Critical race theory is often political red meat in red states, and now two Republican lawmakers are using the controversial legal theory to try to oust the chancellor of Nebraska’s flagship university by linking it—falsely—to his new diversity initiative.
Nebraska state senators Steve Erdman and Steve Halloran have issued an open letter calling for Chancellor Ronnie Green’s resignation over a University of Nebraska at Lincoln plan titled “Journey for Anti-Racism and Racial Equity,” which is focused on advancing diversity and inclusion. Introduced by Green in early November, the plan aims to increase recruitment of students from underrepresented groups and address institutional barriers to make the campus more welcoming for students of all races. It grew out of racial tensions that erupted in summer 2020 following demonstrations against police brutality.
The letter from Erdman and Halloran, however, suggests that they view the effort as a liberal attack on higher education in Nebraska.
“What value is there in a college education today? Where can a student go today for higher education which isn’t laced with Left-wing propaganda such as Critical Race Theory? Nebraska’s state’s [sic] colleges and universities are now devolving at an alarming rate,” the letter begins. It goes on to accuse the Nebraska Board of Regents of allowing critical race theory “to invade our university system and to fester into the academic cancer that it is today.”
The call for Green’s resignation comes on the heels of criticism by Nebraska’s Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, who denounced the UNL diversity initiative as “ideological indoctrination” and claimed it would promote “discrimination against white people.”
Asked specifically whether the governor supports the call for Green to step down, a spokesperson for Ricketts replied via email: “The Governor has lost all faith in Ronnie Green. It’s up to the Board of Regents and NU President Ted Carter to take action.”
A statement released by the governor’s office Tuesday accused Green of injecting CRT “into every corner of campus” via “racially motivated hiring practices” and “divisive trainings.” The statement calls the plan “legally questionable, intellectually flawed, and politically charged.”
Faced with this criticism, Green’s office released a statement Tuesday.
“Critical race theory is not mentioned anywhere in this plan,” Green’s statement said. “We have said this before, CRT is not imposed on this campus, nor will it be. Nothing in this plan changes that. Recruiting more diverse candidates for faculty and staff has nothing to do with quotas. It’s about getting diverse candidates for a job and then hiring the most qualified person.”
Green also apologized to the Board of Regents in his statement. “In retrospect, I should have engaged the Board in detailed dialogue about what we heard and learned in the extensive diligence and conversations at UNL which led to this plan, and to ensure clear articulation of our intentions, which we will do going forward,” Green said.
Of the eight elected members of the Nebraska Board of Regents, none responded to emails about their stance on the call for Green’s resignation or on the UNL diversity initiative. The Board of Regents meets Friday, though items related to this controversy are not on the agenda.
Despite calls from state lawmakers for him to step down, Green does have his supporters.
University of Nebraska system president Ted Carter affirmed support for Green in an email and linked to an open letter penned at the onset of this controversy that defended the initiative under fire.
Batool Ibrahim, a senior at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and student regent, says she and other Black students were involved with creating “Journey for Anti-Racism and Racial Equity,” which she sees as a positive step forward for the school and marginalized students. Critics, she says, don’t understand the challenges students of color face in Nebraska.
“The people that are calling for his resignation, it’s just very clear that they don’t have an understanding of what the ‘Journey’ is, why it was created, or why Chancellor Green decided to make this type of commitment,” Ibrahim says. “I think without that understanding, there’s so much misinformation that has been spread about what the ‘Journey’ is and its intention.”
Green also has supporters in Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature, including Adam Morfeld, who represents the district that is home to UNL. “Ronnie Green has an excellent reputation in Nebraska for being honest, working hard, and being a thoughtful leader,” Morfeld wrote in an email. “The call by two state senators for his resignation come [sic] from two individuals not taken seriously by the vast majority of the Legislature on issues of higher education.”
Neither Erdman nor Halloran replied to emails seeking comment.
For Erdman and Halloran, this isn’t the first clash with the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. As noted in their open letter, the duo previously met with UNL administrators in 2017. In that instance, the University of Nebraska was at the center of a controversy involving a confrontation between a lecturer and the conservative student group Turning Point USA.
In the open letter, Erdman and Halloran claim that the university was “not truthful with us at that time about how conservatives were being treated at UNL.” The letter adds, “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.”
The fallout from the 2017 incident ultimately led the American Association of University Professors to censure UNL in 2018 for removing the lecturer—Courtney Lawton, who was also a graduate student—from her teaching appointment without a hearing. The AAUP voted last week to remove UNL from its list of censured schools.
The letter calling for Green’s resignation also delves into broader culture war issues, such as recent changes to gender-identity policies within the Nebraska State College System. Ultimately, Erdman—who is on the Legislature’s appropriations committee—and Halloran ended their missive by taking aim at public funding for higher education in the state of Nebraska.
“Going forward, defunding our state’s colleges and universities may be the only way we can get the attention of those who have been charged with running them,” the letter reads. “So let us end this article by simply reminding those who run our public colleges and universities about 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, it is that parents and students should now be better informed and better equipped for making decisions about where to go for higher education.”