EDITORIAL: University of Kentucky sues their own student newspaper

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College is a time for students to find themselves. They discover their voice, their passions and find ways to stand up for what they believe in. Taking a stand is nearly a given within the college experience. With this mindset, alongside the First Amendment right to freedom of the press, why would it ever be okay for a college to stifle the voice of their student media?

Nestled between stories about the latest on Hillary Clinton’s emails, Donald Trump’s wall-building rhetoric and the most recent feel-good story to draw us away from the ongoing presidential campaign, is a headline that is seemingly miniscule, given what little traction it has received: “U Kentucky is suing its own student newspaper over a sexual assault investigation.”

As journalists, we find this issue to be of severe importance. However, this case should matter to all college students. Why? Because the University of Kentucky would rather sue their own student newspaper than hand over documents pertaining to multiple sexual assault allegations involving one professor, and the idea of any university going to those lengths is terrifyingly daunting.

The university announced it would sue the Kentucky Kernel over requests for documents involving the investigation of James Harwood, an associate professor of entomology accused of sexual assault and harassment in an investigation spanning seven months, after three years’ worth of allegations, according to the Kernel.

The Kernel filed an appeal with the Kentucky attorney general in April, requesting the release of documents from the UK Open Records Office. The Kernel reported that it requested “copies of all records detailing the investigation by the university of Kentucky or the Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity of James Harwood and any allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or any other misconduct.”

In fact, the state attorney general ruled that UK should release the records with the names and personal identifiers of those involved omitted. But the university denied the request on the basis that it would be an invasion of privacy. The refusal is a violation of Kentucky’s Open Records Act, which states the university is not exempt from releasing these records once the investigation is closed — which happened when Harwood resigned.

The sole reason for UK to file their suit is not for monetary damages, but because the suit is the only way for the university to appeal the decision of the attorney general.

Basically, the university is willingly ignoring the laws of the state and a court order to protect their reputation. When a university puts their image above the safety of their students, they are no longer serving their students at all. Selfishly choosing to keep such vital information from students is a disservice to the entire UK community. In a society where sexual assaults have become so prevalent, especially in universities, cowering and hiding information should never be the answer. When it comes to student media, we should empower them for seeking the truth rather than attempting to keep them silent.

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