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University of Nebraska: ‘robust, even uncomfortable, debate is welcomed and encouraged’

University of Nebraska System President Hank Bounds is making a bold promise that may come back to haunt him if the school punishes or investigates students for their free expression (blackface?).

In a message to the community last week, Bounds said the statewide debate over three football players who kneeled during the national anthem at a Saturday game is proper – but punishing them is not:

I have served in the military. I understand love of country and love of the flag and I know that freedom is not free. … But let me be clear. The University of Nebraska will not restrict the First Amendment rights of any student or employee. …

The same freedoms that protect the speech of those who have joined the conversation in recent days also protect our students’ speech – whether they’re kneeling during the national anthem, holding the American flag on the field, praying after a game or expressing their opinion during class or on campus. All of that speech falls under the same category. All of it is protected. …

College campuses, as much as any space, must be places where robust, even uncomfortable, debate is welcomed and encouraged. I want every student, faculty and staff member to know that I am unwavering in my support of your right to participate in these dialogues in the manner you choose under the First Amendment and University of Nebraska policy.

Board of Regents Chairman Kent Schroeder backed Bounds in his own statement via email, saying that each board member has agreed “we will take no such action” against the football players:

When regents take our oath of office, we pledge to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Nebraska. Both are clear. All of us enjoy the right to freedom of speech. …

There is perhaps no more appropriate space for open and honest dialogue – even dialogue which some of us may find uncomfortable or offensive – than an institution of higher learning. At the University of Nebraska, our goal is to prepare our students to live and work in a world in which they will interact with a diverse range of people, including those with whom they will disagree. We would fall short of our mission if we did not expose our students to – and encourage them to participate in – free, passionate and, yes, difficult debate.

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