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UNL Faculty Senate leader’s rocky tenure ends with his ouster

October 3, 2018

LINCOLN — Jeff Rudy chalked up his dismissal Tuesday as University of Nebraska-Lincoln Faculty Senate president to a campus incident 13 months ago that appears likely to keep haunting the university.

The incident is the nationally publicized moment in late August 2017 when a graduate student-lecturer, Courtney Lawton, loudly belittled and scolded a sophomore on campus who was recruiting students for the conservative Turning Point USA.

The Faculty Senate complaints against Rudy, however, presented several reasons for the group’s 41-19 vote to fire him. It’s the first Faculty Senate dismissal of its leader in the 44 years of the faculty body.

The formal complaints against Rudy included “unilateral decision-making,” a failure to inform his colleagues of important developments, politicizing the presentation of an academic freedom award, “erosion of trust” and “accusatory and defamatory” comments.

“There are multiple reasons,” said Kevin Hanrahan, an associate professor of voice who took over Tuesday as president.

Among other things, Rudy had accused the Faculty Senate executive committee of having a “mole” who leaked information to the news media.

He was accused of trying to avoid disclosing to the public the members of a faculty committee assigned to look into how UNL could get off of the American Association of University Professors’ censure list.

The censure resulted from UNL’s response to the Lawton matter. The AAUP said the university’s leaders failed to give Lawton due process before she was virtually fired. UNL administrators bent under pressure from some conservative state senators, the AAUP said.

Rudy declined last month to personally present two members of the English department, Julia Schleck and Marco Abel, with the James A. Lake Academic Freedom Award, even though the Faculty Senate voted to give them the award. The English department, which Lawton worked in, was in the center of the free speech storm.

Rudy, a 53-year-old professor in athletic training education, said at the Lake Award presentation last month: “I cannot in good conscience present ... the award to those who defend boorish bullying by Courtney Lawton under the guise of academic freedom.”

Many faculty members have defended the lecturer’s free speech rights or at least her right to due process before she was fired. But, Rudy said, few stood up for the free speech rights of Mullen, the conservative sophomore.

“They did nothing to defend Kaitlyn Mullen’s freedom of speech,” Rudy said in an interview Tuesday. “They didn’t portray the totality of academic freedom. We can’t steal academic freedom from someone else.”

The Faculty Senate president oversees meetings, helps set the faculty’s agenda and priorities, and represents the UNL faculty before the NU Board of Regents.

Rudy said Tuesday that he grew up in a military family, is a Christian and probably would be stereotyped as conservative. In fact, he said, he has no trust in the political system, period. “I think there are idiots in both parties.”

John Fech, a member of the senate executive committee, said before the vote that ousting Rudy was a serious matter. He said the committee tried to work with Rudy but reached an impasse.

After the vote, Rudy seemed at ease with the outcome. He said in an interview that he would go back to serving as a regular member of the Faculty Senate.

“I’m really, really OK with it,” he said. “I’m relieved the process has played itself out.”

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