UK Criticized For Not Notifying High School Students Of Controversial Guest Speaker

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Wednesday was Constitution Day.

The document was signed in 1787.

A First Amendment lesson on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington took some people by surprise.

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A tenured UK Professor reportedly invited someone to speak at the UK School of Journalism on a day when more than 100 high school students and faculty from duPont Manual High School in Louisville were there to receive the first Enoch Grehan Prize.

The speaker was Robert Ransdell from Florence, Kentucky.

He’s a write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky with an anti-Semitic platform.

His campaign slogan is, "With Jews, We Lose."

Reportedly there was a campaign sign with that slogan placed outside the UK Journalism building.  There were unconfirmed sightings of the signs in other parts of Lexington.

Two journalism teachers at duPont Manual High, Liz Palmer and James Miller, who were at the event, released a statement Wednesday afternoon.  It read, in part:

"No press release or email warned us of Ransdell speaking at the event.  Had we known, we would not have attended."

The release went on to say, "We believe the organizers at UK invited this person as a way to challenge the students to write a piece about his provocative views, but the perceived educational merit of the activity was not apparent to anyone.  The teachers were not informed by the university that they would be providing a platform for a white supremacist at the event and the high school students, ages 14-to-18, were presented with his racist language and ideas as part of the normal course of speakers and presenters."

Reportedly James Miller went up on stage during Ransdell’s speech and took the microphone. 

He said in the prepared statement that he rebutted Ransdell’s racist ideas, spoke about the idea of false balance in the media, apologized to the students for bringing them to the event, and admonished the University of Kentucky for giving Ransdell a platform to speak.

ABC 36 News contacted the University of Kentucky for an explanation and reaction.

We received a prepared statement from the school.  The following is the university’s response in its entirety:

"The University of Kentucky hosted its 11th Constitution Day, a federally mandated program for all higher education institutions to recognize and celebrate the U.S. Constitution.  Elected officials and candidates in this November’s elections were invited.  One of the candidates for the U.S. Senate is Robert Ransdell.  Mr. Ransdell was invited because he has registered and has been qualified as a write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate with the Kentucky Secretary of State Office.

Constitution Day is not about politics, it is a celebration of the principles of the Constitution.  All speakers are asked to focus on those principles.  Unfortunately, Mr. Ransdell included his political beliefs and platform in his comments.  Many of those in attendance felt his comments were inappropriate, especially for an audience that included high school students.  The University of Kentucky was not aware of the content of his remarks prior to him speaking and does not condone or endorse any political platform or agenda." 

The statement was released by Kathy Johnson from UK Public Relations and Marketing.

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.