University of Kentucky, Kernel Settle Stadium Dispute- For Now

The University of Kentucky and The Kernel student newspaper have reached a temporary agreement regarding the Kernel‘s distribution privileges in the parking lots of the school’s football stadium.

Collegemediatopia supporters, the blogosphere and the Twitter-verse were abuzz last week with news that UK officials had barred the paper from being passed out in the parking lots at Commonwealth Stadium prior to football games this season.  As the newspaper itself reported, “Officials [at UK] said a contract with IMG College, a sports marketing firm, prohibits the Kernel and other publications from handing out papers on Commonwealth Stadium grounds . . . [T]he Kernel advertising staff has handed out nearly 2,000 newspapers before every home football game for 10 years without interference from UK.”

The school’s argument, via the UK PR & marketing executive director: “The First Amendment grants the right to publish, but there are limits to where publications can be distributed. . . . They are a commercial newspaper and if they wanted to be able to distribute at an athletics facility, that is a business arrangement they would have to carve out with IMG, which holds the exclusive media rights.”

Everyone else’s argument, first via Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte: “The law says a public university has to allow a speaker a reasonable opportunity to reach their targeted audience.  You can certainly see where being kept out of the stadium and the parking lot doesn’t provide reasonable access to the people you want to reach.”  And Kernel editor in chief Matt Murray: “It’s a clear violation of our First Amendment rights.  No amount of money should be able to buy away anyone’s constitutional freedoms.”

The new agreement allows Kernel distribution at three “designated areas” on stadium grounds “as long as staff [don’t] wander through the lots.”  In an editorial, the paper’s e-board declared, “The Kernel plans to abide by the guidelines of the compromise for now, but a bigger concern is still at hand.  After reviewing the guidelines of the contract and speaking with UK, the question remains whether or not UK’s contract with IMG is constitutional.”

My take: The title of one of the Kernel Web videos seen in the screenshot above says it all.  This is BIG BLUE MADNESS.  It is unconstitutional and disrespectful to the very individuals who enable the university to exist and strike $80 million deals.

If we cannot even have a student-first philosophy involving some campus papers kids hand out in a stadium parking lot, haven’t we strayed a little far from the rationale behind higher ed in the first place?

As a Kernel editorial notes, “Stifling constitutional amendments to help the athletics program capitalize off of its $80 million contract is the kind of action that keeps UK from making strides toward being a benchmark university.”

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