University of Nebraska officials are defending the university against recent criticism leveled by three state senators who question whether the university has a bias against conservative viewpoints.
Senators Steve Erdman of Bayard, Tom Brewer of Gordon, and Steve Halloran of Hastings raised questions in a letter published by the Hastings Tribune.
University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds says the senators went to the news media before they talked with him.
“What I’m saying is, I think there’s a right way and a wrong way to do business and where I come from, if you have an issue you call the person and you try to figure it out and sending it directly to the media, in my view, is not the way to do business the right way,” Bounds tells Coby Mach, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “It’s certainly not in keeping of what I’ve come to know and love is the Nebraska way.”
Bounds denies the university has suppressed conservative voices in favor of liberal ones. He says the university system fosters free speech and open debate.
The senators state in their letter the questions stem from the harassment of University of Nebraska – Lincoln sophomore Kaitlyn Mullen, who claimed she was treated rudely while recruiting for the conservative group Turning Point USA.
They posed five questions in the letter.
Question No. 1: Are professors at UNL hostile toward conservative students?
Question No. 2: Are university administrators warm, welcoming, inviting and transparent towards conservative students?
Question No. 3: Can the university’s administration conduct an honest investigation when a conservative student is involved?
Question No. 4 Can anyone at the university tell the truth about free speech zones on campus?
Question No. 5: Does anyone teach English anymore at UNL?
The senators stated they had “justifiable reasons to be concerned about the social condition and discriminatory actions of our state’s flagship university.”
Bounds reiterates he and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green dealt with the incident involving Mullen, finding the actions of a graduate student toward Mullen as improper. The graduate student taught a class on the Lincoln campus. Bounds says action was taken, adding legal considerations prevent him from disclosing specifics.
Bounds points out the graduate student is one person in a teaching staff of 16,000.
“This whole argument is embedded in bad politics,” according to Bounds. “The faculty and staff I know are the people that go to church with me, that care deeply about our students, and to insinuate anything else is completely improper.”
The senators complain the UNL Department of English focuses less on English than in promulgating liberal positions, focusing on the core values it lists on its webpage, such as fostering a sense of belonging.
“We’ve had a student commit suicide on our campus and four others attempt it,” Bounds says. “Shouldn’t our faculty and staff try to instill a sense of belonging? What is offensive about those values?”
University of Nebraska – Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green says campuses across the country are debating how to balance freedom and civility.
“How to encourage free debate, how to encourage challenging ideas among individuals, and still do it in a civil way,” Green says.