Mayor addresses concerns people have with University of Somerset plans

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SOMERSET, Ky. (WTVQ) — Some fear a new university proposed for Somerset may lean too far in one direction.

But the mayor says it will be inclusive and just as importantly, help spur much-needed neighborhood redevelopment and job creation.

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The university is a private, nonprofit research university founded in the classic liberal arts tradition of undergraduate education while embracing technological innovation and scientific development. Master’s degrees and doctoral programs will also be provided in select disciplines.

When the University of Somerset’s plans were announced people got excited.

“Then I clicked the link to the website and had a different opinion,” says resident Amber King.

On the university’s website it talks about bias seen in higher education.

“I think that people in community and folks I talk to think higher ed has taken a sharp turn to the left,” says Mayor Alan Keck.

The website cites a study that found the faculty at 40 leading universities in five disciplines (Economics, History, Journalism/Communications, Law, and Psychology) titled to the left more than 11 to 1.

“If our universities are incapable of delivering a level playing field where ideas can be adequately parsed without fear of bias, reprisal, or rebuke, what hope is there of preserving the ideals of the founders who brought forth this new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to equality? Who will prepare the leaders of tomorrow?” the website reads.

“I believe diversity is very important but it can’t be cherry picked diversity,” says Keck. “I think Christians and conservatives should also have a seat at the table in higher ed.”

People reading the website worried about the university’s inclusiveness.

“It seems to me that this will be aimed more towards conservative thinking,” says resident Sherry Tucker.

“I worry just about overall equality,” says King. “The city has to yet to pass a fairness ordinance so that’s what going to mean for the LGBTQ community.”

The mayor assures all will be welcome.

“As you read further we talk about having open dialogue and debate, we talk about having democrats and republicans,” says Keck. “This is not a partisan university.”

“The University of Somerset is pleased to stand independently on a set of core principles. We believe that a university should provide an education, not indoctrination. We believe that a truly successful university is one where students learn how to think, not what to think,” the website reads.

Tucker and King say their experience at universities was not one where they felt professors tried to get them to think a certain, left way.

Some also wonder if the city felt we needed a four year college to just expand programs at Somerset Community College. Some feel the need is much greater for a trade school.

Some people in favor of the university say they’re grateful there could be a college covering both sides of the political agenda. “With more independent thinking students will learn to make their own choices and not become liberal or conservative because their parents are or their professors push them that direction.”

“We are not trying to become this radical conservative institution but we are proud of the fact that we’re going to try to pursue balance,” says the mayor.

Cundiff Square in downtown Somerset is the proposed location for the university. Keck says the university will be nine acres and could house up to 1,000 students on campus.

The city purchased the land in February and in doing so the people living and working in the area were asked to move by the end of June. And that didn’t sit well for some.

“I think if they were gonna do that they should’ve provided or should provide a place for those people to go and the businesses,” says Tucker.

A tenant who lived there says around 30 people were evicted including elderly, disabled and children.

Mayor Keck says he’s sensitive to the concerns but says the redevelopment will benefit everyone.

“It was an area we talked about redeveloping for probably twenty years,” says Keck.

The mayor says the council will have to approve the lease of the land. and he hopes to have a resolution by the end of the year or early 2021.

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Christy Bollinger joined the ABC 36 news team as a reporter in March 2018. Christy comes from a little western Kentucky town called Cadiz. She graduated from Western Kentucky University in May 2017 with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Criminology. Christy is thrilled to be working at her dream job in her home state. She is passionate about storytelling and you can see her weekdays on ABC 36 News at 5 and 6 p.m. She's covered everything from visits from the sitting president and vice president, to high-profile murder cases. When not chasing stories, Christy loves nothing more than being at the beach and says life is just better with sand between your toes and waves crashing at your feet. She is also a big animal lover. She's a fur momma and her mini-Australian Shepherd, Milly, standard Australian Shepherd, Bennie, and her Maine Coon, Cheeto, are the loves of her life. Christy encourages you to send her any story ideas you may have. Find her on Facebook at Christy Bollinger ABC 36, tweet her @ChristyB_news, or email her at CBollinger@wtvq.com.