The University of Nebraska’s Board of Regents on Friday narrowly rejected a resolution denouncing the inclusion of critical race theory in curricula within the system.
In a 5 to 3 vote, the panel declined to endorse the statement developed by one of its members, a Republican gubernatorial candidate. It stated the board opposed “any imposition” of the contentious concept in instruction.
While several state legislatures have moved to block critical race theory from classrooms, Friday’s vote represented the first high-profile attempt to do so at a college governing board level.
Many states have recently attempted to suppress the teaching of racism and bias, and a handful has succeeded.
But it was not clearly defined what would have changed within the Nebraska system as a result of the effort, which was driven by regent Jim Pillen, a candidate for governor.
Critical race theory is an academic concept more than four decades old but recently has been widely attacked by conservatives. It in part contends racism is systemic, though its critics claim it fuels prejudice by enforcing racial divisions.
The concept began to attract more attention last year. Former President Donald Trump signed an executive order last fall prohibiting federal grantees from teaching certain ideologies, such as that the U.S. is inherently racist or sexist.
The campaign to eradicate it from the classroom then began to trickle down to conservative pundits and state legislators — and Pillen, who released his resolution last month.
Pillen’s proposal was backed by Arkansas Gov. Pete Ricketts, who on Twitter applauded him for “leading the fight against this divisive and anti-American philosophy,” as well as other GOP state officials. Meanwhile, it earned condemnations from system faculty, administrators including the system president and campus chancellors, students and vast swaths of alumni and the public.
The American Association of University Professors also recently paused the final step in removing a censure from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which it levied in 2018 amid allegations of academic freedom violations.
It “is inconceivable” the AAUP would recommend rescinding the censure if the regents passed the resolution, one association official wrote in a letter to the Lincoln chancellor last month.
Criticism of the resolution was echoed Friday during the regents’ meeting. Several speakers accused Pillen of drafting it to bolster his gubernatorial campaign, and many said it struck against higher education’s treasured principles of academic freedom.
Mark Button, dean of the Lincoln campus’ College of Arts and Sciences, said during the meeting the measure was “deeply damaging” to the system’s reputation and would chill efforts to confront racial inequality. It would also hinder attempts to offer certain courses and to recruit and train highly qualified employees, Button said.
Jeannette Eileen Jones, a history professor at the Lincoln campus, told the regents she and her colleagues “are not teaching propaganda.”
“What we want to do is critically think about history,” Jones said.
Several voting members of the board and student regents also opposed the resolution.
One regent who voted in favor of it, Robert Schafer, said during discussion that the resolution doesn’t outright preclude critical race theory from being debated in class, just that it can’t be imposed.
“Nothing should be thrust or forced upon someone,” Schafer said.
Pillen’s campaign issued a statement minutes after the vote, saying he was “disappointed in today’s outcome.”
“The issue isn’t going away,” the statement reads. “I will continue to oppose critical race theory being imposed on students in higher education, and it will be a priority to ban it from Nebraska’s K-12 schools as governor.