Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts harshly criticized Chancellor Ronnie Green during a news conference Monday, saying he “could not be more disgusted” with the process and content of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s plan to address racial inequities.
“I was misled by Ronnie Green,” Ricketts said. “I have lost all faith in Ronnie Green. I don’t believe anything he says anymore, and I don’t know how you get that back.”
Rickett’s comments come less than a week after Green and Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Marco Barker unveiled the UNL’s Commitment to Action Toward Its Journey on Wednesday, in connection with its Journey for Anti-Racism and Racial Equity.
Green called Ricketts last Tuesday night, ahead of the plan’s formal release, to let him know the plan would include points regarding hiring practices. In a media release Thursday, Ricketts said he urged Green “to avoid divisive policies.”
“Since then, Chancellor Green has misrepresented my position on it in conversations with university stakeholders,” Ricketts said in the release. “He has told people that I support it, and nothing could be further from the truth.”
Regent and gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen tweeted Monday afternoon that the state was “blindsided” by UNL’s plan.
“This is why I introduced the resolution opposing [critical race theory] earlier this year, to protect our students,” Pillen said in the statement. “If that resolution had passed, we would not be dealing with this. We had no input on this from the Board of Regents. This plan should be stopped.”
In Monday’s news conference, Ricketts said wanting to increase the number of minority students, staff and faculty is a good thing.
Nebraska is also looking at how to increase minority participation, and the state increased employment of minorities by ensuring anyone qualified gets promoted through the first round of interviews automatically, advertising in places where minority people are, hiring veterans and so on, according to Ricketts.
“But what Ronnie did not tell me is that he was planning on highlighting critical race theory and in fact calling it a ‘journey to anti-racism,’ which is critical race theory,” he said.
UNL’s journey was announced in June 2020, but it was met with little opposition until August 2021 when the six co-leaders issued a statement against Pillen’s resolution against critical race theory (CRT).
In February, Green also announced “anti-racism” as a grand challenge in its N2025 Strategic Plan, but neither Ricketts nor Pillen responded publicly at the time. Pillen announced his campaign for governor two months later.
“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.”
Part of UNL’s plan includes reviewing hiring and retention policies, which Ricketts said would violate Article 1, Section 30 of the Nebraska Constitution against preferential or discriminatory treatment based on race.
“Our constitution specifically says that, and yet the chancellor of the university is promoting a program that would do that,” Ricketts said. “He’s violating the constitution.”
UNL’s journey plan, in Ricketts’ view, says the University of Nebraska is systematically racist, which he disagrees with.
On Monday, NU President Ted Carter released “An Open Letter to the People of Nebraska,” addressing criticisms of UNL’s action plan. Ricketts said he has seen the letter, and while he appreciates Carter will step in and take action, Ricketts sees no reason to applaud Green as Carter does in his letter.
“Ronnie Green made many, many mistakes, including misleading me, so I do not see that as anything to applaud,” Ricketts said.
Two spokespeople for NU and UNL declined to comment on Ricketts’ conference but pointed to Carter’s letter as NU’s stance.
While the university has said it will take steps to say it won’t mandate critical race theory, Ricketts wants the university to start taking steps to demonstrate that commitment.
“This thing is completely off base, and they need to just start all over,” Ricketts said. “The goal of getting more minority participation is a good one, but the way they’ve approached it is fatally flawed.”