Ricketts Blasts Green, UNL over Antiracism Initiative

Nov. 22, 2021, midnight ·

UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green; Gov. Pete Ricketts
UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green; Gov. Pete Ricketts (Photos courtesy UNL/Governor's offfice; image by Kristi Koser, Nebraska Public Media)

Gov. Pete Ricketts is accusing University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green of promoting discrimination against white people in a new anti-racism policy. Meanwhile, University President Ted Carter is praising Green for beginning a dialogue about racial inequities.

In a news conference Monday, Ricketts harshly criticized UNL’s anti-racism and racial equity agenda Green announced last week. Ricketts said Green called him beforehand and said he’d be announcing efforts to increase minority representation among the faculty, staff and student body, a goal Ricketts says he supports. But the governor said Green did not tell him he planned on highlighting critical race theory and on calling the effort a “journey to anti-racism.”

“I was misled by Ronnie Green. I have lost all faith in Ronnie Green. I don’t believe anything he says anymore. And I don’t know how you get that back,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts criticized Green for one of the people he quoted in announcing the initiative.

“He was quoting Ibram Kendi, who is a professor at Boston University who promotes current discrimination on skin – based on skin color -- to make up for past discrimination. So he’s promoting discrimination against white people,” Ricketts said.

In his 2019 book “How To be An Antiracist” Kendi wrote “racial discrimination is not inherently racist. The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist.”

Green’s announcement doesn’t use that Kendi quote. Instead, it says the university’s journey to anti-racism uses Kendi’s definition of becoming “actively conscious about race and racism” and taking “actions to end racial inequities.”

Through a spokesperson, Green declined to comment. But in an open letter to Nebraskans released just before the governor’s news conference, University President Ted Carter praised Green for “bravely beginning the dialogue” about racial inequities.

Carter said Nebraska ranks third-worst in the nation in the gap between whites and minorities going to college. “We will not move the needle if we do nothing,” Carter wrote.

“Here’s what we will not do,” Carter added. “We will not impose critical race theory, nor any theory, upon students. We will not hire candidates based on their skin color. We will not close our doors to any qualified student. We will not limit the free, robust exchange of ideas on campus – one of the most cherished ideals in higher learning.”

Carter did criticize the rollout of the plan, saying the Board of Regents should have been engaged earlier.

Ricketts said the percentage of minorities working for the state has increased from 7 to 12 percent in the last six years, through efforts including advertising and advancing all qualified candidates automatically through the first round of interviews.

“This is the difference: we are working to engage minorities and get them to apply for the jobs. But they still have to be qualified. What the University is talking about is giving unqualified people the jobs based on their skin color,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts contrasted the state’s approach with what he said is the University’s:

“They talk about equality of outcomes. That’s Marxism. That’s communism. That’s not America. So this thing is completely off base and they need to start all over. The goal of getting more minority participation is a good one, but the way they’ve approached it is fatally flawed,” Ricketts said.

The governor’s office has no formal authority over university chancellors, who are under the University Board of Regents. In his letter, Carter said he’s spoken to Ricketts and hopes they’ll maintain a positive working relationship. Asked how he views that relationship going forward, Ricketts said that’s up to the University.

Editor’s note: By way of full disclosure, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents holds the license to Nebraska Public Media’s KUON Television station and some of our staff are UNL employees.