Campus radicalism and intolerance have become so virulent at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that a former university official warned current administrators that the campus is no longer “safe” for conservatives.
Contrary to repeated assurances from university officials, internal emails show the UNL campus is not a welcoming environment for conservative students. When a records request submitted by Conservative Review threatened to make those emails public last week, school officials scrambled to address the anti-conservative bias of UNL faculty and staff and their hostility to free speech. That was almost three months after a campus incident captured national attention.
On August 25, the chapter president of a campus conservative group, Turning Point USA, was mercilessly harassed by professors. As Campus Reform reported, University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore Katie Mullen said at least two professors and a lecturer circled the group’s table yelling, “TPUSA Nazis” and “Fuck Charlie Kirk!” Kirk is the founder and executive director of Turning Point USA.
Turning Point USA captured video of lecturer Courtney Lawton, reportedly a member of the English department, holding a “Just say NO! to neo-fascism” sign, flipping off the camera, and yelling, “Neo-fascist Becky right here! Wants to destroy public schools, public universities, hates DACA kids.” “Becky” is slur with sexual connotations used against white women to mean “basic bitch.”
A second professor, Amanda Gailey, carried a sign that read “Turning Point: Please put me on your watchlist. Prof. Amanda Gailey.”
A later video shows Mullen being threatened with arrest by a school administrator for setting up her Turning Point USA table in an area that wasn’t a designated free speech zone.
Nearly three months later — when a Conservative Review public information request threatened to expose internal communications about the unsafe environment for conservatives on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus — school officials declined to release the documents promptly, citing “the extensive nature” of the request.
Instead, University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds preemptively sent copies of several damning internal emails to Gov. Pete Ricketts and the Nebraska legislature on Friday, Nov. 17. “These documents will be made public soon and I wanted you to receive them from me directly rather than hear about them from another source,” Bounds wrote in a letter to the governor.
Before the university fulfilled CR’s records request, copies of Bounds’ letter and some of the requested documents were news-dumped to local media in Nebraska. The resulting stories were published late Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving week.
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“I am surprised and embarrassed by what we found in the documents. Some of the emails reflect unprofessional behavior by our employees and I apologize,” UNL President Bounds said.
In one Aug. 31 email about the faculty harassment of Mullen, emeritus Senior Vice Chancellor Ellen Weissinger, a 40-year veteran faculty member of the school, wrote, “This will pass. But the real issue is we’ve got to do more to advance civility on campus. And frankly campuses have to become more tolerant and welcoming to conservative students and faculty. This has worried me for years. I don’t think it is ‘safe’ to be conservative on our campus. Too many faculty espouse their personal political views as gospel in cases where there [sic] views have no relevance.”
In another email, now-former UNL news director Steve Smith warned university officials they would have to spin the Turning Point USA incident to counter the “right-wing narrative.”
Smith suggested UNL might “consider more aggressive counter-measures” against the story, noting he had worked “to soften some of the more inflammatory aspects of the mainstream stories.” He suggested that university surrogates pen op-eds for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal Star, “to start peeling away at the right wing’s central narrative that has unfortunately been parroted by the mainstream media.”
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln administration has been spinning this story since day one. Weissinger admitted in her email that she has worried for “years” that faculty made this campus an unsafe intellectual space for conservatives, yet prior to CR’s records request, University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials repeatedly denied wrongdoing by faculty members.
“The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is committed to free speech from all viewpoints and to maintaining an atmosphere conducive to learning. We expect our university community to be a place of civil discourse,” the school’s official statement after the August incident read. When three state lawmakers questioned whether UNL was “hostile” to conservatives, Chancellor Ronnie Green accused these lawmakers of spreading “falsehoods and distortions” and sent a letter to the state legislature saying UNL “will not be politicized and will not be used as a pawn.”
But Weissinger’s email shows there were ongoing administrative concerns that the taxpayer-funded campus, in fact, is hostile to conservatives, contrary to Chancellor Green’s deflections. Further, Smith’s emails reveal there was an internal attempt to “counter” a “right-wing” narrative that UNL officials said mainstream outlets were repeating.
By releasing CR’s requested documents to the very same media outlets Smith was working with before the public records request was submitted, the university showed it is still attempting to control the narrative and mitigate the fallout from these embarrassing revelations.
This is not a “right” or “left” narrative: Conservative student Katie Mullen was harassed by an intolerant liberal professor opposed to her political views. The campus environment at UNL is hostile to conservatives, as the former senior vice chancellor has worried for “years.” Yet, the university has repeatedly denied faculty hostility toward conservatives in the months leading up to the publication of these records.
Now things are different.
On Friday, Nov. 17, nearly three months after the harassment incident, Courtney Lawton, the lecturer who berated Katie Mullen, was told that her contract would not be renewed. UNL news director Steve Smith and chief communication and marketing officer Teresa Paulsen resigned, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
President Bounds said the university is taking several steps to change the campus environment. Lawton will face the consequences of her intolerant behavior, but this announcement was made only after CR submitted its records request.
Change came not because it was right, but because university administrators felt embarrassed and threatened. What other changes will more pressure bring?
Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.
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