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Omaha NAACP responds to Ricketts, UNL curriculum controversy

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 11:13 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2021 at 11:15 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha NAACP President Michael Williams issued a response to the controversy between Gov. Pete Ricketts and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green statements on curriculum strategy.

The university’s five themes to advance diversity and inclusion at Nebraska’s largest college have been under attack from the governor. Wednesday, area Black leaders gathered in north Omaha to show their support for the strategy, applauding Green’s effort and urging the governor to back off his opposition to the plan.

With so many playing politics with something meant to move Nebraska forward, Williams said, “it’s frustrating and counter-productive.”

The NAACP also had a message for the University of Nebraska Board of Regents: Don’t bow to political pressure.

Willams said Wednesday that the NAACP had no role in shaping UNL’s diversity plan, but that all of Nebraska needs to advance its thinking about racism.

“The whole society seems to be moving forward to address wrongs and inequities. I think Nebraska needs to do the same,” he said.

Ricketts’ harsh words for the chancellor during a Nov. 22 news conference made local NAACP leaders feel they could no longer ignore the debate:

“I was misled by Ronnie Green. I have lost all faith in Ronnie Green — I don’t believe anything he says anymore,” Ricketts said last week, stopping just short of demanding the chancellor lose his job.

But the NAACP said Wednesday that Ricketts has it wrong: The debate surrounding the man who put together a plan to help institutions be more responsive towards racism isn’t about critical race theory but simply being better.

“I am a graduate of UNL,” Preston Love Jr. said. “They could have used that help in 1960, and could use it now. That’s doesn’t mean they are racist throughout — it means trying to make it better, and that’s the conversation that should be held.”

While Green’s plan doesn’t mention Critical Race Theory explicitly — a direction the governor strongly opposes — it does talk about offering “anti-racist and inclusive teaching” as a means of “bridging anti-racism” to the NU 2025 strategic plan.

It’s a plan Nebraska’s NAACP leaders said Wednesday that they fully support with concern for the future.

“We are concerned that his opposition to these anti-racism and racial equity action steps will soon mushroom into campaign fodder for the 2022 election cycle here in Nebraska,” Williams said.

The governor has argued that Green’s action plan would inject critical race theory into every corner of the campus. The NAACP says that’s nonsense.

Ricketts said last week that he would leave it up to the Board of Regents, which meets Friday, to decide how to move forward. But the governor did issue another statement on the subject Tuesday, reaffirming the statements he made last week, stating that he believes the university’s plan is to cure past discrimination with current discrimination.

“Chancellor Ronnie Green believes the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is racist. Under his leadership, UNL recently released a plan to address ‘institutional racism’ as part of its ‘Journey for Anti-Racism and Racial Equity.’ From racially motivated hiring practices to divisive trainings, the plan would inject Critical Race Theory (CRT) into every corner of campus.”

The governor also restated his stance that the plan violates the state’s Constitution, saying that “Article I-30 expressly forbids racial discrimination in public education,” and saying “UNL is also presenting its plan as non-political, however, the plan fails its own test of diversity by presenting only one view of race relations in America.”

Ricketts defended the university, saying “the accusation that UNL is institutionally racist is false and outrageous. It’s the product of the sloganeering of political activists — not thoughtful academics.”

The governor took issue with Green’s inclusion of Ibram Kendi and the New York Times’ 1619 Project in the curriculum, “while excluding the scholarly work of conservative Black intellectuals like Glenn Loury, Shelby Steele, and Robert Woodson who strongly disagree with CRT.”

Ricketts also noted that state “data shows students from higher-income families are more likely to go to college than their peers from low-income families. Additionally, males from low-income white households in Nebraska are less likely to attend college than males from low-income Asian, Black, or Hispanic households. There are a variety of factors that influence educational outcomes, and it’s important to look closely at the data to understand the full story.”

According to the governor, “UNL’s plan is also based on the flawed assumption that differences in outcomes among racial groups are the result of systemic racism and how people are treated based on skin color. The data, however, doesn’t support this conclusion.”

Ricketts said the university’s plan makes the claim that racism is “often structural and embedded into systems” without providing any examples in support of the claim beyond “different outcomes for different groups.” The governor says the nearly identical graduation rates of white and Asian students at UNL refute that. “In fact, Asian students in Nebraska (on average) display the highest measure of college degree readiness of any racial group,” he said in his Tuesday statement.

In his statement, the governor also doubled down on last week’s comments calling the university’s plans Marxist and Communist, saying it a “misguided focus on achieving equity of outcomes, rather than equality of opportunities.” He also restated his opinion that Green’s plan also betrayed the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “who dedicated his life to the dream of Americans judging one another according to the content of their character and not skin color.”

Watch Wednesday’s news conference

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