University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green defended for the first time publicly on Tuesday UNL’s racial equity and anti-racism plan that has been met with heavy controversy.
Some prominent Republican lawmakers — including Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, Regent Jim Pillen and two state senators — have blasted the Journey for Anti-Racism and Racial Equity’s action plan as unconstitutional, divisive and a tenet of critical race theory.
On Nov. 22, Ricketts said in a news conference he had “lost all faith” in Green and doesn’t trust anything he says anymore.
Ricketts, as recent as his weekly column also published on Tuesday, has stressed these points and said Green “believes [UNL] is racist.”
“I do not believe that UNL is racist,” Green said in a statement Tuesday night, “nothing could be further from the truth.”
Green and Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Marco Barker unveiled UNL’s plan — officially the Commitment to Action Toward Its Journey — on Nov. 17. Green announced the journey in June 2020, just weeks after the murder of George Floyd, and named six co-leaders to help define UNL’s next steps.
The Commitment to Action calls for, among many action items, greater support for the Institute for Ethnic Studies, strengthened relationships with the UNL and Lincoln Police Departments and examining whether university COVID-19 mitigation responses were equitable for those from racially minoritized backgrounds.
Both Ricketts and Pillen, who is seeking the 2022 Republican gubernatorial nomination to replace Ricketts, said the plan violates Article 1, Section 30 of the Nebraska Constitution. This prohibits discrimination or preferential treatment in hiring based on protected classes, like race, which critics say the plan would encourage.
“Recruiting more diverse candidates for faculty and staff has nothing to do with quotas,” Green said. “It’s about getting diverse candidates for a job and then hiring the most qualified person.”
UNL’s plan calls for a comprehensive review of hiring practices and retention data in the context of race and ethnicity while developing and regularly offering workshops on these same areas.
Nowhere does the plan say it will hire individuals based on race.
Green also refuted claims the Commitment to Action is institutionalized critical race theory.
“We have said this before, [critical race theory] is not imposed on this campus, nor will it be,” Green said. “Nothing in this plan changes that.”
Last week, NU President Ted Carter also defended the plan and applauded Green for his bravery in initiating these conversations.
“Making certain Nebraska is a place where everyone can succeed is critical to maintaining our growth and competitiveness for future generations,” Carter said on Nov. 22. “As Nebraska’s university, founded on the principle that opportunity should be extended to all, we have a responsibility to help set the standard. Nebraska can lead the way — but we will not move the needle if we do nothing.”
Both Carter and Green have acknowledged criticisms from Pillen that regents were not included sooner to the rollout of the plan in mid-November.
While regents are not required to be notified of such plans, Green said he has apologized to regents and takes responsibility for the lack of communication. In retrospect, he said he should have engaged in “detailed dialogue” about what community members were saying and articulated UNL’s intentions sooner.
“I look forward to working transparently and in full coordination with our Board of Regents in this effort,” Green said. “And going forward, I will ensure they are more fully aware of and support the steps we are planning.”
In his Tuesday column, Ricketts encouraged Nebraskans to attend Friday’s Board of Regents meeting at 9 a.m. in Varner Hall and report whether they have seen critical race theory being imposed in K-12 or college settings.
“Our kids deserve an education that’s free from narrow-minded ideology,” Ricketts said in his column. “Together, let’s work to keep the educational focus on excellence, not identity politics, in Nebraska.”
The statement does not specifically reference Ricketts’s comments nor a recent call from State Sens. Steve Erdman and Steve Halloran that Green should resign, but Green stressed the necessity of UNL’s plan.
“It is critically important for the future of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to address racial equality, for all, to fully deliver on its mission of access to world-class higher education; research and innovation and engagement with the people of Nebraska,” Green said. “This includes identification of, and elimination of, any institutional barriers or obstacles where they may exist, or where they may not be fully recognized.”
This article was updated at 9 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2021, to include a PDF of Chancellor Ronnie Green's statement.