Frankfort Local News

EKU President Whitlock Not Taking Sides on UPIKE

Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock is staying neutral on the proposal to bring the University of Pikeville into the state college system.

EKU is one of two universities expected to lose students if UPIKE becomes public. The other is Morehead State University, which is actively campaigning against the move.

Whitlock was scheduled to testify on the issue before the House Education Committee today, but a presentation by Morehead President Wayne Andrews took up all the committee’s time. Afterward, Whitlock told Kentucky Public Radio there are issues with poor education in Eastern Kentucky region and there are several remedies.

“UPIKE’s a possible solution,” he said. “The sorts of things that President Andrews just outlined around increased collaboration and such thing as University Center of the Mountains, that’s also a possibility.”

Whitlock also mentioned giving student loans to those in the region to study at other state universities that would be forgiven if they returned to far eastern Kentucky afterward.

Whitlock also said the state could give Eastern Kentucky residents forgivable student loans to study at other state universities.

The committee is expected to continue hearing testimony on the UPIKE bill for at least one more week.

Environment Local News

Study Finds Effects of Martin County Slurry Spill Still Felt

After a dam failed in Martin County in 2000 and released more than 3 million gallons of coal waste into area creeks, university sociologists began studying how the disaster affected local residents. The survey’s results found they were more distrustful of the local, state and federal governments than those living in surrounding counties.

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Now, the same researchers have completed a follow-up a decade later and found that issues linger, but some trust has been regained.

A lot of what University of Kentucky sociology professor Shaunna Scott and her team found in Martin County ten years after the slurry spill wasn’t surprising—like those with higher levels of education were more distrustful of the safety of their drinking water.

But she says there were a few interesting tidbits gleaned from the surveys, especially compared with research conducted by Eastern Kentucky University.

“They found that in other counties in eastern Kentucky—not Martin County—distrust of drinking water was related to distrust of the local water district management,” she said. “However, we found in Martin County that safety of the drinking water was more closely related to distrust in coal companies.”

Overall, though the data show public trust has increased in the decade following the disaster, Scott says the community hasn’t totally recovered. About fifty percent of those Martin County residents surveyed think that the quality of their drinking water is a serious concern.

“I think what’s notable is really in the bigger picture—how distrustful people still are that the water’s safe and how much they are still interested enough in this issue that so many of them will continue to spend their time to take this survey,” Scott said.

The spill didn’t kill anyone, but it could have, and residents didn’t get any notification that the deluge of waste was coming.

Scott says there’s also still a lot of support to pass a bill requiring areas near large slurry impoundment to develop emergency action plans. Bills that would do that have died repeatedly in the state legislature.

Local News

Study Shows Improvements in Kentucky’s Higher Education

by Stu Johnson, Kentucky Public Radio

A new study shows that Kentucky’s higher education reforms have been among the most successful in the nation, but state officials say there’s still significant work to do.

The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems conducted the study. It looked at progress made since Kentucky enacted the Higher Education Reform Act in 1997. Kentucky ranked first among states in the percentage gain for adults with college degrees. The Commonwealth also took the first spot for its gains in six-year graduation rates at four-year institutions.

“We have gained more in those measures than any other state in the union in aggregate,” says Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock. “Now. But as you heard somebody say, we moved from 44th to 35th.  You know, nobody else moved nine spots, so we’ve still got work to do.”

Former Governor Paul Patton, who is now president of the University of Pikeville, says the state is about halfway to where it needs to be in higher education.

Local News Noise & Notes Politics

EKU Gaining Support to Host Presidential Debate

Several federal and state elected officials have joined together to support Eastern Kentucky University’s bid to host a debate during next year’s presidential campaign.

A package sent by university officials to the Commission on Presidential Debates includes strong letters of support from Democratic and Republican leaders, namely U.S. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, state Sen. President David Williams and state House Speaker Greg Stumbo.

EKU President Doug Whitlock says the bipartisan backing illustrates the broad support for the university, which is prepared to host the debate.

“Our campus has excellent spaces for the candidates and the campaign teams. So we think our facilities for a presidential debate are really second to none,” he says.

Local News Politics

Members of Commission on Presidential Debates Visit Centre, EKU

Eastern Kentucky University and Centre College in Kentucky have both been visited by members of the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The two institutions both applied to host debates in next year’s presidential race. Officials with the schools confirmed today that members of the commission visited both campuses to tour potential venues.

At EKU, the venue is a new, 2,000-seat center for the arts that will open in September. At Centre, a recently-renovated 1,500-seat concert hall would likely host the debate, if the school is selected.

Centre hosted a vice presidential debate in 2000. Several Indiana schools also applied to host debates.

Additional information from the Associated Press

Local News

University Presidents: Explore New Revenue Sources

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

The presidents of three public universities in Kentucky are urging lawmakers in Frankfort to spare their institutions any further budget cuts. 
With the state facing a projected budget shortfall exceeding $1 billion over the next biennium, university presidents say the state needs a new source of revenue.  They’re not suggesting anything specific, but Northern Kentucky University President James Votruba says it’s getting harder and harder for colleges to stretch the dollars they have. 

“We recognize the current fiscal situation in which the commonwealth finds itself.  However, we’re hopeful that we can begin to have discussions here in Frankfort and across the commonwealth on a revenue strategy that will provide the necessary funding to continue our momentum,” he said.

Echoing those comments were Morehead State University President Wayne Andrews and Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock.  The three appeared before a budget subcommittee helping craft a new state new spending plan.  Legislative leaders have already rejected Gov. Beshear’s budget proposal based on revenue from casino gambling.

Arts and Humanities In-Depth News Local News

Artists Suffer Under Recession; Researchers Look at Economic Impact

The recession has cost many Americans their job — including artists. Even those who are self-employed have taken a hit. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer talks to several Kentucky artists feeling the recession and looks at how researchers are trying to find new ways of gauging how their wellbeing impacts the overall economy.

“There’s some stuff that’s been here longer than me,” says Alison Anderson, who creates costumes and is s showing me the shop at Stage One, where she worked for 17 years. “This is costume stock,” she says showing me rows of costumes. “We had built these double racks and we were going to have other double racks built on the other side. But that won’t happen now.”

The children’s theatre company in Louisville laid off all employees in its costume and scene shop last month — including Anderson. She says hearing the news from management was devastating.

“We couldn’t really look at each other, she says. “And nobody really had anything to say because I don’t think that anybody could speak at that moment.”

Anderson says she’s since worked to lineup freelance assignments with other theater companies and schools to create mascot costumes. She says she knows she’ll have to live more frugally now. And while her job loss should show up in federal employment statistics, income losses suffered by other artists likely won’t.

One is Lennon Michalski, a painter who teaches three classes at the University of Kentucky and one at Eastern Kentucky University. He’s represented by galleries in Lexington, Asheville, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.

“I used to be able to make quite a bit to the point where I could live a very relaxed life,” he says. “I could spend and go out. To now, I’ve had to really boil that down: unable to buy supplies; really leaning on tax deductions.”

A new major survey by a nonprofit group called Leveraging Investments in Creativity reveals Anderson’s and Michalski’s experiences are common among artists in this recession. The report shows about 50 percent of artists surveyed saw a decrease in art-related income and 18 percent report a decline of 50 percent or more. It also shows two-thirds of the artists hold a second job. Judilee Reed is the organizations’ executive director.

“The impact of this is, of course, less income, barriers to affordable health insurance and health care, and a lack of resources to obtain a professional development and training that artists require.” she says.

Reed says our society needs more detailed data on artists to help policymakers make better decisions in supporting them and to understand their role in the economy.

“Surveys like this,” she says, “shouldn’t be any more unique then understanding how the real estate market is faring in this country.”

At the National Endowment for the Arts, Sunil Iyengar — who is head of research — says he agrees.

“Arts workers are, in fact, central, just like other workers, to a clear understanding of the economy,” he says. “They truly contribute to the economic wellbeing of the country through their entrepreneurship, their high rates of self employment, their annual median earnings.”

That’s why the NEA has produced sporadic reports about artists in the workforce for decades. And it’s looking to do and encourage more. It recently convened a roundtable of researchers who study how artists contribute to the economy. Many say they want to see more detailed reports, like those produced by the National Science Foundation, which has a $6 billion budget. It produces reports on a range of subjects, including education and salary levels in science-related fields and the economic impact of science-related industries. It even compiles reports with state-level data.

Iyengar says information in these kinds of reports can attract venture capital for science-related projects. And he says he wants to see the NEA do the same for the nation’s creative culture by leading an effort to raise the integrity and accuracy of data about the arts.

“So, we have a ways to go to really, I think, encapsulate what’s happening with not just artists, but arts workers and cultural workers,” he says.

Iyengar says, eventually, better information could benefit states and even local communities. It could give them relevant data to examine and better understand their economies and support local artists — even in a recession.