The University of Nebraska at Lincoln bowed, at least to some degree, to political pressure when it permanently removed a lecturer in English from the classroom last fall. In so doing, and in denying her the dismissal hearing to which she was entitled by campus policy, Nebraska may have violated her academic freedom.
So concludes a new investigative report from the American Association of University Professors. The document provides new insight into the locally infamous Courtney Lawton case at Nebraska and the university’s shifting rationales for her suspension. It also sets the stage for a possible vote to censure Nebraska’s administration at the AAUP’s annual meeting next month.
AAUP censure for alleged violations of academic freedom is a symbolic gesture, since the association has no actual authority over the institutions with which it disagrees. But many campuses see censure as a reputational black eye and work with AAUP to lift it.
The university, which participated in AAUP’s on-campus investigation, expressed “disappointment” with the association’s findings this week and stood by its decision to effectively end Lawton’s teaching appointment, in the interest of the campus as a whole.
In August, Lawton — who was then an adjunct at Nebraska — was recorded protesting an on-campus recruiting table for Turning Point USA. That’s the conservative group behind Professor Watchlist, which many academics believe distorts their views and chills academic freedom. Lawton called the undergraduate behind the table a “neo-fascist Becky” who “wants to destroy public schools, public universities, hates DACA kids,” and flipped her off. The video was shared on online, went viral and drew the ire of Republican state lawmakers.
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