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Oliver B. Pollak
photo by Tim Fitzgerald

The End of an Era - UNO's Public Intellectuals and the Omaha World-Herald, 1997-2006

by Oliver B. Pollak and Aneta Czarnik

The term "public intellectual" though of recent vintage stretches from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Henry Louis Gates. From 1997 to 2006, the Omaha World-Herald published about 338 academics' opinions by 98 Nebraska professors. "Other Points of View," "Midland Voices," and "Com-mentary" contained about 95 essays by 48 UNO faculty addressing political, economic, scientific, social, legal, immigration, healthcare, human rights, race, foreign policy and women's issues. They projected their scholarship beyond the classroom. The right-of-center newspaper published mostly left-of-center opinions, though the university is not a liberal monolith.

Faculty campaign for school boards, city councils, state, and federal positions as Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Green. Their talents benefit non-profit organizations such as the Nebraska State Historical Society, Nebraska Humanities Council and the ACLU. They use the press to address their expertise, experience and consciousness into the public arena.

Contributors come from the College of Arts and Sciences, Business Administration, Education, Engineering and Public Affairs and Community Service. Political Science led with six contributors, followed by the College of Education with five, four each in Journalism, History, and Geography/Geology, three in Physics, two each in Criminal Justice, School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, International Studies, Philosophy, Religion, Sociology, Public Administration, and one each in Black Studies, Economics, Engineering, and Gerontology.

Ethnicity, gender, race and religion prompt authorship. African-American, Italian, Jewish, Korean, Latino, and Serbian heritage nurtured academic voices directed at domestic and foreign policy, human rights and immigration. Bruce Johansen and Dale Stover, neither Native American, wrote articles on Native American affairs.

State Senator Ernie Chambers dominated the Nebraska's African-American voice for nearly four decades. Education Professor and City Council member Franklin Thompson proclaims his goals of reversing the downward spiral of inner city African American youth and abandoning Affirmative Action after a period of re-education and multicultural intervention. A'Jamal-Rashad Byndon contributed six essays on the black experience.

Bruce E. Johansen in Communications wrote ten essays addressing lying journalists, spam, the environment (ozone, dust bowl and nuclear waste), rebuilding New Orleans, Coloradan Ward Churchill's academic freedom, the respectful repose of Indian bones and President Bush.

Robert T. Reilly, who taught at UNO and Creighton University and wrote about Ireland, juvenile literature and public relations, contributed four folksy humorous stories.

Despite the end of the Cold War communism remained in North Korea and Cuba. Joon-Gung Chung has taught political science since 1971, fo-cused on Korea. Political scientist Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, drawn to Cuban studies met Fidel Castro in March 2006.

9/11 appears in six essays encompassing terrorism, immigration, Afghanistan and Islam. Nativism and xenophobia attracted four writers. David Cicotello, New Student Enrollment director, recounted his grandparents arriving from Italy in 1913, and how the family strove to acquire education.

Sociologist Lourdes Gouveia, interviewed on National Public Radio and television on Hispanic labor in the meat packing house raids, contributed "Driver's license bill useless, hurts all," and stated that these "dubious provisions, piles a new set of unnecessary driver's license application requirements onto those already in place."

Historian Mary Lyons Barrett pointed out that building a wall to keep out immigrants would be as fruitless as the Berlin Wall. Immigrants contribute Social Security taxes, products and services, which must be balanced against the social services they receive.

Institutional dissonance and intellectual debate appears in the research of Sam Walker, staunch civil libertarian and community-police relations consultant. He criticized the Afghanistan Studies Program and became the sole professor to draw the World-Herald's venom. Walker and doctoral student Dawn Irlbeck discussed male police officers harassing female drivers.

Adjunct colleague, Kenneth Bovasso, a 20-year Omaha Police Department veteran, took exception in " 'Driving while female' remains a non-issue." Political scientist Bernie Kolasa opposed the property tax lid initiative while physics instructor Gene W. Skluzacek, Sarpy County School Board vice president, saw some merit in Initiative 413.

Frank M. Brasile in Health, Physical Education and Recreation alleged the dormitory design took insufficient notice of disability. Lourdes Gouveia criticized a University Regent for implied racism. John Bartle, in public administration, wrote that Governor "Johanns has failed to seek and highlight budget efficiencies." One professor suggested including creationist and supernatural explanations as well as evolution, another opposed same sex union.

The College of Education prepares future teachers to enter the classroom. Faculty wrote essays on CAT tests, the importance of literacy in geog-raphy and history, the status of high school salaries and tenure, and political correctness. In 2003 John Christensen, then dean of the College of Education, wrote in "Lawsuits cost less than uneducated kids" that "the future of Nebraska depends on well-educated students."

The Clinton administration went uncriticized. George Bush drew fire from political scientist Orville Menard, "Bush relies on hubris more than diplomacy," historian Fred Nielsen, "Bush lack's Lincoln's humility concerning Almighty's design," Bruce Johansen, "Founders would cringe at Bush's overreaching," Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, "Limiting Cuban contact is shortsighted, cruel."

Menard congratulated Nebraska Republican U.S. Senator Charles Hagel for his "principled realism." Mary Lyons-Barrett praised Hagel's joining Richard Lugar, R-Ind., in telling the American public what they may not want to hear about Iraq, and for Hagel's co-sponsorship of a bill to allow illegal immigrants to stay in the United States and apply to become full citizens.

David Corbin, a public health advocate in HPER, followed the 1998 tobacco settlement with three essays. "Nebraska Should File Tobacco Suit," "Lessons Learned From Tobacco Deal" and "Anti-Tobacco Effort Fits Within Broad Approach," His advocacy resulted in appointment to the Health Care Cash Fund Advisory Committee.

UNO's contributions have an urban emphasis while UNL discussed economics, ecology and agriculture; Creighton, emphasized economics, history and journalism; Kearney on philosophy; and UNMC, healthcare.

Newspapers inform and challenge. Academics leaven public discourse. The Omaha World-Herald provided faculty access to Midwestern citizenry, policy makers, and legislators. Public pedagogy is alive and well at UNO but the World-Herald on January 1, 2009 reduced intellectual diversity by curtailing outside opinions from seven days to three days a week.

Oliver B. Pollak writes occasionally for the Omaha Jewish Press, Lincoln Journal Star and the Omaha World-Herald. Aneta Czarnik earned her BA and MA in History at UNO, taught at UNO and Metro Community College, and now lives in Washington, DC.

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