Jonathan Dettman

Say "No" to Dave Heineman for NU President

Current Nebraska governor Dave Heineman is trying to shoehorn himself into the University of Nebraska presidency.

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Here are six reasons why Heineman should not become the next NU president.

1. He is unqualified

Heineman has no advanced degrees. Having graduated from a military college in 1970 doesn’t qualify him to oversee a multi-campus university system which includes a medical school and hospital (UNMC), a major research university (UNL), and two comprehensive universities (UNK, UNO).

2. Ethics violations

A complaint has been filed against Heineman for using state resources for personal gain. The complaint outlines the following breaches of ethics:

a) Taxpayer money was used to pay the staff who set up the appointment with Howard Hawks to discuss the Governor’s future employment.
b) Taxpayer money would have been used to drive the Governor to the above meeting.
c) Taxpayer money was used to pay staff to type and prepare his application letter.
d) Taxpayer money was used to pay the staff who arranged the press conference.
e) A major press conference was held in the office of Governor.
f) Taxpayer money was used to pay for the stationery on which the letter was written.
g) The media was led to believe that the press conference would address “Education Issues”, that is, problems and policies related to education in the State of Nebraska. Instead, the press conference was about the Governor’s job application.

Heineman has attempted to deflect criticism by offering to pay for the stationery, but the most serious ethical violation is not the personal use of government paper, it is his treatment of public office as a venal office. The Governor was elected to serve the people of Nebraska; instead, he has elected to use the position for his personal benefit.

Heineman claims that the the public announcement of his candidacy was necessary to avoid the appearance of cronyism.

Can you imagine if I tried to hide the fact that… I had applied for the University of Nebraska position and all of a sudden next November I show up as a finalist, these critics would be saying there’s a secret deal between the Board of Regents and the governor.

In essence, Heineman is saying that, in order to prevent accusations of impropriety from imaginary critics, he had to violate ethical standards by using his office as a platform for his candidacy. It’s rather presumptuous of Heineman to assume his presence among the finalists, but if indeed it is true that his status as a finalist would have been questioned, it is only because his lack of qualifications would make Nebraskans wonder what he was doing there.

Given these glaring ethical violations and the taxpayer-assisted fanfare with which Heineman announced his candidacy, it is not enough for the Regents to state their commitment to a fair search process. They must disqualify Heineman immediately. To do otherwise will both create the appearance of impropriety and compromise the search for a truly qualified candidate.

3. Privatization

The University of Nebraska is a public institution, operated and administered on behalf of the state’s residents. Heineman has a history, as governor, of placing public institutions and programs into the hands of private corporations.

Perhaps the most egregious example of Heineman’s failure is his privatization of Nebraska’s child welfare system. Heineman outsourced foster care to companies concerned more with their bottom line than with the well-being of vulnerable children. The results were predictable: the quality of foster care declined and costs skyrocketed. Millions of public dollars were wasted. If past actions are indicative of future ones, we can expect Heineman to pursue similarly misguided privatization schemes for the University of Nebraska, turning a public resource into a cash cow for a few wealthy business interests.

4. Anti-gay positions

Heineman, as governor, opposed the provision of spousal benefits to same-sex partners of University of Nebraska employees, even though the Regents, whom the state’s residents elected to manage the university, were in favor. Heineman has maintained the state’s ban on same-sex foster parents, and even tried to vet candidates for the state Department of Education based on their views on same-sex couples’ adoption rights. These discriminatory, homophobic state policies foster a public climate in which LGBT issues and experiences cannot even be discussed. During Heineman’s tenure as governor, Health and Human Services “diversity teams” were explicitly prevented from speaking about gay and lesbian people. More recently, a high-school debate winner’s speech on gender stereotypes was banned from television by the Nebraska Schools Activities Association.

This stifling atmosphere is incompatible with the ideals of any university that seeks to foster free inquiry and debate.

5. Opposition to academic freedom

Such an atmosphere, unfortunately, is completely compatible with the Governor’s views on academic freedom. Heineman thinks researchers should be free to study what they like, as long as their conclusions don’t contradict his political ideology. In 2012, Dr. Jim Stimpson (UNMC) published a policy report that concluded that an expansion of Medicaid would be a net economic benefit to the state of Nebraska. Heineman attacked both Stimpson and the university for what he perceived as their political bias. He browbeat then-president Milliken, who took pains to point out that a professor’s research conclusions do not amount to an official university position. Heineman’s willingness to condemn research with political implications contrary to his own positions, along with his inability to distinguish between a professor’s research and an institutional position, speak ill of his commitment to academic freedom.

6. Anti-immigrant policies

Many students at the University of Nebraska are DREAMers, longterm residents of the United States who happen to be undocumented immigrants. These are individuals between the ages of 15 and 30 who were brought to the United States as children. In many cases, they have few or no ties to their countries of origin. The federal government has deferred deportation proceedings until immigration law can provide a route to citizenship or official residency. Dave Heineman was elected governor on the back of anti-immigrant sentiment. Since his election, he has continued to pander to the xenophobic elements within his party by denying DREAMers the ability to obtain a drivers license. In a mostly rural state with no viable public transportation, this amounts to a backdoor criminalization of DREAMers’ presence in Nebraska. The courts have held (see Arizona v. United States) that states cannot set their own immigration policy. In effect, by making it impossible for DREAMers to travel legally, Heineman has done just that. Heineman’s anti-immigrant policy is now being challenged in a lawsuit.

The mission statements of all three universities (UNK, UNL, UNO) include a commitment to educating economically disadvantaged, and/or underrepresented groups, including minorities. It makes no sense to hire a candidate whose record indicates a desire to limit opportunities to these communities.

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