Remarks offered at UNL Faculty Senate meeting

The following is a transcript of remarks offered by faculty affiliated with AAUP during the open mic portion of the UNL Faculty Senate meeting on February 6, 2024. Please also see our coverage of the meeting.

Susan Vanderplas:

Hi, I’m Susan Vanderplas, I’m an Assistant Professor in Statistics, and I’m here as a member of AAUP to discuss the importance of shared governance. Many faculty are concerned about the overall decline in shared governance across the NU system. Faculty have the primary responsibility for all decisions that involve curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, and hiring/evaluating faculty, Faculty should also have a role in decision-making outside of these primary responsibility areas, including long-term planning, budgeting, and the selection, evaluation and retention of administrators. And yet, last year, a new data policy about computers and information technology was created without any input from faculty, including faculty with expertise in this area. Last fall, faculty gave vigorous and responsible input on the proposed budget cuts, and it was completely ignored by administration. UNL administration has also changed the academic calendar for next year without any input from faculty. The administrators making these decisions do not engage with the day-to-day execution of our research, teaching, and extension mission; as a result, they cannot predict the impact that these policies will have on the faculty, students, and staff. Similarly, individual faculty do not have the institution-wide view that some administrators have. This is why it is imperative for faculty and administrators to work together to make this place stronger.  Faculty are already stretched too thin (and are increasingly burnt out) – any future budget cuts (and other important decisions) must go through the faculty to be evaluated for what can reasonably be done from the perspective of BOTH administration and faculty. If administration is unwilling to take our voices and experience into account, we need to be louder, not concede. The UNL Faculty Senate needs to be more proactive in matters of shared governance and fight to ensure that it remains the standard for running this institution.

Christina Falci:

When deciding on the $800,000 cut to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) this past fall, Chancellor Bennet did not give under-represented faculty, staff, and students across the university the common courtesy to ask how those cuts would impact them. The cut has dismantled the formal DEI infrastructure at UNL, without acknowledging how much DEI work still remains to be done at the university. For example, we are failing to retain faculty of color, and there are clear gaps in student achievement and attainment across race and first-gen status. The recent cuts to ODI suggest that the work being done by that office is no longer needed, but nothing could be further from the truth. Under-represented students, staff, and faculty are going to have to find ways to exist and subsist with less support from ODI. Without fully funding ODI, the work may get done but it will happen in a less systematic and more informal way. This will under-serve our students and put an even bigger service burden on our under-repesented faculty. Moreover, this additional DEI work by faculty will not be rewarded in merit reviews, it will take time away from their scholarship, and it may take an emotional toll. Yes, if a faculty member decides NOT to engage in this informal DEI work, then it will only cause them and others like them more harm in the long run. Administration needs to fix this error and should fully fund ODI so they can take the lead on meeting the numerous challenges faced by under-represented faculty, staff and students at UNL. The $800,000 cut from ODI reaffirms that leadership views appropriate diversity work as expendable. The UNL Faculty Senate needs to make clear that it is not!

Alexander Vazansky:

Senator Loren Lippincott’s bill LB 1064, to eliminate tenure at Nebraska’s colleges and universities, displays a complete failure to understand the centrality of tenure to academic freedom and therefore to quality education and research in the state.  Since its establishment in the early 20th century, tenure has served to protect faculty whose innovative research and teaching pushes the boundaries of our society.  Merit and promotion reward our professional successes; but tenure protects our basic freedom to seek, to fail, to pursue hard truths and elusive facts wherever they might lead.  It is the necessary precondition of faculty work and should be extended to all faculty who teach and research at our institution, not rolled back or eliminated.

While we understand that there are legal reasons that the bill is less likely to succeed than one might think, considering the shockingly high number of co-sponsors and the derogatory way in which they discuss faculty work, the profound silence on this matter from the administration is deeply disturbing.  In press articles covering the introduction of the bill, administrators from across the state college and university system spoke out against it, with only UNL’s administration replying instead that they would carefully consider the bill.  We are not naive about the politics at play in the state, but if the Chancellor cannot issue a ringing public defense of this basic guarantor of academic freedom, then something is deeply wrong here.  Just a handful of years back in 2021, President Carter and the chancellors of all four system universities issued such a strong defense of the importance of academic freedom to higher education in the state when the Board of Regents was considering a motion to restrict the teaching of critical race theory on our campuses.  If the politics in the state have changed so dramatically since then that we must tread quietly around the issue of tenure, faculty can be forgiven for asking why they should come here, or why they should stay.  We ask the Senate to show vocal public leadership on this matter internally, and to carefully consider doing the same more publicly, in order to avoid further demoralization and attrition among the faculty.

Regina Werum:

LB1330 – Prohibits public educational institutions from taking certain actions relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This undermines virtually every strategic goal the university and the state has, as they relate to recruitment and retention of young adults. Moreover, a DEI component is required for federal research funding, a key source of revenue for the university and a prime factor in whether we will ever get back into the AAU’s graces. The severe cuts recently enacted that have gutted the ODI will already limit support for drafting proposals and implementing programs – and that already puts us at a competitive disadvantage. 

If Nebraska becomes the next Florida, we have every reason to expect email searches of staff and faculty involved in DEI efforts, as well as limits on general education courses in the arts and humanities, as well as many sciences. Such irreparable damage to the academic freedom of faculty would severely impact the credibility of the institution and the faculty’s ability to do our jobs, never mind recruit others to join us in the effort.  

It doesn’t even make sense pedagogically. Reams of research show that DEI initiatives help all faculty, staff and students—not just those from minoritized groups. And even though the current bill seems to be directed primarily at limiting the inclusion of racialized and gender minorities, the logic applies far more broadly.  DEI helps us integrate students/staff with disabilities, first-gen students, veterans, women in physics and engineering, men in elementary education, you name it.  The UNL Faculty Senate needs to take a strong stance on this issue.