NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42

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Column 8-30-18

Over the last year I have watched the debate unfold between Senator Steve Erdman, University of Nebraska (NU) President Hank Bounds and University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Chancellor Ronnie Green.  It all started with a public, verbal and obscene gesture attack by UNL English Department Graduate Student-Lecturer Courtney Lawton on sophomore student Kaitlyn Mullen while she was recruiting students for the student organization “Turning Point USA”.

Green suspended the grad student from lecturing and, eventually, didn’t renew her non-tenured position.  I agreed wholeheartedly with his decision; a position of a grad student-lecturer is an audition for someday being hired as a tenured professor. Character and behavior inside and outside the classroom should be considered in any future hiring decision. Lawton failed the test.

The hiring decision landed the University on a list of 56 universities that are censured by the “American Association of University Professors” (AAUP) a national organization of college faculty with 42,000 members.  The National Center for Education Statistics shows there are 4,627 American institutions of higher education employing 1,551,000 faculty members. When contacted, AAUP’s Nebraska Conference refused to divulge how many of UNL’s 1,349 faculty members belonged to the UNL Chapter; using the national average of 2.7%, an estimate would be 36.  Why is the NU Administration so worried about pleasing a small special interest group?  Wouldn’t seeking the advice of Nebraska’s citizens and faculty that are not AAUP members be a better course of action?

Senator Erdman’s frustration is legitimate.  We’ve all heard President Bounds’ demands for more and more tax dollars to maintain the University, but see him turn around and create a six-figure position for a Diversity Vice Chancellor and bachelor’s degree programs in women’s, gender and ethnic studies on the Kearney campus.  While at the same time, he proposed cuts in a basic “Land Grant College” program by eliminating the Haskell Agricultural Laboratory in Concord or cut the Geography graduate program at UNL.

Senator Erdman’s indictment of the UNL English Department’s bias against those who hold conservative viewpoints reflects the sentiment of many Nebraskans who are frustrated with the perception that some University staff do attempt to indoctrinate students (social engineer) with their worldview. But first, we must put the issue in perspective.  The University system is made up of 32 colleges and 754 departments and programs.  Overall, the majority of the University’s faculty just does their job to prepare students for their future occupations.

The epicenter of Nebraskans’ mistrust does not lie within the Colleges of Agriculture & Natural Resources, Business or Medicine, etc.  It lies within the English Department in UNL‘s College of Arts & Sciences where Lawton was employed.

As a non-scientific gauge of political bias, of the Department’s 45 professors, state voter registrations show no clear evidence of any registered Republicans. Therefore, we ask: Does this indicate the Department lacks diversity of ideas and purposely has a hiring prejudice against those who hold conservative-leaning thoughts?

Since Medieval Times, the idea of a Liberal Arts education was defined by a pursuit of diverse thought to expand the understanding of universal principles that guide the human condition. It was ironic that President Bounds professed his common-sense belief “that we are stronger when we serve alongside people who don’t look and think like us” but then followed up with a foolish contrary comment attacking Erdman for not thinking like he does. If the University wishes to pursue diversity, it needs  to focus on the original Latin meaning of a Liberal Arts education, liberalis–“free” and ars–”art or principled practice” concepts of reasoned thinking, instead of trying to create the false perception that we are somehow diverse in thought by pursuing only a failed policy of diversity of one’s outer appearance.  Wasting tax dollars on a new administrative position won’t fix the problem.   Bounds and Green should examine the hiring and grad-school application process of each department and reform those whose outcomes have shown to have an obvious political bias.

The vast majority of Nebraskans care not the chemical makeup of one’s flesh or their ethnic heritage, nor do we care the form your flesh takes. What we care about is the makeup of your character, including personal responsibility, work ethic and respect for others.

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729.

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42
Room #1306
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2729
Email: mgroene@leg.ne.gov
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