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UNL takes step to get off national professor group's blacklist
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UNL takes step to get off national professor group's blacklist

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University of Nebraska President Ted Carter expressed hope this week that he has reached an agreement with University of Nebraska-Lincoln professors who want their institution off a national blacklist.

At issue are bylaws that cover how nontenured lecturers are suspended by administrators in the NU system and what kind of recourse those lecturers, or adjunct faculty members, have to appeal their firing.

Those have been matters in question since 2017, when a UNL graduate student-lecturer was removed from teaching after she berated a conservative student for recruiting students into the controversial Turning Point organization.

The lecturer, Courtney Lawton, was taken out of the UNL classroom for what administrators alleged were safety precautions. Lawton’s contract ran out without a due process hearing before a UNL faculty committee, and the contract wasn’t renewed.

The American Association of University Professors then “censured,” or formally rebuked, UNL administrators and placed UNL on the AAUP’s censure list.

The AAUP, founded in 1915, argued there had been no hearing before a professors’ committee, that Lawton had virtually been fired and that UNL administrators bent under pressure from conservative politicians in Nebraska and elsewhere.

Carter said through a text late Tuesday that he and others, including UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, “have worked collaboratively ... to get consensus on language that best supports our faculty and academic freedom.”

UNL Faculty Senate President Nicole Buan said through an email that Carter “has been a good partner” with Green and UNL professors “to find mutual agreement and understanding on the issues.”

The change in bylaws is on the NU Board of Regents’ agenda for Friday, but it won’t be voted on until the regents’ April 9 meeting.

Among other things, the new proposed language states that a suspension that runs past the end of the faculty member’s contract requires NU’s president or the Board of Regents to file a complaint against the faculty member with a UNL faculty committee. Further, the burden of proof of bad conduct will rest with the university.

Other tweaks to the bylaws involve extension educators and leaves of absence for mental health reasons.

Carter’s spokeswoman, Melissa Lee, said Carter and Green met Monday with two UNL faculty leaders, Buan and Kevin Hanrahan, to reach the agreement.

The faculty senate at UNL tried for many months to reach agreement with administrators on bylaws that would give lecturers due process and, perhaps, get UNL removed from the censure list. That process hasn’t gone smoothly, with UNL professors largely blaming NU lawyers for impeding progress by tinkering with proposals.

That problem appears to have been resolved this week with Carter’s intervention. Carter’s text said he couldn’t say whether UNL would be removed from the AAUP’s censure list. That is up to the AAUP.

Joy Castro, a member of the UNL Faculty Senate diversity and inclusion committee, said it was good news that an agreement had been reached.

“Protecting academic freedom is vital for great higher education in a strong democracy,” Castro said.

It’s not clear how influential the AAUP censure list is. Currently there are 58 schools, most of them small, on the list. Besides UNL, big universities such as Missouri, Louisiana State and Brigham Young are on it.

In years past, Nebraska’s Wayne State College was on the list but was taken off it in 1990. Omaha’s Clarkson College was removed from the list last year.

Over decades of censure lists, schools such as Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas have been on it at one time or another. The AAUP exists mainly to protect faculty members’ academic freedom and tenure rights.

Gregory Scholtz of the AAUP said this week that the “stigma of censure — especially if the conditions it is supposed to signify still exist — may impair the institution’s ability to attract and retain the most qualified faculty members.”

Scholtz said the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa will not establish a chapter at a place that is on the censure list.

He said that “bigger and more reputable institutions tend to be more eager for removal” from the list.

Asked if the bylaws change might get UNL off the list, Castro said: “I hope so.”


Our best Omaha staff photos of January 2021

rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123

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