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Opinion: Journalism Professor Forced Out of Classroom Will be Missed

My truth is that University of Kentucky professor Buck Ryan was a unconventional, good professor.

Courtney Good

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Rock, paper, scissors — Buck Ryan.

In the case of University of Kentucky journalism professor, Buck Ryan, against the university, it’s a toss up on whose agenda is worth believing. For now, it’s best two out of three and Ryan is taking a time out.

In the Spring 2018 semester, I had my first class with Buck, as he allowed us to call him. It was Journalism 101 and he explained on the first day of class that the most important thing to do as a journalist is to tell the truth because as writers, we are society’s watch dogs. This past semester I took a higher level course with him called The Joy of Writing. I thought it would be another fun and easy class for my senior year to wrap up my journalism minor, and while it was fun and easy, it was also full of clarity.

Buck not only helped me find my voice as a writer this semester, he also helped me find something to say. It is a special gift to be able to connect with a small group of students, and get them each to produce very unique and wildly creative writing in a classroom setting, and Buck has that gift.

However, my beloved University of Kentucky does not appreciate this gift that Buck has to offer, and future UK students will no longer have the opportunity to work through Buck’s quirks and challenges to become far better writers than they could imagine.

Here’s the scoop on Buck’s complicated history with UK:

After teaching for over thirty years and achieving tenure at UK, the university’s administration has decided to revoke Buck’s three journalism courses, and put him on sabbatical for the spring 2019 semester. The acting dean of the College of Communications and Information, Derek Lane, recently wrote a letter to Buck explaining the reasons behind taking away his teaching privileges, specifically for the university’s Introduction to Journalism course.

“I believe this dramatic drop [in enrollment] largely is a reflection of student dissatisfaction with your teaching performance this semester,” Lane wrote. “Given the importance of Journalism 101 to the continued viability of the School of Journalism, I cannot risk further alienation of potential majors.”

Buck has faced a significant amount of mistrust from university officials in recent years. In 2015, on a teaching trip to China, questions of Buck’s behavior and possible “sexual misconduct” with students arose and led to the university revoking any travel funds for him to teach abroad.

Buck claimed the behavior in question was when he sang part of a Beach Boys song at the Education Week at the Chinese university in which he was guest teaching. The lyrics in “California Girls” were taken as sexual, and therefore inappropriate for the academic setting.

Again in the summer of this year, Buck’s motives in the classroom were questioned. The University of Kentucky’s provost almost made history by firing a tenured professor when he heard that Buck was requiring students to purchase his textbook and then keeping the royalties. The university asks all professors who require their students to buy their textbooks to donate the royalties to a charity or to the university. Buck claimed he donated all of the royalties, and after explaining himself, he was not fired from UK for this misunderstanding.

“The provost accused me of being a thief — of stealing my own Writing Baby books — on the front page of the newspaper before I could meet with the Senate Advisory Committee on Privilege and Tenure, which cleared me of all charges,” said Buck. “The public accusation in what should have been a private, confidential personnel matter was devastating to me and my family.”

After the piles of drama and stress have been loaded on Buck’s weary shoulders, the university has given him one last kick in the knees by taking away his right to teach. Just after Thanksgiving this year, as Buck was finally beginning to relocate his bearings on campus as a professor, he reflected on the textbook royalty conflict with the university, and had a hopeful vision for the future.

“This bizarre, absurd episode makes me feel like I’m living in a Fellini film,” said Buck. “I’m grounded by the joy of teaching my new students as I enter my 25th year at UK.”

Since Buck’s safe haven in the classroom has been replaced by a sabbatical, questions loom on how much longer he will withstand the university’s lack of faith in him. The final decision is up to the University of Kentucky’s president, Eli Capilouto, on whether or not UK will fire Buck or keep him aboard.

Buck remains a tenured professor, and will use his time on sabbatical to finish his young adult novel: The Kentucky Fried Adventures of Maggie Lu.

While no one other than Buck and other allegedly involved parties can know the truth, I have never felt uncomfortable or cheated in Buck’s classroom. Only further investigation can bring forth the truth from behind closed doors. My truth is that Buck was a rather unconventional yet good professor, and it is alarming to witness this conflict.

Buck will sincerely be missed by many UK journalism students. In a final farewell to The Joy of Writing class, Buck asked my class to write a letter showcasing all we had learned through the semester. With the aim of offering a look at what this intellectually stimulating — while also whimsical — class was like, here is my letter:

Dear Buck,

Once upon a time, Buck Ryan’s sneakers hobbled in to this fateful Miller Hall classroom. The students had no idea he kept the key to the joy of writing in those golden Chinese symbols on his favorite blue tie.

On that first day of class, he gave the students a letter and they all thought: Crap! He isn’t using Canvas AGAIN! One student called Courtney, who looked like she had just rolled out of bed, pulled out a pen she bought at the UK Bookstore three years earlier. She had run the ink dry over the years completing assignment after assignment like a robot stuck on “get an A” mode.

She scribbled down notes about the daily workout assignments, and just as the ink was running out, Buck said “Stop. Don’t write anything unless it brings you joy.” All of the sudden, Courtney’s pen twitched and clicked. A drop of ink fell into the pen’s empty chamber, and she had the urge to write. With fresh ink in her hand, Courtney fueled the joy with the nine parts of speech rap. Are you ready, boy?

On Buck led the class down a dry erase road toward joy, and the class’s journey began to unfold.

Then, a guardian godfather changed it all. With bootstraps of Italian flair, Luca Delmonte gave the class a taste of the joy in humanity. Writers write for people, and Luca was the perfect character.

Luca left and thanked Buck for making him feel so special on his birthday, and as Buck put the class on deadline yet again, the ink filled to the top and stopped just short of bursting through the end. That was the day Courtney broke through the robot cage and became a writer, not for the A, but for mankind.

Along grew a village out of Buck’s didactic hand. Gay Talese. The Grammar Hammer. An alien. Grammerella. Wild Wild Roman West. Halo Ferrari and Saint Nic. A dying man. A man who chose to live. An Oscar winner. A falling leaf . . .

In the final days of the Joy of Writing, Courtney’s pen filled to the top as Buck prompted the class, but this time it was different. Buck set the students on deadline for the last time, and all at once a spark hit and the ink exploded. It failed to fall, however. The students looked up and watched the ink travel into meaning.

The ink formed into a meadow of all of their characters. The familiar figures smiled down and said, “Thank you, Buck for giving us life and making us memorable.” With those final words singing in the air. The ink flew back into the students’ pens and off they wrote memorable tales of ten. They would never lose sight of the joy thanks to Buck Ryan.

All best,

Courtney Good

Are you looking for digital journalism training and experience? Are you a journalism major who wants to take your career to the next level? CMN’s Digital Journalism course gives you real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to journalism influencers and mentors, and a great place to display your work. You can get academic credit too. Check out the Digital Journalism Course here.

I am a University of Kentucky rising senior English major and journalism minor from upstate New York. The adult world is approaching fast, and I plan to conquer it with a cup of coffee in my hand.

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