This article was updated at 3:20 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 4, to include an updated response from Jim Pillen.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Journey For Anti-Racism and Racial Equity team released a statement Monday against a proposed resolution opposing critical race theory in University of Nebraska curriculum, joining a growing list one week before the resolution is expected to be considered.
The six journey co-leaders call out the proposed resolution from NU Regent and gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen as dishonorable, shameful and disappointing, citing a “clear warning” to anyone working against racism and discrimination.
“We are deeply concerned that the proposed resolution and the insistence that it be put up for a vote by the Board of Regents constitutes a serious attack on academic freedom and represents a thinly veiled challenge to the work that has been done over the years, which has accelerated in the past year, against racism and discrimination in all its forms at our institution,” the statement reads.
Pillen’s resolution, which calls for the regents to formally oppose “any imposition of Critical Race Theory” in NU curriculum, is expected to be considered at the Aug. 13 Board of Regents meeting, with a meeting agenda released this Friday.
The resolution was first made public almost one month ago, and various NU leaders have since voiced strong opposition. This includes: UNL Faculty Senate; American Association of University Professors UNL chapter; NU President Ted Carter, UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green and the three chancellors in Omaha and Kearney and the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska executive team, among others.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has publicly supported the proposed resolution, thanking Pillen “for leading the fight against this divisive and anti-American philosophy.”
But the co-leaders, in what they say is part of exercising their academic freedom, say it’s actually the opponents to critical race theory, like Pillen and Ricketts, who are carrying an “unjustified authority” over what is American and un-American. They write the resolution itself is divisive and un-American.
“It presents an America that is afraid of itself, that considers itself too weak to handle truth, too weak to handle the challenge of contending with its own history and present,” the statement reads. “The America this proposed resolution describes is an America that blinds itself to who it might really be, and that seeks to silence those who, out of love, hope and genuine belief, seek to make the nation a better and nobler home for all its people.”
On Wednesday, Pillen doubled down on his resolution and stressed that critical race theory is “divisive, anti-American and a threat to free, open discourse at the University of Nebraska.”
“The resolution’s critics are only proving its necessity,” Pillen said in a statement to The Daily Nebraskan. “Anyone questioning Critical Race Theory is being attacked and called an oppressor. This resolution protects academic freedom and students’ ability to dissent.”
The co-leaders argue the reverse, asserting proponents of critical race theory are being attacked while white supremacist groups are the ones being emboldened.
“The authors may have unwittingly invited those undemocratic and hateful actions into the lives of members of the UNL community, based on misinformation, distortions, and fallacies,” the co-leaders write.
Joining together in June 2020, less than two weeks after the death of George Floyd, the Journey team formed to address racism and racial equity on campus and find continued solutions to campus concerns.
“I use the word ‘journey’ not because we are seeking some vague destination which we may eventually reach, but because our efforts in this moment cannot be ‘one and done,’” Green said announcing the Journey. “We must ensure meaningful step after meaningful step that advances real and sustained change in addressing this deeply enduring challenge.”
Over the summer of 2020, six co-leaders were chosen to advise Green and Vice Chancellor for diversity and inclusion Marco Barker: Lory J. Dance, Kwame Dawes, Anna W. Shavers, Kara Mitchell Viesca, Sergio C. Wals and Colette Yellow Robe.
Different from past statements of opposition, the co-leaders offer an extended definition of critical race theory: a long-standing academic framework to examine issues of racial inequity and find solutions.
“More broadly, as an academic framework and intellectual movement, [critical race theory] is complex, nuanced, and can easily be misinterpreted by those who have not done a sincere study of it,” the statement reads. “[Critical race theory] is not about the establishment of guilt; it is a basis for education grounded in critical thinking.”
The co-leaders argue that as one of many theories on race, racism, ethnicity and whiteness, critical race theory is important for debate and learning and should not be ignored.
“Do the authors of the proposed resolution want to curtail such thought because of their unarticulated fears and anxieties? Or, more sinister, do they seek to manipulate the fears and anxieties of others?” the statement reads. “Whatever their motivation or stated intent, the impact of this proposed resolution will be the silencing and censure of inclusive and honest dialogue.”
Earlier this year, Green outlined anti-racism and racial equity as one of seven grand challenges for the university’s N2025 Strategic Plan. These are priorities the university is devoting time and resources to solving.
Moving forward, the co-leaders urged recommitment to anti-racism and racial equity and protection for the right to teach critical race theory.
“We call on the leaders of this institution to strengthen and confirm the protections that faculty, staff and students have to do the important work necessary for our anti-racism journey and in the work of our grand challenge around anti-racism and racial justice,” the co-leaders write. “We call on all institutional leaders to reassert their commitment to the anti-racism journey and do the important work necessary to amplify and grow it in important and meaningful ways.”