In the spring of 1971, the administrators of the University of Kentucky had a thought in mind: “How do we get rid of the core?” “
The board’s response to this question led the Kentucky Kernel to become the newspaper it is today, a financially and editorially independent student newspaper that serves as a bastion of free speech and freedom of speech. hurry. 2021 marks 50 years since the Kernel became independent and Kernelites past and present are proud of this heritage.
But how that independence came about is a lesser-known story, one that the Kernel archives show as a concerted effort by members of the university’s board to eradicate the nucleus because of their outspoken editorials.
“The tension sort of started about a decade earlier when the Kernel started editing in favor of SEC integration,” said Duane Bonifer, who was on the Kernel staff from 1986 to 1991 and is now chairman of the board of the Kernel. administrators.
The Kernel was one of the first leaders in the South to call for integration, Bonifer said, something the university’s “fairly conservative” board of trustees objected to. A former Kernel editor resigned without publishing an issue to protest the university appointing an adviser to the Kernel in an attempt to control newspaper coverage, including banning content on the newspaper’s integration.
Combined with the growing political activism and youth empowerment movements of the 1960s, the Kernel became a serious student newsroom that sought journalistic integrity at a higher level than ever before – and it was a threat to a university campus.
“The staff at the Kernel worked under the concept of a free student press, rather than being parental limited to the whims of a university administration or board of trustees,” a column on the power of the student press in the Kernel’s of April 7, 1971. edition, published the day after the fateful vote of the board of directors which cut funding for the Kernel.
The first article on the decision is by Jean Renaker, then managing editor, and also appeared in the April 7, 1971 edition of The Kernel. Renaker said university president Otis Singletary proposed that the core budget be cut in half, which was accepted by the board with an amendment that said the cut takes place within d ‘a calendar year.
An editorial by then-editor Frank Coots titled “The Core Victim of Politics,” denounced the decision as a failure of the board of trustees to fully take into account the thoughts of students and faculty in the process. decision.
Still, Coots noted that the compromise – letting the university’s funding fade away the following year – was better than the initial plan favored by at least three board members, which was to immediately cease funding.
“This, of course, would have killed the kernel,” Coots wrote. He noted that the financial change was actually to the benefit of the Kernel, which would now be printed off campus and cut publishing costs in half.
“They went all over the state to find a printer who would agree to print the Kentucky Kernel, really on faith more than credit, because the Kernel had no credit,” Bonifer said.
In his article, Coots affirmed the Kernel’s commitment to keeping newspapers free and outlined the newsroom’s plan for continued operation.
“When the newspaper became independent, we basically had to start over,” said Michael Wines, a Kernel staff member who took over from Coots as editor.
Yet the decision – veiled as an objection to using taxpayer money for a student newspaper – has appeared reactionary to the Kernel’s story of, to put it mildly, persistent journalists, and the educational value of A student press was “consistently second on the list for the university’s fear of a dissentient campus newspaper,” according to the editorial, “Administrators can cut core funds, but not student power.”
Kernel staffers from 1971 to 1972 called the move an attack on a student press that was not afraid to criticize the state or university administration. As long as they remained silent, they thought they would have been allowed to continue as they were. But to remain silent was not in their nature or their mission.
“As state officials came under attack, they responded with their own criticisms,” Coots wrote of the Kernel’s sharp editorials. But these officials also had the power to silence the core by influencing the board, and notable politicians themselves sat on the board.
Then-governor Louie Nunn sent a state trooper to Lexington to retrieve the core and former Kentucky governor Happy Chandler vowed to “abolish that stinking leaf.” Nunn controlled the UK board of directors by appointing his own men, which allowed the funding halt to pass after failed attempts in previous years.
One of the board members who voted for the immediate removal of the Kernel was the owner of another newspaper, the Wildcat. Even the efforts of British President Otis Singletary were not enough to influence the board. Singletary, who had a known fondness for student papers, was cited by Coots as the only reason the core was not cut entirely and immediately.
“A singular, at least, I won’t say give him a lifeline, but he hasn’t unplugged,” Bonifer said. Others weren’t so inclined towards Core benevolence.
“This is just manslaughter. I wanted a murder,” Chandler reportedly said of the tempered decision. Chandler, who would be re-appointed to the board in the 1980s, continued his dispute with the Kernel for the rest of his life, including an altercation in which he hit a student reporter – an act for which he received a congratulatory letter from J. Edgar Hoover, then director of the FBI.
Wines testified to the frictional relationship between the newspaper and university officials. When the Kernel learned of the unethical help given to members of the basketball team, Wines himself was threatened by an administrator.
“I got a call from the athletic athlete telling me that if we published the story, I would never find a job in Kentucky again,” Wines said. “So we have had our share of run-ins with the authorities.”
Wines, now a New York Times correspondent, went on to earn a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. Many of his Kernel peers have had equally successful careers, including former White House correspondent Bill Straub.
But in 1971, Kernel’s editors knew they were lucky to survive, and although criticized for accepting the board’s decision without too much hindsight, they knew they had little leeway to negotiate, unless they “face certain death.”
“Talk about a leap of faith, man. The company that agreed to print the Kernel and said “yes, we’re going to believe you’re going to pay us for doing this for you” – “that printer, as well as the publisher who took over during the first year of independence, are the real heroes, “Bonifer said. It would be Wines and his team of journalists, who embodied the rambling outsider mentality for which Kernel employees have become known.
So the Kernel persisted, and by 1972 published independent daily newspapers with more pages than in previous years – now tagged with the all-important “independent student newspaper” heading at the top.
“We never really worried about being cut,” Wines said. “And when it happened, I think there was a will among everyone to go ahead and be a better newspaper.”
As the first editor-in-chief of the new independent Kernel, Wines helped shape the Kernel’s commitment to strong journalism. He said he was focusing on “a non-partisan business, aimed at getting stories.”
“We definitely saw ourselves as a collegial version of the Fourth Estate. And we felt that was very important for the students, first of all, which seemed to us to be our first audience, but also the families who read the newspaper, ”Bonifer said.
This was especially important given the state of upheaval in the United States. Kernel reporters were overwhelmed by the Vietnam War, integration and a host of other social movements leading to riots and protests.
“Everyone was determined to be the best reporter possible,” Wines said. And for a lot of us, it really has become a 24 hour job. I know I missed a lot of class when I took out the newspaper.
Skipping classes because of paper has become a rite of passage for Kernelites. But an even greater tradition from the 1970s has continued to this day – the same sense of freedom of thought, expression, and the press that led to the independence of the Kernel.
“The Kernel’s very independent spirit and attitude of being a college watchdog as opposed to a college watchdog or cheerleader continued … there is always, always had some sort of sense of suspicion or tension since then between the university and the core, ”Bonifer said.
In 50 years of independence, the Kernel has resisted many changes, going from a daily of 154 issues per year to a weekly. A shift to predominantly online content increased the circulation of the newspaper, once one of Kentucky’s largest, from 17,000 to 5,000. In 2018, the Kernel moved from its long-time home in Grehan, going their separate ways. of the legacy remembered by generations of Kernelites. But the fundamental identity of the paper remains.
“The board cannot stop the thinking and power of a student community,” the “student power” editorial said in 1971. “The core will be just one example of how the community student can succeed ”.
At 50 years of a tenuous start to independence, the Kernel has succeeded in this mission. Here are 50 more.