LINCOLN, Neb. — Nearly 70 faculty members at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln are accusing Gov. Pete Ricketts and several state senators of using a political incident to damage the university and subject it to “ideological intervention.”

Faculty members released an open letter Monday saying reaction has gotten out of hand following an incident on Aug. 25 that involved a graduate student-lecturer making an inappropriate hand gesture at a student recruiting for a conservative group. The graduate student, who was initially relieved of her classroom duties, was fired this month.

“Under the pretense that the university is unsafe for conservative students, the governor and his surrogates are opening the door to ideological intervention at the university from outside entities,” faculty said in the letter. “Their lack of consistency in protecting and respecting students’ political views, particularly those that diverge from their own, reveals the political nature of this manufactured crisis.”

The graduate student, Courtney Lawton, also called second-year student Kaitlyn Mullen a “neo-fascist” as Mullen recruited for Turning Point USA, a conservative group.

Sens. Steve Erdman, Tom Brewer and Steve Halloran later publicly accused the university of not being welcoming to students with conservative viewpoints. Ricketts has said the August incident “highlighted concerns about the liberal bent of academia.”

The university initially removed Lawton from the classroom, citing a concern for her and her students’ safety, and top administrators said the senators’ criticism included “falsehoods and distortions.” Lawton was then fired on Nov. 17, after university officials met with the senators.

Two university public relations staff members also resigned after emails were made public showing they discussed how to present the situation in a way to favor the school.

Erdman and Halloran said they plan to sponsor free-speech legislation that would require the university to create new protections for speech and expression in public campus areas. The bill would also include disciplinary sanctions for those who interfere with free speech.