Bills prohibiting DEI programs, eliminating tenure at colleges heard in Education Committee

Feb. 13, 2024, 9 p.m. ·

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Two bills that would impact state colleges had hearings in the Nebraska Legislature’s Education Committee today.

State Sen. Dave Murman’s bill would prohibit diversity, equity and inclusion programs at the University of Nebraska, state colleges and community colleges. State Sen. Loren Lippincott’s bill would eliminate tenure positions.

Under Murman’s bill, state colleges wouldn’t be allowed to spend money on DEI programs, require employees to attend DEI training or create DEI offices or positions.

Opponents said the bill would contribute to brain drain and hurt education and culture on college campuses.

Mia Perales, a UNL freshman studying environmental engineering who spoke against the bill, said she has faced discrimination as a Latina woman in her classes, but campus organizations helped her.

“It is through diversity, equity and inclusion organizations like the Mexican American Student Association, or MASA, and the Multicultural Greek Council at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that I have found a supportive, helpful and encouraging community,” Perales said. “If these organizations were to go away, thousands of students, including myself, would lose their found community.”

Another UNL student said they found their identity because of safe spaces on campus.

“This bill would rip all of that away from us, making our campuses and our schools dangerous, leaving us vulnerable, defeated, lonely, and most importantly, scared,” the student said.

Proponents said DEI isn’t truly diverse and stifles conservative voices. Olivia Nelson, a freshman at Doane University, said Murman’s bill would protect education.

“As a student, I have had a front row seat to the concerning trend across the nation where public institutions have increasingly imposed rigid ideological frameworks under the guise of DEI initiatives,” she said.

Lippincott’s bill would eliminate tenure at universities and require the creation of policies laying out performance evaluations, acceptable reasons to terminate an employee and procedures for dismissing an employee.

As it stands, tenured professors are hired indefinitely to allow academic freedom without fear of being fired. Lippincott said there should be more focus on protecting student rights instead of professors.

Opponents of the bill said tenure is necessary for protecting diverse ideas and the process to get tenure is challenging. University of Nebraska Interim President Chris Kabourek said eliminating tenure would make the university less competitive compared to other Big Ten schools.

“Nebraska can’t afford, we can’t afford to become a club of one,” Kabourek said.

Opponents also said there are performance evaluations in place for all university employees, whether they are or aren’t tenured.

Proponents for the bill say they believe tenure is outdated and that universities need accountability.