LINCOLN — The American Association of University Professors has voted to remove the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from its list of censured administrations.
UNL was sanctioned by the national organization in June 2018 after administrators removed a graduate student lecturer from her part-time teaching position after video of her protesting a conservative student organization went viral.
An investigation by the AAUP determined that university leaders caved to political pressure when they suspended Courtney Lawton, who was filmed while protesting a recruiting event for Turning Point USA in August 2017.
Instead of firing her, as several Republican state senators urged the university to do, UNL let Lawton’s contract expire without affording her a hearing — something the AAUP likened to a “terminal suspension” in violation of long-held principles of academic freedom and due process.
The AAUP’s vote on Saturday to remove UNL from its censure list signals satisfaction with changes to clarify disciplinary procedures for employees across the university system adopted by the Board of Regents in April.
The new bylaw language includes procedures available to suspended employees and outlines other kinds of discipline, the formal complaint process and timeline, as well as the responsibilities of faculty committees convened to investigate complaints.
Once regents signed off on the plan, the process of lifting censure neared its end, but was “temporarily derailed” this summer amid an effort to ban the teaching of critical race theory at NU.
According to the AAUP, the effort to remove UNL from the censure list was halted when Regent Jim Pillen of Columbus, who is also running for governor, introduced a resolution opposing the “imposition” of critical race theory on students.
After the board defeated the proposed resolution 5-3 in August, the AAUP interviewed two administrators and several faculty, the final step of its process before recommending UNL be removed from censure.
The AAUP representative who conducted the interview found UNL’s policies have “certain improved in response to AAUP’s censure,” with no one interviewed in favor of keeping the campus on the list.
In a statement, the Nebraska Chapter of the AAUP said the changes to the disciplinary procedures approved by regents strengthened UNL’s education and research missions.
“The pressure applied by the AAUP’s censure, combined with the collaboration of faculty in UNL’s AAUP chapter and Faculty Senate, standing together with others across the university to push for positive change, produced real results,” the chapter said in a statement.
“It shows what can be done when we join together to advocate for a better university,” the chapter added.
Members of the AAUP’s Nebraska chapter argued that the university compensate Lawton as part of its effort to get UNL removed from the censure list, but the AAUP did not weigh that factor before it took action last weekend, according to its statement.
Lawton sued UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green and former NU President Hank Bounds in federal court in September, alleging the administrators’ actions violated her free speech and due process rights and led to a loss of income, diminished employment opportunities, mental anguish, health care costs and other expenses.