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New University of Nebraska policy emphasizes free expression

January 19, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — University of Nebraska regents will consider a policy to make its campuses more conducive to the free exchange of ideas following a political incident last year.

The Board of Regents will consider the new policy next week. The proposal reaffirms the university’s commitment to the First Amendment rights of speech and expression and calls for regular opportunities to teach about the First Amendment. It will also require NU campuses to designate spaces as public forums, limited public forums or non-public forums.

“Although members of the university community are free to comment on, criticize and contest views that others express, they must do so at a time and place, and in a manner that does not prevent, impede, or obstruct the freedom of others to also exercise their rights,” the policy said.

The university gained national attention in August when a graduate student lecturer confronted a conservative student. Courtney Lawton made an inappropriate hand gesture at second-year student Kaitlyn Mullen, who was recruiting for the conservative group Turning Point USA. Lawton also called Mullen a “neo-fascist.” Lawton, who was initially relieved of her classroom duties, was later fired after pressure from at least three state senators.

Conservative lawmakers accused the university of being unwelcoming to conservative viewpoints. Faculty members said the discipline against Lawton went against the university’s principles of academic freedom.

Shortly after the incident, a group of six administrators began crafting the policy with regents, faculty, staff and students.

“At a time when we’re part of a national conversation about these issues, it’s important for us to re-examine and recommit ourselves to the principles that any institution of higher learning must hold dear,” said regent Bob Whitehouse of Omaha.

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