Just days before the University of Nebraska Board of Regents is set to vote on a resolution to stop the “imposition of critical race theory in the NU system,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and other top state leaders are formally urging regents to pass the resolution.
The call comes in a letter Tuesday signed by Ricketts, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, treasurer John Murante, auditor Charlie Janssen and 22 state senators, including Speaker Mike Hilgers. State Sen. Brett Lindstrom, who is vying for the Republican nomination for governor in 2022, also signed the letter.
“While the broader public has only recently become familiar with CRT, we believe it poses a unique and imminent threat to students, our state and our university system for three reasons: It is racially divisive, anti-American and is used to attack free speech,” the letter reads.
Regent Jim Pillen, who is also running for governor, introduced the resolution that states critical race theory “seeks to silence opposing views and disparage important American ideals,” justifying why it should never be imposed in curriculum, training and programming.
The theory is not required in NU curriculum, according to Melissa Lee, NU’s chief communication officer
It’s unclear how such a resolution would be enforced if it’s passed, but the resolution has been met by heavy opposition from faculty, students and administrators — including NU President Ted Carter and Chancellor Ronnie Green — who have said the resolution is a violation of academic freedom.
Ricketts and his fellow signatories explain that critical race theory holds that America is “fundamentally racist” with institutions “tainted by this racism.”
“Proponents of CRT seek to ‘fix’ America’s racism and achieve ‘equity’ by a process of racial discrimination in which people in our country would be pitted against one another,” the letter reads. “Rather than identifying specific instances of racism and rooting them out, CRT seeks to define communities based on racial lines and to build public policy and redistribute resources based on skin color.”
In Rickett’s weekly column released Monday, he equated critical race theory to a reinvention of Marxism. Critical race theory is a way to look at race and racism in America, according to an explainer from the Associated Press.
NU, including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a public university with a state-funded budget. The letter claims critical race theory is being pushed actively at NU through taxpayer dollars because of initiatives like UNL’s Journey for Anti-Racism and Racial Equity, an initiative that formed 11 days after George Floyd’s death in 2020.
“Chancellor Green said he would make ‘antiracism’ and ‘equity’ a top priority for the university and would require a reexamination of University policies and curriculum,” the letter states. “Similar initiatives at other schools have required students to take courses tainted by CRT and subjected them to racially discriminatory trainings in the name of ‘equity.’”
In February, Green reflected on Floyd’s death, calling it a “tipping point” and “yet the latest chapter in our centuries-old struggle with racism and racial equity in our nation” as he outlined anti-racism and racial equity as one of the university’s seven grand challenges.
“Our classrooms are meant to be places of learning, discovery, exploration and debate,” Green said in a recent tweet. “Racism is an ugly truth in America - and we cannot and should not shy away from openly discussing it.”
The letter states that “equality before the law” — Nebraska’s motto — is a reason why America is great. The country was founded on this notion and as such is “enshrined in our founding documents.”
“Throughout our history, Americans have worked to cement these principles through the blood, sweat and grit of millions of Americans of all backgrounds,” the letter reads. “CRT threatens these principles at the heart of the American founding, and the University should be standing up to — not encouraging — the illiberal forces promoting the use of CRT.”
The letter also pushes back on the Journey co-leaders’ statement from last week. The co-leaders wrote that CRT opponents were emboldening white supremacist groups like the KKK.
Former Nebraska Gov. Kay Orr also made the same assertion in an email Monday, scolding Green for the wielding of his office against “duly elected leaders.” The email was also circulated among regents, Carter, Ricketts and staffers for Nebraska’s congressional delegation.
Green was not involved in writing the letter, though he did read it before publication, Deb Fiddelke, UNL’s chief communication and marketing officer, told the Lincoln Journal Star.
“This is the mode of operation of CRT proponents — make outrageous claims in an attempt to silence opposition,” the letter reads.
All four student regents as well as Regents Elizabeth O’Connor and Barbara Weitz have confirmed to The Daily Nebraskan that they will vote against the resolution. Chair Paul Kenney has said he will “probably support” the resolution. It needs support from five of the eight elected regents — excluding students — to pass.
The signatories “strongly urge” the regents to “stand with the people of Nebraska” as the university’s response proves the resolution’s necessity “now more than ever.”
“This resolution simply seeks to prevent the imposition of CRT on students, so the University can protect student voices and academic freedom,” the letter reads. “It does not prevent discussion of CRT just as other diverse philosophies, religions and perspectives are discussed every day on campus.”