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Nebraska governor deals ‘no faith’ blow to university officials’ strategy to address racism

Ricketts: ‘I have lost all faith in Ronnie Green — I don’t believe anything he says anymore.’
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said he was misled about UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green's plan to...
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said he was misled about UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green's plan to address race issues there, making numerous statements against its anti-racism initiative, which he directly linked to Critical Race Theory.
Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 1:30 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Gov. Pete Ricketts had harsh words for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s chancellor Monday morning on his recent plans to address racism within the NU system.

The governor said the conflict between him and the university stems from a phone call Ricketts received last week with UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green about a program to try to figure out how to increase “more participation from minorities,” which the governor said was a good thing.

“But what Ronnie did not tell me is that he was planning on highlighting Critical Race Theory” and quote Boston University professor and author Ibram Kendi, a National Book Award-winning author, in doing so, thus violating the Constitution, Ricketts said.

The governor said Kendi “promotes current discrimination on skin, based on skin color, to make up for past discrimination. So he’s promoting discrimination against white people.”

That’s a violation of the Constitution, Ricketts said, “and yet the chancellor of the university is promoting a program that would do that.”

NU President Ted Carter issued an open letter ahead of the governor’s scheduled news conference, supporting Green’s plan for UNL’s path forward, but stepping back from the connections of an initiative to recruit minorities to Critical Race Theory.

“This is the fundamental vision behind UNL’s plan. I applaud Chancellor Ronnie Green for bravely beginning the dialogue,” Carter said in his statement. “Here’s what we will not do. We will not impose critical race theory, nor any theory, upon students. We will not hire candidates based on their skin color. We will not close our doors to any qualified student. We will not limit the free, robust exchange of ideas on campus — one of the most cherished ideals in higher learning.”

Ricketts said that while he appreciated Carter’s attempt to “take steps on this,” he didn’t see any reason to applaud Green, restating how the chancellor misled the governor.

“I do not see that as anything to applaud,” he said. “...I cannot tell you how unhappy I am at how this all unfolded.”

While Green’s plan doesn’t mention Critical Race Theory explicitly — a direction the governor strongly opposes — it does talk about offering “anti-racist and inclusive teaching” as a means of “bridging anti-racism” to the NU 2025 strategic plan.

He called on the university to take steps to demonstrate how they will not be taking steps toward implementing any trace of CRT.

“Anti-racism is Critical Race Theory,” Ricketts said. “That’s saying we need to discriminate against people today, we need to discriminate against white people today to make up for it. That is not our American values. They talk about equality of outcomes. That’s Marxism. That’s Communism. That’s not America. So, this thing is completely off base, and they need to just start all over.”

Getting more minorities into staff and faculty is a good one, the governor said, but the entire concept needs to be scrapped because it’s “fatally flawed.” What the state should be striving for is equal opportunity, not equal outcomes, he said. What the university is talking about is giving unqualified people the job based on their skin color, he said.

Making a leap from discrepancies on minority performance to systematic racism doesn’t make sense, the governor said.

But when asked why he thinks the discrepancy exists, he said it was something “the university needs to address” the same way the state has done with “a number of things.”

“(CRT) betrays the Civil Rights Movement. It betrays Martin Luther King Jr.,” Ricketts said.

Read Ted Carter’s letter

‘An Open Letter to the People of Nebraska’

In 2014, when I took the helm of my alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, our student body did not reflect the country we sought to serve.

We set out to change that. Not with quotas, but through a concerted effort to engage young people who felt called to serve, but who may have looked at us and wondered whether they belonged.

We made progress. Women and minorities make up well over half the Class of 2023, for the first time in the Naval Academy’s history. Our 90 percent graduation rate extended to every group on campus.

More than that, we became the service academy of choice – welcoming to all, representing every faith, race, political affiliation, geography and socioeconomic status. We looked more like the America we take an oath to protect and defend.

I see a similar opportunity for our University of Nebraska.

There has been a great deal of public conversation recently about the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s plan to address racial inequities.

These are uncomfortable conversations, with passionate opinions on many sides. Not every Nebraskan, nor every member of the university community, will agree with every element of the plan.

I do believe most Nebraskans agree we can do more to make our state, our university, a more welcoming and accessible place for all. As we see in the headlines daily, our workforce challenges are urgent, and we do not retain enough of our young people. Too many students from disadvantaged backgrounds do not enroll in college and graduate, and those who do don’t see enough people like them in our faculty and administrative ranks. In fact, the difference in college attainment between whites and minorities in Nebraska is 25 percent – third-worst in the country.

Making certain Nebraska is a place where everyone can succeed is critical to maintaining our growth and competitiveness for future generations. As Nebraska’s university, founded on the principle that opportunity should be extended to all, we have a special responsibility to help set the standard. Nebraska can lead the way – but we will not move the needle if we do nothing.

This is the fundamental vision behind UNL’s plan. I applaud Chancellor Ronnie Green for bravely beginning the dialogue.

Here’s what we will not do. We will not impose critical race theory, nor any theory, upon students. We will not hire candidates based on their skin color. We will not close our doors to any qualified student. We will not limit the free, robust exchange of ideas on campus – one of the most cherished ideals in higher learning.

Was the rollout of UNL’s plan perfect? No. Key stakeholders, starting with our Board of Regents, should have been engaged earlier. As your university president, with ultimate accountability to the Board, I have promised each regent that we will do better. We are fortunate to have strong governance of our university, and we will welcome their input, along with all voices, in this process. As Chancellor Green has said, this is a living document. The ink is never dry.

I have also spoken to Governor Ricketts, whose partnership means a great deal to me personally and professionally. I hope he will accept my pledge that we will do all we can to maintain our positive working relationship in support of his goal to grow Nebraska.

Almost two years ago to the day, I wrote my first open letter to Nebraskans, humbly accepting the opportunity you had given me to serve this university. After wearing the cloth of our nation for 38 years, I knew the University of Nebraska was my life’s next great calling.

I said then that your trust and confidence was our most precious asset. That is even more true today, and we will work every day to earn it. Our university is a great beacon for our state – the peoples’ university, a place that can change any person’s life, no matter their background. Together we will build a future we can all be proud of.

Ted Carter, president of the University of Nebraska system

Watch the full video of the governor’s comments

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