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On Thursday Nov. 16 Sen. Brewer (LD43), Sen. Halloran (LD33), and I, Sen. Steve Erdman (LD47), had a two hour meeting with University of Nebraska President, Hank Bounds, and Chancellor, Ronnie Green. During that meeting we reminded these two University administrators that the University of Nebraska is a land grant university. Because the University of Nebraska is a land grant university, its values ought to reflect the same values as the people living in the State. This cannot be the case when conservative students are being harassed on campus by University professors.
After they denied that conservative students were being harassed on the University’s campus, we showed them a litany of e-mails we had received from students and former students alike, who had been harassed, censored, and shouted down in class. Out of all the e-mails which came in, though, the one Sen. Brewer received from UNL English Professor Fran Kaye was the worst. Professor Kaye insulted Sen. Brewer by calling him a fool in the Lakota language. This kind of behavior is the very thing we hope to put an end to at the University of Nebraska. However, even after hearing the content of Kaye’s e-mail, neither Hank Bounds nor Ronnie Green would admitted to us that the University of Nebraska has a problem with hostility towards conservatives.
The false narrative they had constructed finally came crashing down like a house of cards the very next day. A conservative organization, known as Conservative Review, had filed a request for the emails of these University administrators through the Freedom of Information Act. Although they fought the release of the e-mails by citing “the extensive nature of the e-mails,” Hank Bounds decided to act preemptively instead. At 4:53 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 17 I received his e-mail. Those e-mails revealed the truth about what was really go on at the University of Nebraska.
On Aug. 31 emeritus Senior Vice Chancellor, Ellen Weissinger, A 40-year veteran faculty member of the University, had written the following words to Vice Chancellor, Donde Plowman: “This will pass. But the real issue is we’ve got to do more to advance civility on campus. And frankly campuses have to become more tolerant and welcoming to conservative students and faculty. This has worried me for years. I don’t think it is ‘safe’ to be conservative on our campus. Too many faculty espouse their personal political views as gospel in cases where there [sic] views have no relevance.” So, university administrators had known about this e-mail since Aug. 31, yet they continued to tell the public that no such problem exists at the University of Nebraska.
Also revealed in the e-mails, news director and University spokesman, Steve Smith had advised university administrators to spin the Turning Point USA incident in order to counter the right wing narrative. He suggested that the university use surrogates to write op-eds for the Omaha World Herald and the Lincoln Journal Star newspapers in order “to start peeling away at the right wing’s central narrative that has unfortunately been parroted by the mainstream media.” Both Steve Smith and chief communication and marketing officer, Teresa Paulsen, resigned from office the same day those e-mails were released.
The problem of censoring free speech at the University of Nebraska can no longer be ignored. I have recommended and will continue to recommend that NU administrators use the free services provided by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) to help them re-write their free-speech policies. FIRE is an objective, non-profit, third party organization which has helped several universities become safe havens for those with differing points of view.
On Nov. 21 a misleading headline appeared on a story in the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper: “Firing UNL lecturer marks an abrupt change of course for administrators.” Such a headline would naturally lead any casual reader of the newspaper to conclude that Courtney Lawton has, indeed, been fired, but she has not! University administrators have only removed her from her lecturing duties at UNL. Lawton will remain on the payroll until her contract expires in May 2018. Lawton has been teaching English at UNL since 2012, and her doctoral program maintains a five year timeline. So, she may be eligible to graduate at the same time her contract expires. To me, this is unacceptable. If you agree, then I encourage you to contact NU Regent Bob Phares and let him know.
If you have personally felt that the culture at the University of Nebraska has been unwelcoming to your beliefs or to your right to freely express your point of view, then I urge you to contact the University of Nebraska Board of Regents and share your concerns. For everyone living in Western Nebraska, your Regent is Bob Phares, and he can be contacted at (308) 532-3180 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Nebraska is our university. Our tax dollars substantially fund it. So, the University of Nebraska should reflect and respect the beliefs and values of all Nebraskans. I want our flagship university to become a champion for free speech, a safe place for conservative students, and a model for all other universities to follow.