Free speech

Sophomore Kaitlyn Mullen engages fellow students outside the Nebraska Union last August, sharing the message of Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit organization that advocates for fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government.

ERIC GREGORY, Journal Star file photo

The aftermath of an August confrontation between a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student recruiting for a conservative group and a lecturer became fodder for a satirical news show earlier this week.

"The Opposition with Jordan Klepper," which airs nightly on Comedy Central, featured a Dec. 5 segment about Turning Point USA and founder Charlie Kirk, by "citizen journalists" Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp.

The duo interviewed Amanda Gailey, an associate professor of English at UNL, who was photographed holding a sign asking to be put on the "Professor Watch List" maintained by Turning Point USA.

(And also — blink and you'll miss it — a graphic used near the end of the video includes a stock photo of the former Beatrice City Library.)

Gailey was among a half-dozen faculty and graduate students who protested a recruiting event for Turning Point USA hosted by undergraduate Kaitlyn Mullen — an action Gailey said was a show of solidarity with other faculty targeted by the group.

Two professors Gailey said she knows personally who have appeared on the list were subject to "threats and weeks of harassing, racist and misogynist emails," Gailey told Jackson and Sharp.

Courtney Lawton, the graduate student lecturer who was filmed referring to Mullen as a "neo fascist" and making an inappropriate gesture toward her, was removed from her teaching duties after she "received many hostile emails and threats," she said in September.

Gailey also referred to recent public-records requests made by top Nebraska Republican Party officials for emails including the names of elected leaders such as President Trump, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and Sen. Ben Sasse.

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Turning Point USA founder Kirk, who also appeared in the segment, described the watch list as "an awareness tool" for students with conservative political beliefs.

"It's not 'Professor Blacklist' and it's not 'Professor Hit List,'" Kirk said. "We're not calling for the termination of these professors. Let the schools make their own decisions there," he added.

But, based on the social media outrage that followed the Aug. 25 event, state Sen. Steve Erdman called on UNL to fire Gailey for what he called "immoral, unprofessional and unacceptable" behavior.

After top NU administrators met with Erdman and two other state senators on Nov. 16, Lawton was informed her contract with UNL would not be renewed at the end of the school year.

"Simply because I came out against Turning Point USA and got in their cross-hairs, I've had several elected officials here in the state of Nebraska call for me to be fired," Gailey said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education.

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