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Millionaires want ‘coal’ dorm for basketball players

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Controversy is swirling around the University of Kentucky because a group of wealthy donors, known as the Difference Makers, are offering $7 million to build a new dorm for men’s basketball players. The donors want the word “coal” in the name of the new building.

Opponents say the school would be selling out to coal interests if student-athletes are forced to live in corporate-branded housing. UK graduate student Martin Mudd told the campus newspaper, “I think that it’s a bit perverse to name it after an industry that historically has cared very little about the plight of citizens it employs, people it employs and certainly the effects the industry has on people and ecosystems all down the line.”

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Meanwhile, others feel coal has been a foundation of Kentucky’s economy for decades. UK has a mining engineering program and according to Stephen Gardner, chairman of the UK Mining and Energy Foundation, coal research is “very important” to the university. Difference Makers donor Joseph W. Kraft is the head of a company called Alliance Coal.

On The Rachel Maddow Show Monday night, Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation, said the university would have to tear down Joe B Hall Lodge to build the new Wildcat Coal Lodge. Zirin said this would show “such a disrespect to Joe B Hall,” who led UK to a national basketball championship. He also pointed out, “The dorm itself, according to university guidelines, is actually going to be run on green energy.”

The Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. According to Maddow, “some students are already petitioning against this on the University of Kentucky campus.” A group of students, reportedly including basketball fans and environmentalists, plan to show up at the meeting to protest.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified the donors as the Difference Keepers, an unrelated organization. Raw Story regrets the error.

This video is from MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Oct. 26, 2009.

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