Legal Battle Between UK & Kentucky Kernel Heats Up

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) It’s a case that pits a victim’s privacy versus the public’s right to know and the issues have been heating up across campus well before this case will even be heard before a judge.

Marjorie Kirk, editor-in-chief of UK’s student newspaper the Kentucky Kernel says, “It’s still a battle. There’s jabs kind of thrown in not just in the courtroom but at my university. My president sends out letters trying to discredit us.”

Kirk says she isn’t backing down after her university sued the student paper.

“I don’t understand what they hope to gain from it in my eyes.”

Back in April the newspaper requested documents about a sexual assault investigation into Entomology Associate Professor James Harwood after the paper says it was approached by a spokesperson for two women who claimed they were sexually assaulted by their teacher. But the University denied the Kernel’s open records request. The paper then appealed that decision to the Attorney General to review, but the university refused to hand over the documents citing privacy concerns and sued the Kernel.

University of Kentucky Spokesperson Jay Blanton says, “Federal law is pretty clear we don’t provide private student information to anybody and in previous instances the Attorney General has agreed with our position. This time they haven’t and that’s a reversal.”

Attorney General Andy Beshear has now sided with the Kernel, and Professor Harwood resigned at the end of August.

The paper has been reporting on its battle with the university for months and UK says that the media attention has now made sexual assault victims less likely and more hesitant about coming forward.

Jay Blanton says, “It’s kind of what we’ve been fearful of all along is the chilling effect of victims, survivors being afraid about their confidentiality, their privacy, and we are seeing that to some degree.”

From July to October of last year 59 students reported sexual assault on campus, compared to only 38 in that same time period this year.

But the paper says it’s experiencing just the opposite effect with many women now turning to them instead of their school.

Marjorie Kirk says, “It’s almost been like a flood of emails and people who just come in my office saying ‘listen I want to take about what happened to me’….I don’t think there’s a decrease in reporting or a decrease in people wanting to come forward. I think it’s just the way they’re doing it is changing.”

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