Two state senators are calling for University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green’s resignation amid controversy over the university’s racial equity action plan.
State Sens. Steve Erdman of Bayard and Steve Halloran of Hastings wrote in a letter to the editor Friday, Nov. 26, that UNL’s Journey for Anti-Racism and Racial Equity action plan — the Commitment to Action Toward Its Journey — is an iteration of critical race theory, a controversial academic theory that has divided the nation. The two also openly asked whether state colleges and universities should be defunded.
“Because of these kinds of untruths, we believe it would be in the best interest of the University and the people of Nebraska for Ronnie Green to resign as Chancellor of the University of Nebraska,” Halloran and Erdman said in their op-ed.
The op-ed is the same as what was posted on Erdman’s website on Wednesday, Nov. 24.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said last week that Green misrepresented his position on the plan to stakeholders.
“I was misled by Ronnie Green,” Ricketts said at a news conference on Monday, Nov. 22. “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.”
Erdman and Halloran said the action plan is part of a line of misgivings from Green, and Ricketts has now reached the same conclusion the two senators reached in 2017 over a separate incident.
The Nebraska Constitution states both discriminatory and preferential treatment based on race in hiring practices is prohibited. Ricketts and Regent Jim Pillen, who is seeking the 2022 Republican nomination for governor, said the plan would violate the constitution through a planned review of UNL policies.
Ari Kohen, a professor of political science and the director of the Norman and Bernice Harris Center for Judaic Studies at UNL, posted a Twitter thread Monday outlining his dissent to Erdman’s comments. Attacks from state legislators undermine the university, Kohen said in an interview with The Daily Nebraskan, which was previously universally beloved in the state.
“We’ve seen these attacks from the same senators in the past, and my sense is it doesn't really matter what we do at the university,” he said. “They're going to consistently find ways to complain and to threaten and to bully, and it all seems to me to be patently unfair.”
In 2017, Erdman, Halloran and State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon called on Green and then-NU President Hank Bounds to fire Courtney Lawton, a graduate student lecturer who confronted a Turning Point USA booth member outside the Nebraska Union.
The three senators, all Republicans, met with Bounds and Green, who assured the senators conservatives were and would be treated fairly, and the next day both NU officials released a letter apologizing for the treatment of UNL conservatives, according to the op-ed.
UNL officials ultimately did not renew Lawton’s hiring contract, and the American Association of University Professors said the apparent political pressure is why they voted in 2018 to censure UNL.
The AAUP only recently — on Nov. 20 — voted to remove that censure after three years.
Erdman and Halloran said the NU Board of Regents — the “guardians of truth” elected to protect the university “from corrosive ideas” — aren’t any better. They said the regents’ failure to pass Pillen’s resolution banning the imposition of critical race theory is why the state is now dealing with UNL’s action plan.
“Instead, [regents] have allowed Critical Race Theory to invade our university system and to fester into the academic cancer that it is today,” Erdman and Halloran wrote. “... As the result, Critical Race Theory has now become normalized and standardized throughout the University of Nebraska System.”
A UNL spokesperson declined to comment on Erdman’s statement. Erdman also declined an interview with The Daily Nebraskan.
Erdman and Halloran said NU President Ted Carter has continued to say critical race theory will not be taught — in fact, Carter has actually maintained it will not be mandated while acknowledging it may be taught in some courses. The senator said the action plan itself is proof the theory has been institutionalized, though the plan does not mention critical race theory anywhere in it.
Defunding state colleges and universities, Erdman and Halloran said, may be the only way to get officials to listen, and he seeks to “simply remind” those in charge who they really work for.
“If there is any good thing which comes from this report today on the state of our colleges and universities,” Erdman and Halloran wrote, “it is that parents and students should now be better informed and better equipped for making decisions about where to go for higher education.”
Kohen said Green has done nothing more than what was expected of him and what he said he would do, and the changes he is making are intended to make UNL a more welcoming place for people of all backgrounds.
“The mission of the university is to serve the people of the state of Nebraska, and I think we do a really good job of it,” Kohen said. “And I don’t think we play favorites, and I don’t think we take sides.”