Nebraska lawmakers to debate DEI, tenure bills

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Dive Brief:

  • Nebraska lawmakers Tuesday are set to debate proposals that could eliminate tenure and dramatically diminish campuses’ diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
  • Under one bill, public colleges would be barred from creating DEI offices or requiring employees to take DEI training. They would also be prohibited from spending public funding on DEI programming.
  • A separate piece of legislation would “prohibit the practice of academic tenure” at public colleges and require all faculty to undergo yearly performance evaluations.

Dive Insight:

Nebraska lawmakers are the latest to take aim at tenure and DEI programs, which conservatives claim allow underperforming faculty to keep their jobs and indoctrinate students respectively.

Under one proposal, colleges would not be able to require that employees learn about structures or systems built on the basis of race, sex, gender or sexual orientation. It would also prohibit mandatory teachings on methods to undo such systems, as well as the concepts of cultural appropriation, allyship and unconscious or implicit bias.

The Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union slammed the proposal’s language as problematic and likely to have far-reaching implications.

“While the bill’s DEI definition hinges on training, its passage would send a chilling message that could interfere with other DEI efforts to support student success, programs already facing significant budget cuts,” it said in a statement.

Crystal Garcia, an education professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, panned the proposal when it was introduced last month.

“We need to be clear that banning diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts goes AGAINST decades of research establishing the benefits of these practices on student outcomes,” she posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Nebraska lawmakers will also weigh a second bill that seeks to dismantle tenure on college campuses.

That legislation would remove the power to grant tenure from the Nebraska Board of Regents and the Nebraska State Colleges board, as well as any community college boards.

Additionally, the boards would be required to adopt a written policy outlining reasons faculty could be fired. The justifications would not be limited to just cause, programs being discontinued or financial exigency, the proposal said.

The bill’s author, Republican state Sen. Loren Lippincott, said in a January op-ed that removing tenure could protect students from being indoctrinated “with leftist ideology.”

But the American Historical Association, a professional organization dedicated to academic freedom, called the legislation an “ill-conceived attempt to undermine the principles that have made American higher education the envy of the world.”

“Despite occasional media misrepresentations, tenure is not a license to slack off or to engage in untoward behavior,” the group said in a Friday letter to the Nebraska Legislature Education Committee.

“Although academic job markets vary across disciplines, candidates are unlikely to opt for institutions where their teaching and research will not benefit from the academic freedom guaranteed by tenure,” the letter added.

In 2023, several states debated anti-tenure bills, but the proposals largely failed to pass their respective legislatures.

University of Nebraska Interim President Chris Kabourek is set to testify against both bills, according to The Daily Nebraskan, the independent student newspaper of the system’s flagship campus.

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