University of Nebraska regents are under great pressure this week from both sides in the debate over critical race theory. Four key considerations loom large on whether to approve the resolution against CRT from Regent Jim Pillen.
Those considerations all show that the responsible course is to vote “no” on the Pillen resolution. By rejecting the proposal, the regents would benefit NU and Nebraska in four important ways.
A “no” vote would maintain the regents’ proper role. The regents’ role is to set overall strategic vision for the university system and oversee top-level management and budget duties. The Board of Regents has performed that task capably this century even with changes in its membership following elections. Regents have rightly left administrative decisions — and curricular matters — to NU chancellors and faculty. Approval of the Pillen resolution would break with that tradition. Such a step would erode the proper authority of the individual campuses and harm relations between the regents and NU administrative leaders. This would be a dangerous step by NU’s governing board.
A “no” vote would insulate NU from politics. America’s modern political culture is lamentably marred by heavy doses of cynicism, rancor and ill will. Saying “yes” to a politically driven showcase such as the Pillen resolution would pull NU governance into a political mud pit. This policy question should be decided on grounds far more substantial and serious than “Jim Pillen needs a win on this issue so he can defeat Charles Herbster in the GOP gubernatorial primary.”
Experience from other states provides a warning: Once a board of regents allows partisan politics to determine university policy, that step emboldens politicians and party activists to interfere further. In addition, university administration — president, chancellors — becomes an ongoing target of political sniping. Nebraskans have seen just such a partisan assault in recent days. By voting “no” on the Pillen proposal, the Board of Regents can keep the door firmly shut to entangling university policy-making with self-serving politics.
A “no” vote would safeguard free thought in academia. Academic freedom, for generations, has been a core principle of university life. The Pillen resolution attempts to slap a straitjacket on the free exchange of ideas. Contrary to claims from the proposal’s supporters, regulation of intellect is not free speech. This free speech requirement is a two-way street, by the way: Nebraskans of whatever philosophical persuasion — left, right or center — should champion open debate and discussion, even if it means their deeply held beliefs are challenged. Such debate, openly and honestly encouraged, is a key requirement of a free society — and certainly of a university.
A “no” vote would encourage Nebraskans to pursue a needed civic discussion of race and ways our state can maximize opportunity for all residents. It’s vital that Nebraskans be open to understanding the racial challenges in our state and to working together to address them. If the regents say “yes” to the Pillen resolution, they will also be saying “yes” to those who think America doesn’t need to seriously examine its racial past and the ramifications for the present. The regents would hand critics a weapon to undercut the change that Nebraska business leaders and many law enforcers recognize is needed.