Nebraska regents vote against condemning critical race theory

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • On Friday, the University of Nebraska’s Board of Regents narrowly rejected a resolution denouncing the inclusion of critical race theory in curricula within the system.
  • In a 5 to 3 vote, the panel declined to endorse the statement developed by a Republican gubernatorial candidate. It stated the board opposed “any imposition” of the contentious concept in instruction.
  • While several state legislatures have moved to block critical race theory from classrooms, Friday’s vote represented the first high-profile attempt at a college governing board level.

Dive Insight:

Many states have recently attempted to suppress the teaching of racism and bias, and a handful has succeeded. But it was not clearly defined what would have changed within the Nebraska system due to the effort, which regent Jim Pillen, a candidate for governor, drove. Critical race theory is an academic concept over four decades old but has recently been widely attacked by conservatives. It, in part, contends racism is systemic, though its critics claim it fuels prejudice by enforcing racial divisions.

The concept began to attract more attention last year. Former President Donald Trump signed an executive order last fall prohibiting federal grantees from teaching certain ideologies, such as that the U.S. is inherently racist or sexist. The campaign to eradicate it from the classroom began trickling down to conservative pundits and state legislators — and Pillen, who released his resolution last month.

critical race theory

Allen’s proposal was backed by Arkansas Gov. Pete Ricketts, who on Twitter applauded him for “leading the fight against this divisive and anti-American philosophy,” as well as other GOP state officials. Meanwhile, it earned condemnations from system faculty, administrators including the system president and campus chancellors, students, and vast alums and the public swaths.

The American Association of University Professors also recently paused the final step in removing a censure from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, levied in 2018 amid allegations of academic freedom violations.

It “is inconceivable” the AAUP would recommend rescinding the censure if the regents passed the resolution, one association official wrote in a letter to the Lincoln chancellor last month.

Criticism of the resolution was echoed Friday during the regents’ meeting. Several speakers accused Pillen of drafting it to bolster his gubernatorial campaign, and many said it struck against higher education’s treasured principles of academic freedom.

Mark Button, dean of the Lincoln campus’ College of Arts and Sciences, said during the meeting the measure was “deeply damaging” to the system’s reputation and would chill efforts to confront racial inequality. Button said it would also hinder attempts to offer specific courses and recruit and train highly qualified employees.

Jeannette Eileen Jones, a history professor at the Lincoln campus, told the regents she and her colleagues “are not teaching propaganda.”

“What we want to do is critically think about history,” Jones said. Several voting members of the board and student regents also opposed the resolution.

During the discussion, one regent who voted in favor of it, Robert Schafer, said that the resolution doesn’t preclude critical race theory from being debated in class, just that it can’t be imposed.

“Nothing should be thrust or forced upon someone,” Schafer said. Allen’s campaign issued a statement minutes after the vote, saying he was “disappointed in today’s outcome.”

“The issue isn’t going away,” the statement reads. “I will continue to oppose critical race theory being imposed on students in higher education, and it will be a priority to ban it from Nebraska’s K-12 schools as governor.

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