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National group: UNL should apologize or compensate instructor accused of mocking student

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s effort to get off a national academic blacklist might involve apologizing to or compensating former graduate student-instructor Courtney Lawton.

Lawton lost her teaching post at UNL in 2017-18 after she was accused of harassing a conservative student who was recruiting for the group Turning Point USA.

An American Association of University Professors representative, Hans-Joerg Tiede, said Tuesday in an email that one option being discussed to get UNL off the censure list “is redress, which may or may not be in the form of remuneration.”

But Tiede clarified that statement Wednesday by saying, “Redress is not the same as remuneration. In some cases, redress has been in the form of an apology or awarding of emeritus status.” The organization doesn’t, “as a matter of policy, require remuneration in order to lift censure and doesn’t negotiate any remuneration” for the faculty member involved.

Kevin Hanrahan, UNL’s Faculty Senate leader, said conversations with the AAUP have indicated that the group may expect restitution or a “gesture” of some kind from the university to Lawton.

“I’m not sure exactly what they have in mind,” he said.

Most important to the AAUP appears to be changing or clarifying university bylaws so there is no confusion about how to handle situations involving challenges to academic freedom.

Academic freedom is generally the freedom to explore ideas and seek truth in the classroom, the freedom to conduct research and publish results, and the right to address social, political and economic topics.

A UNL committee led by Hanrahan seeks to get UNL removed from the AAUP’s censure list. UNL was put on the list last year after its handling of Lawton in 2017 and 2018. Her campus conflict received national attention.

In August 2017, Lawton flipped off and mocked an undergraduate student who sat at an outdoor table recruiting for the conservative group Turning Point USA.

The AAUP advocates academic freedom, tenure rights and other matters important to university professors. The censure list currently names 58 institutions across the country, including the University of Missouri and Clarkson College of Omaha. Clarkson is on the list because of the 1992 removal of several faculty members.

UNL was put on the list during a national conference of the AAUP in June 2018.

The AAUP reasoned that Lawton had not been given a proper campus hearing, or due process, and that UNL administrators crumbled under pressure from some state senators.

After Lawton belittled the student, conservatives nationwide saw video taken by the student, Kaitlyn Mullen, and expressed outrage against Lawton. Some conservatives used the incident as evidence that public higher education is a path to liberal indoctrination.

UNL initially said it would remove Lawton from her classroom duties in 2017 because of threats against her. Eventually, after facing political pressure, UNL appeared to remove her from the classroom, with pay, as a disciplinary measure.

Lawton, who completed her doctorate in English at UNL last year, wasn’t allowed to teach the next semester, although she was paid for doing some form of work. The AAUP called the measures taken by UNL “equivalent to a summary dismissal,” an assertion denied by UNL administrators.

Lawton wasn’t invited back to teach at UNL last year. It’s not clear what she is doing now. She didn’t respond to messages.

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Julia Schleck, an AAUP representative at UNL, said the national AAUP wants procedures to be clear, seeks an improvement in the climate for academic freedom at the university, and hopes to see “some effort to redress the harm done to the faculty member whose academic freedom was violated.”

Schleck, who is on the committee with Hanrahan, said the AAUP wants “a good-faith effort by the administration to reach out to the faculty member and attempt a resolution that would be satisfactory to both sides.”

UNL spokeswoman Deb Fiddelke said the administration is involved in “constructive dialogue” in the process.

Hanrahan said faculty members have mixed views of Lawton. “I think there are some who do feel sorry for her, and there are those who don’t feel sorry for her.”

Hanrahan said his committee’s primary goal is to develop clear, sound procedures for academic freedom at UNL.

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Bellevue pushes Paradise Lakes demolition to 2020, hopes taxpayers aren't on hook for $1.2 million

For more than five months — through rain and hail, humidity and wind — the condemned community of Paradise Lakes has sat largely untouched, a lingering, eerie reminder of spring’s devastating flooding.

And despite previous plans by the City of Bellevue, most of the community’s 195 modular homes won’t be torn down until 2020.

The Bellevue City Council voted to condemn the community earlier this summer.

At the time, the city told residents that they had until the end of July to take action on removing their homes. The remaining structures were expected to be razed by a city-hired company in early August.

Jim Ristow, Bellevue’s city administrator, said officials are now taking a cautious approach moving forward because they don’t want taxpayers to be on the hook for the estimated $1.2 million needed for demolition.

Paradise Lakes’ owner, Howard “Howdy” Helm, has told the city that he can’t afford the cost of demolition.

“He’s not a willing participant in the demolition,” Ristow said. “He just expects us to take it down.”

If the city moves ahead with demolition, it would then place a lien on the land, which Helm would have to repay if he wanted control.

But Ristow said there are concerns that the city would not recoup its money.

“The way for him to pay the lien back is to sell the property, and we’re not sure there’s a pathway there,” Ristow said.

Helm is trying to sell the land, Ristow said — a spray-painted “4 Sale” sign sits outside the property.

The World-Herald has not been able to reach Helm for comment.

The city has been privately discussing the land’s future with multiple interested parties, according to Ristow. He declined to discuss the nature of those discussions, other than to say those involved are “generally within” the modular home community industry.

Helm owns all the land beneath Paradise Lakes. He rented out about half the homes in the community; the other half were owned by the residents, who leased the land from Helm.

Demolition is progressing much faster at Green Acres, an adjacent modular home community also damaged by the flooding.

Demolition began last week, and about 30 homes have already been torn down, said Jayson Lipsey, chief operating officer of Strive Communities, the Colorado-based company that operates Green Acres.

That leaves about 120 homes to be demolished. The contractor conducting the work is tearing down about 20 homes a week, Lipsey said.

As the units are removed, the company will begin replacing them. The first group of new homes is expected to arrive in mid- to late September.

“We’re making great progress,” Lipsey said.

At least 14 Paradise Lakes modular homes had been demolished by their owners, Ristow said. A few more were being prepared to be taken down.

The majority of the remaining homes will most likely be around to ring in the new year.

What protects Omaha from flooding

Phone companies, state attorneys general announce broad campaign to fight robocalls

Twelve of the country’s largest telephone companies on Thursday pledged to implement new technology to spot and block robocalls, part of an agreement brokered between the industry and 51 attorneys general to combat the growing telecom scourge.

The new effort to be announced in Washington commits a wide array of companies in the absence of regulation to improving their defenses and aiding law enforcement in its investigations into illegal spam calls, which rang Americans’ phones an estimated 4.7 billion times in July alone.

Under the agreement, the 12 carriers have agreed to implement call-blocking technology, make anti-robocall tools available for free to consumers and deploy a new system that would label calls as real or spam. Known by its acronym, STIR/SHAKEN, the technology takes aim at a practice known as spoofing, where fraudsters mask their identities by using phone numbers that resemble those that they’re trying to contact in a bid to get victims to pick up and surrender their personal information.

Signing the pledge are larger mobile carriers, such as AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, which already have said they would implement such robocall protections and in some cases have started testing them around the country. Other carriers adopting the pledge include Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Consolidated, Frontier, U.S. Cellular and Windstream.

There is no deadline by which these telecom companies must have new robocall protections in place. But Josh Stein, the attorney general of North Carolina and one of the architects of the agreement, told The Washington Post ahead of the announcement that the “expectation is they will all implement them as soon as practical.”

“Illegal robocalls harass and harm our people. There is no silver bullet to put a stop to them, but these anti-robocall principles represent a dramatic step forward,” he added in an interview.

In doing so, North Carolina along with the rest of the country’s attorneys general said their efforts would improve the government’s ability to find and penalize scammers that continue to dial consumers in record numbers. Robocalls represent one of the top complaints received by the federal government, adding to pressure on state and federal regulators to ramp up their work and put an end to the deluge.

This June, state and federal authorities announced 94 enforcement actions against illegal robocallers that allegedly placed an estimated 1 billion robocalls to consumers, a move they said signaled their heightened interest in combating such scams. Some of the calls sought to deceive people into paying fees or surrendering their personal information for fraudulent services, such as lowering their credit card interest rates or providing help with health insurance.

The government’s top telecom agency, the Federal Communications Commission, also has enacted a series of reforms designed to give consumers relief, adopting rules this summer that pave the way for carriers to enroll customers in call-blocking technology by default. The agency did not require that these services be offered for free, though FCC Chairman Ajit Pai encouraged the industry to provide robocall protections without charge.

Even more robust reforms are awaiting action on Capitol Hill, where House and Senate lawmakers each have passed their own bills in recent months. If they can find agreement, they could adopt the nation’s first anti-robocall law in decades, mandating call-authentication technologies across the industry while empowering state and federal investigators to get tougher in their enforcement actions.

On Thursday, Stein in North Carolina said the states’ goal is to “catalyze efforts by industry to make progress on ending robocalls, adding: “We don’t want our efforts to be contingent on actions by Congress.”

With Huskers set to 'invade' Buffs' stadium, ticket prices hit Colorado's all-time high

When Husker fans travel to Boulder, Colorado is going to make them pay.

Tickets to the game are the highest priced single game tickets Colorado has ever sold, said David Plati, the school's sports information director. The athletic department is projecting to bring in about $2 million for single game ticket sales for the Sept. 7 game, he said.

"We know Nebraska fans," Plati said. "Where there's a will, there's a way. They will find a way to invade your stadium." 

Individual ticket prices for this year's game, which are sold out, range in price from $110 to $225. Tickets on the lower end of the price range are in the end zones. The higher priced seats are near midfield. 

Tickets to last year's game in Lincoln cost a flat $90.

Most of Colorado's home game tickets start at $40 for seats in the end zone and top out around $135 near midfield, excluding club seats. But prices are driven by fan interest. And interest is high for the renewed rivalry ticket.

"The game's going to sell out, and it becomes a primo item. Like anything, why does Lady Gaga charge more than a lesser-known band?" Plati said.

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The Week Two matchup will mark the first time the Huskers will be back in Boulder in a decade. Nebraska is favored against the Buffs; last season Colorado won 33-28 in Lincoln.

Though Husker fans are known to have large contingents at road games, he hopes about 85 to 90% of those in attendance will be Buffalo fans.

And they have campaigns designed to make that happen.

One marketing email to season ticket holders said they planned to "keep the red out of Folsom Field." In past NU-CU games, Plati said, people needed a Colorado phone number or driver's license to buy tickets.

True to form, Husker fans have been trying to gobble up more than the 3,000 tickets that Colorado allotted to Nebraska as the visiting team.

Nebraska received requests for nearly 15,000 tickets, said Garrett Klassy, a senior deputy athletic director for NU. That's roughly 30% of the capacity of Folsom Field in Boulder, which seats a little more than 50,000 fans.

"I wish every Husker fan could get into the game that wanted to, but there's a lot of momentum and a lot of excitement for this season," he said. "Unfortunately, it's not going to work out. We're committed to always trying to get as many Husker fans in the stadium as possible."  

Husker fans still looking for a ticket can find them on re-sale sites, but prices range from about $250 up to $1,000 per ticket. 

Variable pricing is a trend in college athletics, Klassy pointed out, including at Nebraska. This year, Nebraska home game tickets range from $60 for Northern Illinois to $125 for Ohio State.

"The amazing reputation of Husker fans speaks for itself," Klassy said. "Schools know that when Nebraska comes to town, those fans are going to travel in large packs."

Photos: Nebraska vs. Colorado at Folsom Field through the years