Students, particularly those of color, look at this supposedly documentarian work and see a reductive, romanticized depiction of a violent, complex past.

Art often teaches us about our past, but it also affects us in our present. It makes us feel. O’Hanlon’s fresco teaches us about the time in which it was painted; it also makes students at the University of Kentucky feel, intensely. These feelings, however, of alienation and hurt, are not what the university’s symbolic center should seek to inspire.

Jonathan Karp


Better use of energy

University of Kentucky students said the artwork at Memorial Hall was not representative of the history of people of color, and that there are multiple ways to interpret an image.

Let me tell a little story: I was a heavy little girl and later a heavy woman. I was constantly told how pretty I would be if only I would lose weight. I became so traumatized by the comments and diet pills I was put on at age 7, I would feel ill if “fat,” “obese” or “curvy” were mentioned or written.

I have been to Paris and Rome and have seen many of the Masters’ paintings with chubby cherubs and voluptuous women who were supposed to represent perfection. So let’s ban all the words that cause me pain. Those paintings must be covered up or painted over.

Then, can I pretend it didn’t happen? Seriously, no.

President Eli Capiluto is not doing the students any favors by trying to placate them. If they used all their time and energy trying to tell us what an image represents instead of volunteering to mentor a child of color, or studying or working, it won't be an image anymore.

Pat Nussbaum


Diversify UK artwork

I commend the students who took their concerns about the 1934 Ann Rice O’Hanlon mural to university administration, President Eli Capiluto who listened to them and the entire university community as these necessary conversations commence.

As one of Lexington’s representatives on the Kentucky Arts Council, I hope that art will continue to be part of the conversation, including the possibility of introducing works of other Kentucky artists in prominent spaces around campus.

Additional artwork – both images and words – could contribute to the mural’s remediation, rather than its destruction, and tell a more inclusive story.

Consider installing alongside it the words of Frank X Walker, a UK professor and Kentucky’s first African-American poet laureate. Both in structure and content, his poem “Ambiguity over the Confederate Flag” provides a powerful and relevant acknowledgement of the duality of historical perspective, whether about the flag or other symbols of racial injustice.

The poem was published in Walker’s book, Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers (University of Georgia Press), which was awarded the 2014 NAACP Image Award in Poetry. Walker is among many notable Kentucky artists whose work expresses a more complete view of our past and present.

Jayne Moore Waldrop


Too much pandering

Larry Webster first annoyed me in 1968. I shared a driveway with him at duplexes in Garden Springs. He sometimes parked his gray 1964 Chevy in the middle of the driveway so that I had to park on the street.

I have followed his columns in the Herald-Leader and have been annoyed from time to time. I seldom find them profound, although I doubt that is his intent.

However, his Dec. 6 column, “The red guard turned blue,” was spot on and concerned a more than 80-year-old mural at the University of Kentucky. Someone was offended by it. President Eli Capilouto’s instant reaction was to cover the offending art. He was apparently waiting on inspiration or, perhaps, backbone.

Perish the thought that someone on a university campus would be offended.

Webster used Winston Churchill and Wendell Berry to illustrate the absurdity of Capilouto’s pandering. He should just put on his big-boy shoes and tell the offended students to do likewise. Act like a real university president.

It’s never a wise move to disagree with Churchill, Berry and Webster. Stop the silliness.

Dave Rosenbaum