Senators, UNL leaders square off over treatment of students

On August 25th, University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore Kaitlyn Mullen put up a table outside the student union. 

She was handing out fliers and posters, trying to recruit new members to a political group called Turning Point USA. 

That’s when a grad student, who was also teaching classes at UNL at the time, confronted her.

"They were targeting me personally, calling me a white nationalist, the KKK," Mullen said. 

"They were targeting the group as a whole as well."

The incident, captured on video, caused a firestorm – with many saying Mullen was treated unfairly. 

It’s also what prompted three state senators – Tom Brewer, Steve Halloran and Steve Erdman to write a letter to UNL leadership earlier this week. 

In the letter, they ask whether UNL professors are "hostile" towards conservative students, and question whether the university could conduct an honest investigation into the incident. 

UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green and NU President Hank Bounds have since responded with letters of their own. 

Green said in his that the idea that the university would treat students with hostility because of their political views is reckless and false, and that free speech exists as UNL "every day in all places." 

Senator Halloran, of Hastings, says he’s heard from a number of parents whose students attend UNL, and say they’ve been untreated fairly by faculty because of their conservative views. 

"Their students, their children that they sent there were or, at least, felt that there was a lot of political agenda in classrooms," Halloran said. 

"Often times they felt there was a compulsion on their part to ‘go along to get along’ to get a grade."

Ari Kohen has taught political science at UNL for a decade. 

"My sense is that simply isn’t the case," he said of the senators claims. 

"It’s certainly not the case, in my experience, at the University of Nebraska."

Kohen says he hasn’t seen any evidence or heard from anyone in his classes that students are being mistreated. 

"There’s really not a lot of controversy in my classes," he said. 

"I don’t think there’s ever been a lot of controversy where my students are worried about how I’m going to treat them based on their political affiliation. So all of this, from my perspective, was very surprising."

Halloran and his colleagues are preparing a list of "reasonable" changes they plan to present to UNL leaders, which they say will act as a remedy for the incident involving Mullen. 

"These administrative actions will not be difficult to implement and we will then allow the UNL administration time to deliberate on those actions," Halloran said. 

He says if a "reasonable" amount of time passes without action, the senators will make the list public. 

"Actions speak louder than words," he said. 

"So, ultimately, we have to judge or decide whether the administration wishes to look at remedies to address this or the other option which is to just sweep it aside." 

Halloran says he’s more than willing to meet with Bounds and Green, who have also said they’re willing to meet with the senators. 

When any kind of meeting will happen is unclear. 

Students Channel 8 talked to said they’re not sure if there’s any intentional mistreatment of conservatives on campus, but say there has been a noticeable change in political conversations since the last presidential election.