This story was updated on Thursday, July 22, at 5:20 p.m. to include an updated statement from Jim Pillen.
Nearly two weeks after University of Nebraska Regent and gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen introduced a resolution opposing critical race theory across NU, top university leaders released a unified statement defending academic freedom.
The statement, emailed to NU faculty, staff and students Wednesday morning, comes from NU President Ted Carter and the respective chancellors from each NU campus, including University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green.
In it, they say they write unified “in defense of freedom of expression for all members of the University of Nebraska community.”
“The free and open pursuit of ideas is a cherished principle in higher education, and its preservation is vital for any great university,” the statement reads. “As our policies and practices make clear, the University of Nebraska is strongly committed to academic freedom.”
Pillen intends to introduce his resolution against “any imposition of critical race theory” at the Board of Regents’ Aug. 13 meeting. The meeting agenda will be finalized on Aug. 6. Regent bylaws allow any regent to place a resolution on the agenda.
Critical race theory has become a controversial theory that encourages individuals to examine how race has impacted the United States’ history and what role race plays in our society. However, some have said the theory is flawed. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts supported Pillen right after the resolution was drafted, thanking him for his fight against a “divisive and anti-American philosophy.”
The University of Nebraska Board of Regents will be voting on a resolution opposing Critical Race Theory in the coming weeks. Thank you to NU Regent Jim Pillen for leading the fight against this divisive and anti-American philosophy! pic.twitter.com/UaNvzsD2aX— Gov. Pete Ricketts (@GovRicketts) July 8, 2021
NU’s central educational mission, the president and chancellors write, is to educate Nebraska’s future leaders to be thoughtful and engaged, so students are often exposed to issues around race, equity and the fight against racism. This, they write, is an important part of the United States’ story and belongs in the classroom.
“We further expect and believe that in discussing ideas, our instructors make their classrooms places of robust and open debate, where all viewpoints are considered and all may express their opinions freely,” the leaders write. “That commitment to free expression is at the heart of our work as an institution of higher learning.”
Faculty have already expressed concerns in the resolution, including the Faculty Senate and local American Association of University Professors chapter, and student athletes have started a petition opposing it as well.
On the other hand, Pillen has said he represents all the citizens of Nebraska, who expect their values to be upheld by the university, and his resolution does just that.
“The imposition of Critical Race Theory on our students runs counter to those ideals by attempting to silence their dissenting opinions,” Pillen said in a statement. “This resolution affirms a fair and balanced dialogue on all issues.”
“If doing our job as regents and addressing Critical Race Theory means UNL has to continue to carry a meaningless ‘censure’ for protecting its students, so be it,” Pillen said. “We should wear it as a badge of honor.”
As a regent, Pillen said he is responsible only to Nebraska voters and will always protect freedom of expression and inquiry for students.
Carter, Green and the other chancellors state they have shared “significant concerns” with Pillen over his resolution, including how it would be interpreted by faculty, staff and students NU hopes to recruit and retain.
“We will continue to work together with the Board to vigorously protect and defend academic freedom at the University of Nebraska,” the leaders write.