Editorial, 10/12: Needed clarity coming for UNL faculty discipline

Editorial, 10/12: Needed clarity coming for UNL faculty discipline


More than two years after the political flare-up on campus cost a University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate student her lecturer position, the university is revising its faculty discipline policies.

The 2017 firestorm has long since died down -- without further incident, we must add. And the diligence and collaboration displayed by the UNL Faculty Senate and administrators alike in crafting clearer procedures should preclude a similar debacle from reoccurring.

For everyone involved, that’s a good thing.

After a situation in which faculty felt their concerns were put aside by UNL leadership, the hand-in-hand involvement this time around has helped rebuild the bridge between the groups damaged by the incident.

The changes approved by the UNL Faculty Senate much more clearly define the protocols to follow in case of future problems. Of those fixes, perhaps none are more important than the differentiation of “immediate suspension” vs. other forms of discipline. Further demarcation of how complaints are investigated -- and who investigates them -- will better serve all parties.

The Faculty Senate’s president believes the wording should insulate educators from being tangled up in a disciplinary matter launched by politics. We hope he’s right.

Universities must be bastions of free speech and vibrant anchors for the marketplace of ideas as they shape young adults into the leaders of tomorrow. That weighty responsibility must occur free of politically motivated pressure by elected officials.

That practice is guaranteed in Nebraska by a 1977 Supreme Court decision declaring that Board of Regents have “the power and responsibility to manage and operate the University as free from political influence and control as possible,” not the Legislature.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case in the incident that sparked these reforms. Politics further muddled a messy situation in which a conservative student organization was sharing information outside the Nebraska Union.

The lecturer displayed a middle finger to the student as tempers rose, and conservative state senators demanded she be fired -- an outcome that ultimately happened -- while peppering the university with still-unfounded claims of political discrimination. As a result, UNL was censured last June by the American Association of University Professors, an influential body in academia.

The language will be reviewed by UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green before it goes to the Board of Regents, who will need to give the policy changes final approval, presumably in early 2020. But, from all appearances, a green light would go a long way toward lifting the censure.

Doing so would put this regrettable chapter mostly behind UNL. The damage can never be fully undone, but the university must do its best at this point to prevent future fiascoes of this nature.

And the procedures set forth represent significant improvements -- both in terms of protections and teamwork -- on that front.


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