How a flagship diversity plan angered the governor


A plan to recognize and dismantle systemic racism at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln has become the last punching bag for Republican politicians in the state. One of them, candidate for governor Jim Pillen, is also regent of the University of Nebraska.

The plan, called the Course for anti-racism and racial equity, was announced last year in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and the many protests that followed. Last week the university published a “commitment to act”Describing the plan’s objectives and the actions it would take to achieve them.

“Last year, following the murder of George Floyd, I was shaken,” Ronnie Green, Chancellor of the UNL, wrote in a editorial in the Omaha World-Herald, explaining the plan. “His death and the deaths of many other people of color indicated the need for organizations to focus on understanding racism and on making a long-term, meaningful shift towards greater racial equity. “

Quite quickly, the politicians rushed. Pillen, a self-proclaimed conservative pig farmer running for the Republican nomination for governor in the 2022 election, affirmed in a tweet that “the initiative violates the Constitution of Nebraska and the statutes of the Board of Regents” and that “we must fight the crusade to implement critical race theory.”

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The next day, Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican who is not eligible for re-election due to the term limitation, released A declaration saying the plan “will pit people against each other by conditioning everyone to see each other through the lens of race.” He said the plan included the use of “racially motivated hiring practices” and “harmful training”. Then on Monday, he said in a press conference that he had “lost all faith” in Green, felt misled by the university chancellor and no longer believed anything he said. The chancellor, Ricketts suggested, discriminates against whites.

In response to a question sent by email from the The Chronicle, Taylor Gage, a spokesperson for the governor, noted that the university’s plan cites a definition of anti-racism set out by Ibram X. Kendi, professor of history at Boston University and founder of its Center for Antiracist Research. . Gage then highlighted a quote from Kendi himself: “The only cure for racist discrimination is anti-racist discrimination. The only remedy for past discrimination is current discrimination. The only remedy for current discrimination is future discrimination.

“The Nebraska Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race,” Gage wrote.

Kendi’s words come from her 2019 book, How to be anti-racist, where he wrote that racial discrimination – which he defined as “treating, considering or discriminating in favor of or against an individual based on that person’s race” – is not inherently racist.

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“If discrimination creates fairness,” Kendi wrote, “then it is anti-racist.”

(Kendi was not immediately available for comment.)

Critical race theory has been mistakenly labeled by politicians, especially those on the right, as discriminatory and anti-American. Several states have attempted to pass laws banning it in schools and colleges. But most experts reject the interpretation of the theory by lawmakers, which has generally been described by academics as an intellectual approach or framework for understanding and questioning race, racism, and racial inequality.

As part of its action plan, the UNL will “attract, recruit, retain and support students, staff and faculty from racially minority populations”. It doesn’t mention hiring people based on skin color, as the governor suggested. Six UNL academics have given their opinion on the plan, which calls for anti-racist and inclusive teaching seminars, closer collaboration with local police and a Covid-19 response that offers “protections for professors, the staff and students from racial minorities ”, among other recommendations.

A UNL spokeswoman said the university would not comment further.

Amid criticism from politicians, University of Nebraska system chairman Ted Carter issued a letter supporting the UNL plan.

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“I believe that most Nebraskans agree that we can do more to make our state, our university, a more welcoming and accessible place for all”, he wrote. “Too many students from disadvantaged backgrounds do not enroll in university and graduate, and those who do do not see enough people like them in our faculty and administrative ranks.”

A spokesperson for the University of Nebraska’s office of the system asked the UNL for comment and said Carter “appreciates the good working relationship he has with the governor and elected officials.”

The politicians’ efforts come after a resolution that critical race theory should not be “forced” on the campuses of the system was rejected last summer by the University of Canada’s system board. Nebraska. Pillen had proposed the resolution shortly after announcing his candidacy for governor. In response, the six academics who run the university’s Journey for Anti-Racism and Racial Equity published A declaration calling the resolution a “politically constructed cultural war with the intention of hampering progress in dismantling racism”.

“The very act of forbidding the dialogue demanded by critical race theory is indeed the promotion of silence and repression,” they wrote. “The proposed resolution does exactly what it claims to oppose.”



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