Wendell Berry Pulls his Papers from U of KY

by Jason Peters on June 23, 2010 · 11 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

“The author Wendell Berry is withdrawing his personal papers from the University of Kentucky to protest several university policies, including the naming of a basketball dormitory in honor of the coal industry and an emphasis on becoming a top research university in a way that Berry believes will detract from the institution’s traditional land grant mission.”

So reports Inside Higher Ed. Read about it here and here.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Steve June 23, 2010 at 9:19 am

I can definitely see why Berry is upset, but I’m not sure what to make of his decision to pull his papers. University campaigns come and go in a way that special collections libraries do not. The rest of the university aside, Berry was with some kindred spirits in the archives: http://www.uky.edu/Libraries/libpage.php?lweb_id=691&llib_id=13

avatar David June 23, 2010 at 9:23 am

A strange thing that Wendel thought he could be “friends” with an institution anyway. One more delusion on the trash heap of experience, I guess.

avatar Extollager June 23, 2010 at 9:56 am

Berry’s decision is regrettable. It may embarrass UK officials briefly, but a lasting consequence will be that scholars wanting to consult his papers will have to drive or fly to two places rather than being able to stay at one place. Admirers of Berry will sympathize, but others will tend to see his action as that of a petulant or manipulative elderly man (cf. the Victorian-novel oldsters who change their wills). Also, the university’s dubious association of itself with the coal industry may be offset by its association, through the University Press of Kentucky, with the new agrarianism. I don’t know of any comparable commitment elsewhere by a university press. You can find lots of ecologically-themed university press offerings, but a commitment specifically to Berryesque farming? I think only Kentucky has that.

avatar Marchmaine June 23, 2010 at 11:17 am

Good for Mr. Berry.

Reading a couple levels deeper, it appears that his primary motivation was a sort of filial piety to the school.

Given the enormous damage that the Land Grant institutions have done to Agriculture on behalf of Agribusiness, I can only wonder at his original decision. Making formal alliances with industrial coal is just the first step to new research uncovering the boon to new types of flora that Mountain Top removal benefits.

I must be getting old, but back in my day… all the good research projects were first and foremost the tracking down of nearly-forgotten sources; the whinging about future pre-fab dissertations being obstructed by having to drive to multiple air-conditioned facilities moves me not at all.

avatar David June 23, 2010 at 11:21 am

Marchmaine makes a great point. I simply adore the phrase “pre-fab dissertations”. I will have to abscond with it for my own nefarious purposes.

avatar Extollager June 23, 2010 at 12:55 pm

You misunderstood my comment about Berry researchers having to drive or fly an extra trip in order to consult Berry’s papers, Marchmaine. The point is that it is ironic that they will have to burn that much more carbon-based fuel in order to research Berry, a spokesman for reducing our use of such fuel. And why you assume that their writings will be “prefab” escapes me. Perhaps they will be, perhaps they won’t. If, like me, you believe that Wendell Berry is a writer of major importance, then you should agree that his writing is likely to deserve scholarly attention.

avatar Marchmaine June 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm

I don’t share your irony; perhaps because I consider counting carbons as foolish as counting pennies.

My reference was more to what the UK folks are saying: “We do regret that our students and researchers who wish to study his life and works will now be unable to access all of his previously donated works in one archive…” but you did step into some crossfire there.

And yes, I rather agree that Berry is worthy of study; but any PhD fledgling who undertakes the task should accrue an automatic black-mark against his record – so that his work must either be superlative to overcome the hurdle, or he is banished to work in Sales for the effrontery.

I am too far removed to care enough to look up the data, but I suspect that there are dozens of bad Berry dissertations already. The moment he translates to the next life… well, is that not the official announcements of plots for sale?

avatar JD Salyer June 23, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Personally, I don’t think the coal industry is the real problem.

Typical Kentuckian response:

New basketball dormitory? Whoo-hoo! Go ‘Cats!!

Who the hell does this Wendell Barry guy think he is, trashing the Big Blue?

avatar John Willson June 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Well, here’s one for the Porchers! It’s an argh between Berry, basketball, liberal bullsnockers. You know, this isn’t a serious thing, except to Wendell Berry. If he ever, ever thought that his home state would stay true to whatever he believes in, he deserves the result. He is a good and great man, and should know better than to trust any government larger than his family.

avatar Robert June 24, 2010 at 3:48 am

Reading the comments that follow the two articles referenced above is instructive, albeit in a way that makes suicide seem desirable.

I don’t understand why people feel the need to comment on topics of which it seems they have absolutely no knowledge. Many of the aforementioned commenters clearly have no idea of who Berry is, or what he writes about. Some of the more nefarious comments implied that Berry was is, “an unthinking, insulated, member of the academic ivory tower.” Could anything possibly be more nonsensical?

We are a nation comprised of perpetual juveniles who happen to have broadband access.

avatar Patrick J. Deneen June 24, 2010 at 7:15 am

Margaret Soltan, whose blog “University Diaries” is devoted to exposing university corruption and which has never experienced a shortage of material, comments on Berry’s decision here. What she especially noticed was that UK apparently wasn’t going to tell anyone about Berry’s decision. She also observes that UK’s whine – that they bought Berry’s works in expectations of receiving his papers – implies that they would have otherwise been uninterested in the work of one of Kentucky’s greatest writers. Incredible.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: