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Gailey and Lawton

Amanda Gailey and Courtney Lawton

The Great Navy of the State of Nebraska marooned two of its admirals less than a month after they received their commission.

Gov. Pete Ricketts signed the tongue-in-cheek award for Amanda Gailey and Courtney Lawton on Jan. 5, months after the two University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty members were involved in a protest of a conservative student group.

But the Chief Admiral rescinded the honor last week after a “clerical error” was discovered, the governor's spokesman said.

Gailey and Lawton were nominated for the honor by Jay Grabow of Omaha, who said he met both women through the group Nebraskans Against Gun Violence.

Grabow, himself an admiral in Nebraska’s mythical navy, said he respected the pair of English department employees for their “great moral fiber” and willingness to stand up for free speech in the state.

He nominated both women Dec. 7 in separate letters to Ricketts’ office.

“I thought it would be kind of fun to give them a little levity and give them an award,” Grabow said. “I wanted to show them there are Nebraskans who are behind them and approve of their actions.”

The only requirements for being named an admiral in Nebraska’s navy, according to the governor’s website, are to be a resident of Nebraska or nominated by a resident, and that the request be in writing. The governor has discretion to grant the award.

After initially approving the awards, the governor reversed course Jan. 31 — a day after Gailey and Grabow testified against a bill (LB718) requiring NU and other higher-education institutions in the state to approve new guidelines for free speech on campus.

“Admiralships are an honor issued as a courtesy for special occasions,” read the letter asking Grabow to return the awards. “Your request was issued due to a clerical error.”

It marked the first time Ricketts had rescinded the honor.

“Admiralships are often given as an honor to state teammates who are retiring or departing for another opportunity — not to those who have recently been ‘released from employment,’” spokesman Taylor Gage said in an email.

“The high-profile controversies surrounding these individuals, which included an obscene gesture made toward a University sophomore, are a disqualifying factor,” he added. “Courtney Lawton’s behavior does not embody ‘Nebraska values,’ which the original request represented.”

Lawton was told her contract with UNL would not be renewed after she was filmed protesting a recruiting event for Turning Point USA on Aug. 25. In a widely shared video, she referred to Kaitlyn Mullen, the sophomore student hosting the event, as a “neo-fascist.”

Gailey was photographed holding a sign during a counter protest, but she later approached Mullen to ask if she was OK after the student had become visibly upset.

Grabow, who read a statement on Lawton’s behalf at the Jan. 30 committee hearing, said Monday that Ricketts has politicized the ceremonial award by rescinding the honor from two women who oppose his policies.

“How mean and vindictive can you get?” Grabow said in a phone interview.

The governor's office doesn't have enforcement powers to retrieve the certificates presented to Gailey and Lawton, Gage said.

He added that Ricketts has signed certificates for people across the political spectrum.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.


Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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