This time it’s Nebraska: another state to ban teaching about racism?

This time it’s Nebraska. On July 26, Governor Pete Ricketts tweeted (because Twitter is where state policy should be formed and debated) that

I strongly urge the Board of Regents to pass the resolution opposing the imposition of Critical Race Theory on students, so we keep academic freedom alive and well at the University of Nebraska.

Additionally, the University of Nebraska should consider it an honor to be listed on the AAUP’s censure list alongside notable conservative institutions, including Brigham Young University, Catholic University of America, and Hillsdale College.

The AAUP is the American Association of University Professors. Nebraska is only the latest state to join the movement to censor K12 and college instruction:

  • On March 18 we wrote about the Iowa state legislature working to incorporate the anti-justice language and intent of the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year. The University of Iowa is being pressured by the state legislature to end diversity education for students and staff.
  • Then on March 23 we posted about the Idaho state legislature attempting to do the same. Then, just over a month later came the terrible update: they did. On April 29 the Idaho House approved legislation aimed at preventing public and charter schools and universities from teaching critical race theory, which examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.
  • On May 14, we posted about New Hampshire, whose House Bill HB544–“An Act relative to the propagation of divisive concepts”–is yet another move to make teaching Americans about racism illegal.
  • On June 7, we posted about Oklahoma and Kansas: Oklahoma Governor Keven Stitt signed legislation to ban critical race theory, and department chairs at Pittsburg State received an urgent email summons to “inquire” whether Critical Race Theory is being taught in any PSU classes. “The specific information would be 1. yes or no and 2. if yes which course(s). The response needs a short timeline as I need to have this information to the Dean’s office by the end of the day.”

We believe at this point Nebraska makes 17 states that have passed or are considering legislation to censor instruction. The irony of using censorship to protect freedom is so grating; how can this transparently illogical strategy be so successful every time?

The resolution Ricketts speaks of was introduced by U of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen. It reads:

Whereas the campus and facilities of a university are places for open reflection, discussion, study, research, and learning and

Whereas America is the best country in the world and anyone can achieve the American Dream here and

Whereas education, free speech, and sound learning are the keys to freedom and opportunity in this country and

Whereas we oppose discrimination in any form and

Whereas Critical Race Theory does not promote inclusive and honest dialogue and education on campus and

Whereas Critical Race Theory proponents seek to silence opposing views and disparage important American ideals

Be it resolved that the Regents of the University of Nebraska oppose any imposition of Critical Race Theory in curriculum.

The vague language is so insulting. “Any” “imposition” of “Critical Race Theory”? What’s an “imposition”? Isn’t any syllabus with required reading on it “imposing” that content on students? The word “any” allows just that–a definition of “imposition” so broad it becomes at once meaningless and an effective total ban on anything that anyone decides is “critical race theory”.

The University of Nebraska has been simmering ever since 2018, when a white grad student teaching adjunct flipped off a white undergrad campaigning on campus for the neo-conservative Turning Point USA organization. The two got into an argument, the grad student gave the undergrad the finger, it was filmed, and all hell broke loose as neo-conservatives claimed it as yet another proof that white Americans are under constant threat and attack on college campuses.

The AAUP censured UNL for suspending Lawton from teaching, and that’s the censure list that governor Ricketts says the state should be proud to be on.

U of Nebraska system president Ted Carter and four campus chancellors have published a defense of academic freedom, which reads in part “Issues around race, equity and the fight against racism are an important part of our country’s story and they have an appropriate place in our classrooms,” which says it as well as we ever could.

Once a term like CRT becomes widespread, it’s pretty reasonable to assume most people using it don’t know what it really means. That’s the way neo-conservatives and white supremacists want it: vague enough to be scary, broad enough to include anything they don’t like.

To allow an individual to define, on his own, what CRT is and does, and therefore to ban it for all, is something we would expect in a dictatorship, like when Viktor Orbán re-writes the Hungarian constitution on his lunch break to confirm his own dictatorial powers.

Our response?

Whereas a crucial component of any claim that America is the best country in the world is an appreciation of the Founders, and

whereas the Founders welcomed and dedicated themselves to open debate, and

whereas the Founders wrote in great detail and great specificity about how they thought this country should be governed, and

whereas the Founders did not hide behind vague wording to hide their agenda, and

whereas the Founders didn’t write threats into our founding documents, and

whereas the Founders didn’t impose censorship to protect any individual agenda,

Be it resolved that all of these vague, threatening censorship laws are un-American, and destroy anything that was great about America.

What makes a country great is its dedication and commitment to facing its problems honestly, in order to slowly but surely resolve them. Find out what your state legislature and state education system are doing and speak out against any attempts to introduce censorship defined as patriotism.