Censure Removed at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln

By Mark Criley

On November 20, the governing Council of the AAUP voted to remove the University of Nebraska–Lincoln from the Association’s list of censured administrations. The AAUP imposed censure in 2018 because of the UNL administration’s summary suspension of a part-time lecturer for the duration of her appointment following the lecturer’s widely publicized confrontation with an undergraduate representative from Turning Point USA, a right-wing student organization. Under Association-supported standards, a suspension that lasts until an appointment expires—a “terminal suspension”—is tantamount to dismissal, and its imposition requires the affordance of a prior adjudicative hearing of record before an elected faculty body in which the burden of proof rests with the administration. At the time of the incident, the University of Nebraska’s bylaws did not require such a hearing for terminal suspensions, and the administration did not provide one.

In April 2021, the Nebraska system’s board of regents amended its bylaws to require an adjudicative hearing prior to the imposition of a terminal suspension. As part of the censure-removal process, an Association representative began a virtual site visit to UNL in late June to report on the institution’s conditions for academic freedom. In early July, however, a Nebraska regent (and gubernatorial candidate) announced that he would bring a resolution to the board’s next meeting to prohibit the “imposition” of critical race theory in the system’s curriculum. The AAUP’s staff suspended the site visit pending the board’s vote and notified the administration that censure removal would be inconceivable if the regents’ resolution passed. The president of the system and all four of its chancellors had meanwhile issued a statement expressing significant concerns about the resolution and vowing to “vigorously protect and defend academic freedom” in the Nebraska system. This announcement was especially welcome given the investigating committee’s finding that political pressure on university administrators “was at the very heart” of the actions leading to censure. The critical race theory resolution failed at the August board of regents meeting, and the AAUP representative’s virtual visit resumed. The visitor reported that the conditions for academic freedom at UNL had improved in response to the AAUP’s censure and that none of the interviewed administrators or faculty members favored retaining the UNL administration on the censure list.