A western Nebraska state senator recently criticized the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s plan to hire a diversity vice chancellor, saying it bodes poorly for “white Christian conservative males.”
State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard wrote in a column or letter last month to constituents that the NU system complains about inadequate state funding but it still has money for a “six-figure-salaried” person to assist with diversity.
Erdman said Wednesday that the reaction from some constituents was: “It’s about time somebody said something.”
The matter highlights some conservatives’ belief that universities are swarming with liberal professors who seek to indoctrinate their students. Edna Chun, a national consultant in diversity, said Wednesday that most universities have diversity officials.
NU President Hank Bounds said in a written statement Wednesday evening that he is proud that the university supports diversity. “Throughout my career, I’ve seen again and again that we are stronger when we serve alongside people who don’t look or think like us.
“I was shocked and deeply saddened when I read the column. For any elected official to champion these kinds of dangerous views only serves to damage our great state and our ability to recruit and retain the top talent that will grow Nebraska for the future.”
UNL has never had a vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, although it has had employees devoted to those tasks. The vice chancellor is the first diversity administrator who will report directly to the chancellor.
The aim of diversity work, Florida-based consultant Chun said, is to broaden the awareness of all students and prepare them for a global society.
“The whole goal of it is educational,” Chun said. She said minority students can feel isolated when there are small numbers of them on a campus. Diversity and inclusion also refer to gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation and gender identification, she said.
UNL data show that last fall, minority students made up 14.3 percent of the university’s student body — 3,719 of 26,079 students.
Erdman said he wants no preferential treatment for anyone. “Favoring people by way of their genitalia, the color of their skin and their sexual orientation is as much an insult as discriminating against them for these very reasons,” he said in his letter, which he called “Straight Talk From Steve.”
He wrote that Black Lives Matter and #MeToo are "left-wing movements" that have "put tremendous pressure upon the (UNL) administration to do more about diversity and inclusion."
His letter says he can envision “white Christian conservative males” being “excruciatingly scrutinized against the backdrop of the new Vice Chancellor’s extremist progressive worldview.”
Erdman said his views don’t come from contempt for any race. “I’ve got black friends. I’ve got Mexican friends,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I look at them as being a friend and an American.”
But some Nebraskans are rebelling against the university’s liberalism, he said. An acquaintance told him his daughter changed her mind and isn’t interested in attending UNL.
“People are starting to wake up,” said Erdman, a 68-year-old retired farmer who sells some real estate. He said in his letter that a student who suggests that marriage is the union of man and woman in the future might be “beaten down by a torrent of LGBTQ complaints followed by psycho-analysis and reprogramming.”
The 17-person UNL search committee, assisted by a national search firm, continues to take nominations and applications for the position of vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion.
Kwame Dawes, chairman of the search committee for the position, said he would like to see a person hired by the end of the year. The job signals that “diversity is a value in higher education,” said Dawes, a UNL English professor.
As for some of Erdman’s comments, Dawes said: “I think it’s one of the rich traditions of America that people can say what they want.”
A consulting firm last year found that UNL has put in place plenty of diversity efforts but that the university needs a strategic vision of what it wants to accomplish in that realm.
UNL information about the job indicates that the person who holds it would create strategic plans for diversity, goals and priorities; encourage a climate of belonging for all; lead work to attract and retain a diverse student body and faculty; and assist with dialogue on the subject.
Two state senators from Lincoln this month wrote a letter praising UNL’s diversity effort. State Sens. Anna Wishart and Adam Morfeld, and some other Lincolnites, said hiring a diversity vice chancellor “is a clear step forward.”
Erdman was one of several senators who clashed with the NU system over the past year concerning a graduate student’s treatment of an undergrad who was recruiting for the conservative group Turning Point USA. The graduate student flipped off and berated the undergrad, an incident that received national attention. Erdman was critical of UNL’s slow response, among other things.
Erdman said there seems to be a great divide in Nebraska. “Eastern Nebraska is a foreign country for most of the people who live out here,” he said. Many eastern Nebraskans see government as the answer to problems, he said.
“It’s not the answer. It’s the problem,” he said. He said western Nebraska’s attitudes, climate and land have more in common with a neighboring state. Western Nebraskans, he said, would be better off in Wyoming.