The American Association of University Professors has temporarily suspended the final step in removing an AAUP censure placed on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The suspension comes in response to a resolution introduced by University of Nebraska Regent and gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen almost two weeks ago that would officially oppose “any imposition of critical race theory” across NU. The resolution is to be considered at the Board of Regents’ Aug. 13 meeting, with the meeting agenda finalized on Aug. 6.
Mark Criley, a senior program officer in the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance writing on behalf of the national AAUP, informed Chancellor Ronnie Green of the suspension in a letter Wednesday.
The censure was originally placed upon UNL in 2018 following what the AAUP said were academic freedom violations, and UNL officials have since worked to get the university off the censure list. “Considerable progress” has been made toward lifting the AAUP’s censure placed on UNL, Criley writes, and bylaw revisions approved in April were encouraging.
“Unfortunately, the regents’ proposed resolution puts these efforts in jeopardy,” Criley writes.
The final step in censure removal involves an assessment of the climate of academic freedom at UNL. A faculty member with no prior involvement in the incident that led to censure conducts interviews with administrators and faculty for this assessment. This faculty member is selected by AAUP’s staff.
Virtual site visits began June 29 when the representative met with Green and Executive Vice Chancellor Elizabeth Spiller, the letter states, but the new resolution has initiated a pause.
“Our staff had anticipated that the visit would conclude this month, preparing the way for potential censure removal at the AAUP Council meeting this November,” the letter reads.
If Pillen’s resolution is adopted, Criley states it is “inconceivable” the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure would recommend UNL’s censure be lifted.
“An institution whose governing board dictates the subjects that its faculty members may or may not address in their classrooms fails to honor the basic tenets of academic freedom that enable institutions of higher learning to seek the truth and promote the common good,” the letter states.
The same day as the letter, Green, alongside NU President Ted Carter and the other three NU chancellors, released a statement in opposition to Pillen’s resolution.
“The free and open pursuit of ideas is a cherished principle in higher education, and its preservation is vital for any great university,” the leaders said in a statement. “As our policies and practices make clear, the University of Nebraska is strongly committed to academic freedom.”
Leslie Reed, UNL’s public affairs director, said she could not comment whether Green or university officials would respond to the suspension.
“The AAUP will determine its process, and we look forward to continuing to work with them,” Reed said.
Matt Cohen, an English professor at UNL and president of UNL’s AAUP chapter, said he is encouraged by the administrators’ response, both for its strong criticism of Pillen’s resolution and the message to future NU community members.
Cohen was among many faculty who detailed how Pillen’s resolution could impact the AAUP censure removal process as well as the climate of academic freedom.
“It is to be hoped that President Carter will continue to uphold his stance on academic freedom as well as his stated commitment to getting [UNL] off the AAUP censure list by resisting both the letter and the spirit of this resolution,” Cohen said in an email.
Criley concludes his letter to Green stating the suspension depends upon regents’ action, but he and the national AAUP hope to resume efforts to lift the censure soon.
“We hope that the [B]oard of [R]egents will demonstrate the University of Nebraska’s commitment to academic freedom by declining to adopt the critical race theory resolution,” the letter reads. “If the board does so, we would anticipate resuming the virtual site visit as soon as possible.”
David Berman contributed to the reporting of this article.