Gov. Pete Ricketts has revoked an honorary admiralship from a University of Nebraska-Lincoln associate professor and lecturer who were involved in a protest against a conservative student group.

The Republican governor withdrew the “Nebraska Navy” admiralships for Amanda Gailey and Courtney Lawton on Jan. 31, less than a month after granting them at the request of one of their allies.

Lawton, a university lecturer, was told her contract wouldn’t be renewed after she was filmed protesting a campus recruiting event for Turning Point USA, a conservative group that maintains a public “watchlist” of professors that it alleges are biased.

In the Aug. 25 video, Lawton referred to second-year student Kaitlyn Mullen as a “neo-fascist” and accused her of advocating for the destruction of public schools and universities. Mullen, who was trying to recruit students to the group’s local chapter, began to cry, and campus police eventually took her home.

An accompanying photo of the incident shows Lawton making an obscene hand gesture while holding a sign that said, “Just say NO! to Neo-Fascism.” Lawton was fired in November. Gailey, an associate English professor, was photographed with a sign that said, “Turning Point: Please put me on your watchlist.”


Republican Governor of Nebraska Pete Ricketts speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Maryland, U.S. February 24, 2017. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Admiralships to the Nebraska Navy are a lighthearted award often granted to people who are retiring, changing jobs, or have reached a milestone in their lives.

The honor is a joking reference to the fact that Nebraska is the nation’s only triply landlocked state and has no navy or seas to defend. Admiralships are granted at the governor’s discretion and can only be given when the nominee or nominator is a Nebraska resident.

Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage said Lawton and Gailey were disqualified because of the recent controversy and Lawton’s behavior. In a letter to Jay Grabow, an Omaha man who nominated Gailey and Lawton, Ricketts said the admiralships are issued as a courtesy for special occasions and that the women received them due to a “clerical error.”

In his nomination letters, Grabow said Gailey and Lawton both deserve the honor because of their advocacy for free speech.

Gage said the governor’s office routinely fulfills requests for admiralships for residents of all political stripes, including those made by state senators from both parties.

“Courtney Lawton’s behavior does not embody ‘Nebraska values,’ which the original request represented,” he said.

The awards were rescinded one day after a legislative hearing on a campus free speech bill that was inspired by the university incident. Gailey and Grabow testified against the measure, which would require Nebraska’s universities and colleges to develop campus free-speech guidelines.