Speeches and Statements
Date Headline
06/19/2015 President’s Op-Ed: NU budget prioritizes affordability for students and families

June 19, 2015

By Hank Bounds
President, University of Nebraska

The first priority of the University of Nebraska is to make sure students and families in our state have access to affordable, quality higher education.

Our goal has never been more important. While we can’t predict what the jobs of the future will be, we do know virtually all of them will require education beyond high school. That means if we are to successfully grow Nebraska’s economy, we need to expand access to our universities and colleges to many more students.

The University of Nebraska budget approved recently by the Board of Regents achieves our goals for both affordability and quality, thanks in large part to the investment from the state provided by Gov. Pete Ricketts, Sen. Heath Mello and his colleagues on the Appropriations Committee, and members of the Legislature. I’m grateful for their support, which continues a tradition of partnership between the university and state based on shared goals for education and economic growth.

Most important, our budget ensures the University of Nebraska will remain affordable. Our plan includes two years of tuition rates – a 1.75 percent tuition increase for 2015-16 and a 2.5 percent increase for 2016-17 – in order to help students and families better plan for the costs of college. The increases are the lowest in nearly three decades following a two-year tuition freeze for Nebraskans.

As a parent myself, I know any increase in tuition has an impact on students. We take these decisions seriously. The increases for the next two years amount to about $3.50 more per credit hour for Nebraska undergraduates in 2015-16 and an additional $5 per credit hour for 2016-17. These moderate increases will maintain our affordability while creating revenue to invest in priorities like competitive salaries, financial aid and quality academic programs – all things our students expect us to provide.

Even with the tuition increases, a University of Nebraska education is a tremendous value. Resident tuition and fees on our campuses are at least 25 percent below the peer averages. And, most students do not pay the “sticker price;” well over half of our undergraduates receive aid that they do not have to pay back. We will increase our investments in need-based financial aid the next two years at the same rates as tuition so net tuition costs for students with the greatest need do not go up.

Our budget also includes strategic investments in university faculty and staff and programs to strengthen Nebraska’s economy. Targeted economic development investments supported by the Governor and Legislature will expand educational opportunities for students, meet workforce needs and create jobs. The state’s investments in these initiatives – the Health Science Education Complex at UNK, a biomedical technology institute led by UNMC and UNO, a new global trade and finance institute at UNL named in honor of alumnus and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter, and a new simulated learning center at UNMC – will yield long-term returns. Additionally, the state’s support for the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture will allow us to make important investments in talent and build on the college’s momentum.

Finally, our budget plan will require us to be cost-effective and make cuts – an estimated $8 million over the next two years. Cuts are never easy, but like any Nebraska family or business, we have a responsibility to manage our resources effectively. We will continue to look for ways to operate more efficiently.

The university’s budget plan puts students and families first, ensuring that we will continue to provide an excellent education at a competitive cost. I thank the Governor, members of the Legislature, our faculty and staff, students and friends of the university for helping us maintain our momentum in serving Nebraskans.

06/05/2015 President's U-Wide Letter: University of Nebraska budget proposal

June 5, 2015

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to update you on the university’s budget planning. As you may know, one important piece of our budget – state funding – was finalized recently when the Governor approved a state budget package for 2015-17 that includes critical support for our core operations as well as economic development and other initiatives across our campuses. I am grateful to the Governor and Legislature for their investment in the university, which will allow us to maintain affordability and build on the momentum we have sustained thanks to your good work.

With our state appropriations known, we are ready to bring a proposal to the Board of Regents that will fill in other key pieces of our budget. The Board will consider our budget plan – including an operating budget for 2015-16 and tuition rates for both 2015-16 and 2016-17 to help students and families better plan for the costs of college – at its meeting next Friday.

Our plan advances key goals of the University of Nebraska. It includes meaningful investments in salaries, an area where we know we have work to do to meet the Board’s goal of providing competitive compensation in order to recruit and retain talented employees. It includes targeted state support for exciting economic competitiveness initiatives. Most importantly, it ensures that the University of Nebraska will continue to be an excellent value, keeping college within reach for students and families who want to take advantage of the promises of higher education.

The budget proposal requires cuts, as has been the case almost every year in recent memory because of our commitment to keeping tuition increases low while also investing in priorities. Cuts are always difficult, but I have confidence in the chancellors’ ability to manage these reductions in ways that will preserve the quality of the university. Going forward, we will continue to look for ways to be even more efficient with our limited resources.

Let me say a few words about the main components of our proposed plan:

  • We are recommending a 3 percent increase in our salary pool. We compete globally for faculty and staff, and the marketplace has never been more competitive. While we will not close all the salary gaps that exist between us and our peers, we believe we have the potential to make meaningful progress with a 3 percent increase. In accordance with the Board’s Strategic Framework, raises will be awarded on the basis of merit.

  • We are proposing tuition increases of 1.75 percent in 2015-16 and 2.5 percent in 2016-17 – the smallest increases in nearly three decades following back-to-back tuition freezes for Nebraska students. Under the proposed tuition rates, most resident undergraduates would pay, on average, about $3.50 more per credit hour next year and an additional $5 per credit hour in 2016-17. I know any increase in tuition has an impact on students and families. But even with these moderate increases, our costs would remain well below our peer averages. Tuition and fees on our campuses are currently at least 25% below the peers and on average our students graduate with less debt than students at similar institutions. We also plan to increase need-based financial aid at the same rate as tuition, so that net tuition costs do not go up for students with the greatest need.

  • Thanks to targeted support approved by the Governor and Legislature, we will be able to invest in initiatives that will grow Nebraska’s economy and expand educational opportunities. The state’s investments will support staffing and operations and maintenance at the Health Science Education Complex, which will house expanded nursing and allied health programs on the UNK campus; our new biomedical technology institute jointly led by UNMC and UNO; expanded activities at the Nebraska Business Development Center; a proposed new institute for international trade and finance at UNL named in honor of former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and alumnus Clayton Yeutter; and construction and operations of the recently approved simulated learning center at UNMC, which could transform the way medical education is delivered.

  • Thanks to an increased investment from the state, the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture will be able to bring its faculty salaries closer to market averages, hire a veterinarian, and build on its momentum in serving Nebraska agriculture.

We will never have the resources to do everything we want to do. But I believe our proposed budget is a strategic and responsible plan that serves the needs of students and families, improves our competitive position in the marketplace for talent, advances key initiatives that will grow our state’s economy, and demonstrates accountability to those who entrust their resources to us. It is a plan that is possible because of our continued partnership with the state, and because of your commitment to excellence in teaching, research and service. Your hard work has positioned us well for the future.

Thank you for all you do for the University of Nebraska.

Hank Bounds
President, University of Nebraska

05/21/2015 President’s Op-Ed: Celebrating the success and potential of the Class of 2015

May 21, 2015

By Hank Bounds
President, University of Nebraska

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in commencement ceremonies on each of the University of Nebraska’s campuses. To the 6,500 students with new credentials from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Nebraska-Lincoln or Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture; to their family members, friends and mentors who helped them along the way; and to the thousands of others graduating from state, community and private colleges this spring: Congratulations on all that you’ve accomplished. You should be proud of the hard work you’ve put in to get to this point.

For me there is no time quite like commencement. Watching our students walk across that stage, seeing the look of pride on their faces, hearing the cheers of their supporters, knowing they’re about to begin a new chapter of their lives – these are some of the greatest joys of my job. Celebrating these moments with students is an inspiring reminder of why I’ve chosen to spend my career in education.

I know from firsthand experience the transformative effect a college degree can have on a person’s life. Growing up, I never imagined I would someday address the Class of 2015 as president of one of America’s great universities. But higher education opened doors for me that I wouldn’t have thought possible. I believe it will do the same for students earning their degrees today.

Each of this year’s graduates has a unique story about how they achieved this milestone.

Some are the first in their families to finish college – and they are due a special congratulations. I understand the unique challenges faced by first-generation students and the University of Nebraska is working hard to make sure many more of them have the resources they need to be successful.

Other graduates were new to Nebraska when they began their college careers – indeed, our student body represents all 50 states and more than 130 countries – and we hope they will consider staying here to begin careers or raise families.

Many students had the chance to participate in internships, study abroad, service learning or extracurricular activities that enriched their educational experience and helped prepare them for life and work.

I hope all of the graduates were able to find their passion, be it agriculture, teaching, health care, fine arts, entrepreneurship, science, math or something else.

Most of all, I hope each of them developed the skills that create a foundation for success no matter what path they choose next: a curiosity about the world around them; the ability to think critically; a sense of humility and compassion for others. And I hope they have learned to dream big. That is one of the greatest gifts a University of Nebraska education provides to our students: the opportunity to dream big.

Congratulations again to the Class of 2015. I am proud of each of you. I can’t wait to see what you accomplish next.

05/20/2015 STATEMENT: 2015-17 budget package signed by Governor Ricketts

“The budget package signed today by Governor Ricketts represents an important investment in affordable, high-quality education at the University of Nebraska. I am grateful to the Governor for his support and look forward to many more years of working together to achieve our shared goals for education and economic development. I also want to thank Chairman Mello, his colleagues on the Appropriations Committee, and members of the Legislature for their hard work and recognition of the important role the university plays in the state’s success.

“The support the Legislature and Governor have provided to the university will allow us to meet some of our most important objectives. One, keep tuition affordable for students and families. Two, fund the core operations of the university, including investments in talent. And three, advance initiatives – including the Health Science Education Complex in Kearney and UNMC-UNO biomedical technology institute – that will meet workforce needs and expand educational opportunities. Additionally, the support for the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture will allow it to build on its momentum in serving Nebraska agriculture.

“Finally, the state’s investment in the UNMC Global Center for Advanced Interprofessional Learning is a vital jump-start for this initiative which has the potential to transform the way medical education is delivered in our state. I am grateful to policymakers for their vote of confidence.”

05/12/2015 President's U-Wide Letter: Honoring excellence in teaching, research and service

May 12, 2015

Dear Colleagues,

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the honor of recognizing six outstanding University of Nebraska faculty members and one academic department for achievements in teaching, research and service. Presenting the university’s most prestigious faculty and departmental awards – the Outstanding Research and Creative Activity Award, Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award, Innovation, Development and Engagement Award, and the University-wide Departmental Teaching Award – has been one of the highlights of my presidency so far. Faculty truly are among the greatest assets of any leading university, and at the University of Nebraska we are lucky to be home to some of the very best.

This year’s winners are a diverse group – representing medicine, agriculture, science and other disciplines. But they share a deep commitment to the University of Nebraska’s most fundamental responsibilities: educating our students, conducting important and relevant research, and putting their skills to work to serve Nebraskans and people around the world. I am inspired by their work.

The 2015 awardees follow. We developed a video for each winner; I invite you to learn more about our honorees and the good work they are doing by clicking on their names below.

Outstanding Research and Creative Activity Award

  • Charles Wood, Ph.D., Lewis Lehr/3M University Distinguished Professor and director of the Nebraska Center for Virology at UNL, who has devoted his career to driving innovations in HIV/AIDS research that have resulted in new prevention and management efforts and new treatment methods that suppress the virus.

  • Wayne Fisher, Ph.D., H.B. Munroe Professor of Behavioral Research and director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at UNMC, who is dedicated to improving the lives of children with autism.

Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award

  • Chandrakanth Are, M.B.B.S., vice chair of education for the Department of Surgery, associate professor of surgical oncology, and program director for general surgery residency at UNMC, who has earned a reputation as an innovative educator, meticulous surgeon and someone with exemplary dedication to patients.

  • Martha Mamo, Ph.D., professor of agronomy at UNL, whose teaching methods are inspiring students’ interest in soil sciences and whose research is advancing global food security.

Innovation, Development and Engagement Award

  • Stephen Reichenbach, Ph.D., professor of computer science and engineering at UNL and founding director of GC Image LLC, who is a role model to colleagues interesting in pursuing collaborative research or developing university-based spinoff companies.

  • Michael Epstein, Ed.D., William E. Barkley Professor of Special Education and director of the Center for Child and Family Well-Being at UNL, whose research on improving the lives of children with behavioral and mental health disorders has resulted in a major shift in the field of child mental health.

University-wide Departmental Teaching Award

  • UNL Department of Entomology, whose faculty are widely known for their student-focused approach, innovative ideas, and commitment to sharing their knowledge in the community.

Congratulations again to the 2015 recipients of the University of Nebraska’s highest honors for teaching, research and service. These faculty – together with employees across our campuses – are a key reason why the university is in a strong position today to become a giant in higher education. I continue to be humbled and honored to serve with such talented, energetic and committed colleagues. Thank you for all that you do for the University of Nebraska, our students, and people in our state and around the world.

Hank Bounds
President, University of Nebraska

04/28/2015 President’s Monthly Op-Ed: Listening and learning about Nebraskans’ dreams for their university

By Hank Bounds
President, University of Nebraska

In my first week as president of the University of Nebraska, I traveled 1,500 miles, visited more than 20 communities, and talked to hundreds of Nebraskans about their hopes and dreams for the future of their state and its only public university.

I met with faculty and students, state and community college partners, farmers and ranchers, business leaders and educators, donors and alumni and many others. I stopped at university campuses, research and extension facilities, rural high schools and numerous community venues. And, as I drove from the eastern part of the state to its westernmost corners, I saw firsthand the spectacular diversity of Nebraska. I know now that you can’t appreciate the beauty of the Sandhills until you have been there.

My “listening and learning” tour of our state is far from over. But already, you have taught me a great deal. I am indebted to the many Nebraskans who have taken time to engage with me during my initial days as president of this great institution. Two weeks in, I’m even more excited to serve in this role than when I accepted the job. I’ve dreamed of having an opportunity to be in a place where I could help change the world. In the University of Nebraska presidency, I have found that opportunity.

It would be impossible to cover everything I learned during my travels across the state. But this much is clear: The people of Nebraska care deeply about the success of their university.

You want to see us working to improve your communities – producing more skilled graduates, meeting workforce needs in health care and agriculture and business and other areas, attracting new talent to our state and keeping the bright young people we have.

You want to see us working hand in glove with our partners at Nebraska’s state and community colleges, doing all we can to make sure students can transfer smoothly between institutions and stay on the path to a degree.

You want us to make sure a college education remains within reach for all Nebraska students and families. You want your children to be able to earn a four-year degree without taking on too much debt. You want to know that we understand higher education is an investment and that we are taking steps to keep the university affordable. As the parent of two young children myself, I assure you: We do understand, and we are taking those steps.

You want to see our campuses working together as one university, combining our talents and resources in ways that best serve the state.

And you want to see us do more to tell our story – to share more about the good work the university’s faculty, staff and students are doing and how Nebraska is benefiting.

As president, I am committed to doing all these things, and many more. I continue to be humbled to serve in this role and I’m grateful for the input that so many Nebraskans have provided. I look forward to meeting many more of you in the weeks and months ahead as we work together to build the University of Nebraska into a true giant in higher education, changing the lives of people in our state and around the world.

04/24/2015 Speeches & Communications
04/22/2015 STATEMENT: Appropriations Committee’s final 2015-17 budget recommendation

“The budget package signed today by Governor Ricketts represents an important investment in affordable, high-quality education at the University of Nebraska. I am grateful to the Governor for his support and look forward to many more years of working together to achieve our shared goals for education and economic development. I also want to thank Chairman Mello, his colleagues on the Appropriations Committee, and members of the Legislature for their hard work and recognition of the important role the university plays in the state’s success.

“The support the Legislature and Governor have provided to the university will allow us to meet some of our most important objectives. One, keep tuition affordable for students and families. Two, fund the core operations of the university, including investments in talent. And three, advance initiatives – including the Health Science Education Complex in Kearney and UNMC-UNO biomedical technology institute – that will meet workforce needs and expand educational opportunities. Additionally, the support for the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture will allow it to build on its momentum in serving Nebraska agriculture.

“Finally, the state’s investment in the UNMC Global Center for Advanced Interprofessional Learning is a vital jump-start for this initiative which has the potential to transform the way medical education is delivered in our state. I am grateful to policymakers for their vote of confidence.”

04/13/2015 President’s Monthly Op-Ed: Dream with me about a stronger University of Nebraska

By Hank Bounds
President, University of Nebraska

This week I am honored and humbled to begin my service as the seventh president of the University of Nebraska. The opportunity to lead one of America’s great universities truly is one of a lifetime and I am excited to build on our rich history of serving as a catalyst for change in the lives of people in Nebraska and around the world.

I will spend my initial days as president traveling the state – meeting many of you, spending time in your communities, learning from you and listening to your ideas about how we can work together to create an even stronger university.

Because I do believe we can be stronger. One of the things that attracted me to Nebraska was its excellent educational system, from K-12 through college, that provides people with opportunities to build a better future for themselves, their families and their communities. But we have more work to do, and Nebraska’s only public university needs to help lead the way. At a time when quality education has never been more important, I am convinced that our state – and the world – need the University of Nebraska to be a giant in higher education, doing more than ever to transform the lives of students and the people it serves.

I invite you to dream with me about what that means. About how we can be a giant in making sure college is within reach for all Nebraskans, in helping more students get across the finish line on time and with less debt, in working with policymakers and the private sector to create jobs, in putting our resources to work to help feed the world. I think we can be all these things and more, if we dream big and work hard.

I have experienced firsthand the transformative power of higher education. Growing up on a farm in rural Mississippi, with limited family resources, I never imagined I would have the opportunity to even go to college, much less become president of a leading university. But my military service helped pave the way and I was fortunate to receive excellent postsecondary education at both the community college and university levels. That education in turn opened the door for me to begin my career, first as a high school principal, then superintendent, state superintendent and, until a few weeks ago, as commissioner of higher education in Mississippi.

My fundamental commitment throughout my professional life has been to try to impact students’ lives in the way education changed my own life. Today, with two young children of my own, I am more sharply focused on that goal than ever.

My wife Susie and I, our son Will and daughter Caroline are excited to call Nebraska home. We are already in awe of this state, its caring and committed citizens, and its great university system, enriching the lives of people from Scottsbluff to Nebraska City, Valentine to McCook. I look forward to learning much more about Nebraska in the weeks and months ahead and to working with you to shape the next era for the University of Nebraska. I truly believe the best days for our university and our state are ahead of us. I can’t wait to get started.

04/01/2015 President-Designate Bounds’ statement on Chancellor Harvey Perlman’s decision to step down

President-Designate Bounds’ statement on Chancellor Harvey Perlman’s decision to step down

“The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a much different institution today than when Chancellor Perlman took over. He has built UNL into one of the nation’s top research universities, a Big Ten school that is a destination for talented students and faculty. His leadership on bold initiatives like Innovation Campus will benefit Nebraskans for years to come. Throughout his tenure, he has maintained a focus on the priorities that shape UNL’s land-grant mission: quality education, research and outreach to the state.

“Harvey has given nearly 40 years of service to this university at all levels of leadership, starting as a faculty member, and now he is coming full circle. He has discussed his desire to return to the faculty with me several times so I knew this day was coming. We are fortunate that he was willing to delay his decision until a new president had been selected to ensure greater leadership stability at the university. He has been a transformational leader at UNL and a great colleague and friend to me, and I thank him for his lengthy and dedicated service to Nebraska.”

03/03/2015 Testimony to the Appropriations Committee, 2015-17 biennial budget request

Chairman Mello and members of the Appropriations Committee, thank you for the opportunity to be with you this afternoon. I am Dr. Jim Linder (L-I-N-D-E-R), interim president of the University of Nebraska, and I am pleased to join Regent Phares in speaking in support of the university’s budget request. I’d like to spend a few minutes reviewing our request, and then I will answer any questions you may have.

My interactions with the university are diverse and long-term. I graduated from UNMC; subsequently as a faculty member I taught both undergraduate and graduate students, provided clinical service and outreach, did research and served in administration. I’ve also been fortunate to see how our family’s personal philanthropic involvement benefits students and academic programs. This is our university, the university belonging to everyone in this room, and I am proud of what it does for Nebraska.

Regent Phares stated the highest priority of the Board and the University of Nebraska is affordable excellence. Affordable in that we want all qualified Nebraskans to have the opportunity to benefit from higher education. And Excellence in offering programs that will allow our students to become the next generation of leaders in Nebraska. Today I am asking you to support a budget that would allow the university to do three things to advance affordable, excellent education on behalf of the people of Nebraska.

One, invest in our core needs: salaries and benefits, utilities, IT, and facility operations and maintenance. That first item, employee compensation, is by far the largest component of our operating budget and is fundamental to recruiting and retaining talented faculty and staff who teach our students, perform research and deliver essential services. Unfortunately we are not making meaningful progress toward the Board’s goal of paying our employees in line with market averages, especially at UNL and UNMC. A 3 percent increase in our salary pool, which is consistent with what the faculty collective bargaining units at UNO and UNK have negotiated, would help us “keep up” with our peers, most of whom are planning similar increases for the coming year. 

Two, make select strategic investments that would benefit our students and faculty. These include Collegebound Nebraska, our need-based tuition assistance program; initiatives to expand college-going among underrepresented students; and a salary “catch-up” effort, equivalent to 1 percent of our salary pool, to address some of the most significant competitive gaps.

And three, move forward on exciting initiatives that will grow Nebraska’s economy, meet workforce needs, attract talent to our state, and expand employment opportunities for our young people. This part of our request is captured in LB 154, so I will speak to it in greater detail a bit later. For the moment I will focus on the operational portion of our request.

We are fortunate in Nebraska to have enjoyed strong support for our state’s only public university. During the recent economic downturn, when many public universities experienced damaging budget cuts, causing students to bear higher tuition and greater debt, Nebraska was able to advance due in part to the stable base of state support provided by the state. We are incredibly grateful to policymakers — and members of this Committee in particular — for their long history of recognizing that the university is part of the fabric that makes our state strong.

Today the university is doing more than ever to serve the people of Nebraska and grow the state’s economy. Enrollment is at its highest point in more than two decades, and we are seeing impressive growth in areas critical to Nebraska’s workforce: agriculture, engineering, information technology, health care and business. Our students are increasingly diverse, and we have efforts to increase college-going among low-income, minority, first-generation and rural students. We seek for students to promptly complete their degrees with minimal debt, so they can enter the workforce. This has been aided by our use of new technologies that provide distance education to thousands of Nebraskans. The work is ongoing, but there are plenty of success stories. As one example, in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, more than 90 percent of students have their next step in place at the time of their graduation.

The research of our faculty is improving the quality of life for people in Nebraska and around the world. We are putting our talents and resources to work to address the significant global challenges of the day: hunger, poverty, cancer and disease, climate change, national security. In recent years we have launched new initiatives, engaging faculty on all four campuses and involving partners in the state and beyond, that focus on some of these challenges. These include the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, the National Strategic Research Institute and the Rural Futures Institute. Through these and other initiatives, the University of Nebraska has a seat at the table in some of the most important global conversations. Just a few weeks ago the Omaha World-Herald featured a team of UNO experts who are working with the Department of Defense on anti-terrorism efforts. The work of UNMC and Nebraska Medicine in responding to the Ebola crisis has been widely documented. Our faculties are leading the way in determining how to meet a global demand for food that will double by 2050. And I could go on.

Our research brings economic benefits. The most recent data from the Association of University Technology Managers show that the University of Nebraska is in the top 5 percent of institutions nationally in the number of startup companies created. And we are in the top 20 percent for inventions, patents, licenses and licensing revenue. All four of our campuses have, and are developing more, public-private partnerships that leverage the work of our faculty to create more businesses and jobs, attract talent to our state, and expand opportunities for young people. The Legislature has been a partner in some of these key efforts… the nursing and allied health expansion at Kearney, Nebraska Innovation Campus, and the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, which, even before it is finished, is becoming a talent magnet for Nebraska. More on some of these later, as we discuss LB 154.

That is the briefest snapshot of our momentum. The University of Nebraska is in a strong position today thanks to the hard work of many, the generosity of alumni and friends, and your support and partnership, based on our shared goals for education and economic competitiveness. What’s important is that we can do even more to serve Nebraskans, if the right investments are made.

I want to be clear. We understand that this Committee is balancing many important priorities. We are grateful for the support you have provided in your preliminary recommendation. But I would ask you to consider an investment in the University of Nebraska that meets our core needs and allows us to make real progress in areas that we are convinced will benefit our state.

A few quick comments about the Committee’s initial budget. First, you have recommended that any unexpended state appropriations at the end of the biennium not be re-appropriated. I would note that we spend our appropriations each year, except for funds encumbered for near-term recruitment or programs.

Second, I’m pleased the Committee has reaffirmed funding for the Veterinary Diagnostic Center, an important component of our Building a Healthier Nebraska partnership. The facility is expected to be completed in 2017. LB 660 would skip the 2015-16 payment and extend the financing until 2024. Our preference is to restore funding for 2015-16, but at a minimum, the future funding figure for the project currently included in LB 660 appears inaccurate and needs to be adjusted.

State support is the vital ingredient in meeting the core needs of the university. As you know, there are two main funding sources that support our general operations: state appropriations and tuition. These funds keep the University of Nebraska running. They pay for ongoing operation and maintenance of our facilities — important state assets where teaching and research take place. For example, we need funds to operate and maintain the new Health Science Education Complex on the UNK campus so we can open the facility alter this year. And the bulk of our operating budget, 80 percent, goes toward salaries and benefits. We are competing in a global market to attract and retain our employees – the people who teach our students, who conduct groundbreaking research, and perform outreach in every county of the state.

My view is that we should not ask Nebraska students and families to bear an undue share of the cost. For the past decade the University of Nebraska has implemented moderate and predictable tuition increases, including a tuition freeze for all Nebraska students in the current biennium that was made possible by your support. We are very proud of the results. Tuition at each of our campuses is well below the peer average; UNL’s tuition is the lowest in the Big Ten. Most of our students, on average, graduate with less debt than their peers. Our student loan default rates are well below the national averages. In part because of private philanthropy, more than half of undergraduates at the University of Nebraska receive financial aid, including 7,000 students who, because of means, qualify to pay no tuition through our Collegebound Nebraska program. Many of these are first generation college attendees.

Today it is more important than ever to expand access to higher education to even more students. Our economic competitiveness depends on it. In just a few years, 71 percent of all jobs in Nebraska will require postsecondary education. Many of the fastest-growing jobs are in the STEM and health care fields. The Pew Research Center has found that the earnings gap between bachelor’s degree recipient and a high school graduate has never been greater. And by almost every economic measure — income, employment rate, likelihood of poverty — the cost of not going to college is rising. The facts are clear. If we want to meet the workforce needs of the future, and keep our economy strong, we must ensure that a college education is within reach for all students who are qualified and want to attend. Maintaining low tuition rates compared to our peers and providing adequate financial aid are two fundamental ways to do that. Our plans for tuition will be a discussion with the Regents, once we know what our state appropriations will be. I can tell you that our commitment to moderate and predictable increases remains.

I have spent the past few minutes talking about opportunities for investment. Let me say a word about a topic that is equally important: cost control. We must be accountable with the resources you entrust to us, and I want to assure you we take this responsibility seriously. The University of Nebraska does much more today than when I was a student, even while receiving a smaller percentage of the state’s budget. We have managed to grow our research enterprise by winning grants and contracts. We have kept staffing and administrative spending to levels that are lower than our peer institutions. The number of university employees funded from tax and tuition dollars has remained relatively flat since 2000, despite significant growth in enrollment and research activity, and we have been successful in growing jobs using federal, private and other non-state funds. In fact, currently 42 percent of university employees, representing $326 million in wages, are funded from sources other than tax and tuition dollars — an impact that might not exist without the university’s ability to leverage non-tax dollars. And, since 2000 we have made $80 million in budget reallocations, which recur annually, and our efforts to find more savings are ongoing.

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, thank you for your attention today. I will close by saying I feel honored to be serving as Interim President at such an exciting time in the history of the University of Nebraska. Our success is rooted in the support of policymakers who have generously invested in affordable, excellent higher education. I thank you for that support, and ask you to continue that partnership as we work to build a bright future for Nebraska.

With that, I would be pleased to respond to your questions.

03/03/2015 Testimony to the Appropriations Committee, LB 154 (economic competitiveness package)

Chairman Mello and members of the Appropriations Committee, I am Dr. Jim Linder (L-I-N-D-E-R), interim president of the University of Nebraska. Thank you for the opportunity to speak in support of a proposal that I am convinced would have a significant impact on Nebraska’s economy, our workforce, quality of life, and the education of our young people. I thank Speaker Hadley for sponsoring this important legislation, and this Committee for its support of two of the components — the health science expansion in Kearney and Nebraska Innovation Campus – in its preliminary budget recommendation. I’d like to spend a few minutes reviewing our full proposal for you, and then I would be pleased to answer your questions.

This economic competitiveness enhancement proposal comes at a time when Nebraska is uniquely positioned to secure a competitive advantage. We fared better than many other states during the economic downturn and today Nebraska and our communities have much to offer — low unemployment, high quality of life, a strong public education system, a vibrant startup community and abundant job opportunities. Omaha was recently named the best American city to be a technology worker. And a list of the top 10 U.S. cities to get a job in 2015 included not one but two Nebraska cities — with Lincoln in the top spot.

But, to borrow from the Omaha World-Herald’s editorial pages, we need to build on Nebraska’s economic strengths, not remain content with the status quo. To quote the newspaper, “Nebraska should look to its strengths and build on economic niches where it excels.” And Nebraska’s public university can — and should — play a leading role in these efforts.

This was the thinking behind our $20 million economic competitiveness proposal. The proposal would advance university initiatives that leverage the talents and resources of our four campuses for Nebraska’s economic benefit. These are initiatives that are already underway at the university, where good work is being done and where we have an opportunity to have an even stronger impact on Nebraska’s economy with the infusion of additional capital.

There is a strong business case for this investment. The potential for workforce development, recruitment of new talent to our state, job creation and expanded educational opportunities is substantial. And the state is positioned to see a significant return on its investment in these projects. Jerry Deichert, director of the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, recently completed an analysis that concluded the economic competitiveness package would create more than 1,100 jobs, generate $58 million in labor income, and have a $108 million impact on the state’s economy in fiscal year 2017. This represents a nearly 5-to-1 return on our requested $20 million state investment. Details of Jerry’s report are included in the binder of information we have provided to you.

I think these are the reasons why our proposal has attracted such strong support from a diverse range of constituents. Letters of support are included in your packets, so I will not recite them, but I would draw your attention to the fact that they represent many of our key stakeholders: students and faculty, the state’s leading business and agriculture groups, rural and urban representatives. We are gratified by this strong show of support from Nebraskans.

Let me touch on the opportunities that we are targeting for additional financial support.

First, the Health Science Education Complex in Kearney, scheduled for completion in July. This project, which will expand our capacity to educate nurses and allied health professionals, was part of our Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative, which this Committee generously supported. And you have again recognized the critical importance of taking steps to meet health needs in rural Nebraska, where shortages of health care workers are especially acute. We are grateful for your support. We are building a building. Now we need to staff it. Additional support will help us hire faculty and staff who will train rural Nebraska’s future health care professionals.

The need for expanded capacity at UNK is clear. Twenty-three counties in our state have no physician assistant and there are no physical therapists working in 13 counties. Consider also that about one-third of Nebraska’s physician assistants and physical therapists are between the ages of 46 and 65 – indicating that there will be plenty of job openings in the years ahead. And just last week Georgetown University issued a report that spelled out our challenge in no uncertain terms. According to the report, by 2020, the United States could be facing a shortage of 200,000 nursing professionals. We would be wise to act now to address this need.

Second, Nebraska Innovation Campus. The state provided an initial capital investment that we have been able to leverage with significant private-sector funding. Because of that, we are ahead of schedule in having infrastructure and the initial conference center and offices in place. A “maker space” that will foster creative activity in the community and business accelerator for start-up companies are underway. Installation of a LemnaTec plant phenotyping system has begun in the greenhouse innovation center and it will be one of only a handful in the world, capable of greatly advancing our research agenda in plant science. The Department of Food Science and Technology also is relocating there, which will provide exciting new opportunities for joint research activities with ConAgra Foods. And we just announced three new partners – Hastings HVAC, Echo Canyon Services and Quantified Ag – who will move to the campus later this year.

In a few months’ time, Innovation Campus will be bustling with faculty, students and business leaders, which we believe will only heighten interest. Having private companies nearby will expose our students to real-world business activities and create internship and job opportunities that will keep our graduates at home. Innovation Campus is only a few years old but we are more convinced than ever that this project can be a major economic player for Nebraska.

Third, the Peter Kiewit Institute. This is a keen focus of the Board of Regents and university leadership, because every indicator I’ve seen shows that the demand for more STEM-educated workers, both in Nebraska and nationally, is only going to increase. We regularly hear from leading companies in Nebraska that one of their greatest needs is for more engineers, computer scientists and IT workers. They are counting on the University of Nebraska to meet that need.

We have been very candid with ourselves about where PKI is succeeding and where we need to do more. We engaged external experts in a rigorous evaluation process that concluded PKI has yet to reach its full potential in serving Nebraska. The result of that evaluation was a bold new strategic growth plan, a collaborative effort between UNO and UNL that was unanimously endorsed by the Board of Regents last year. This integrated plan represents the most ambitious agenda for engineering and information technology in our history. Growing enrollment in the College of Information Science & Technology by 50 percent and by a third in the College of Engineering. A two- to three-fold increase in research activity. Fifty more faculty to educate more students, conduct more research and forge more partnerships with the private sector. Improved student outcomes and new, collaborative academic programs to meet their needs.

The plan is beginning to have an impact. We were pleased that enrollment in the College of Engineering grew 8.5 percent this year, and enrollment in the College of Information Science & Technology is up 13 percent – both well above overall university-wide growth rates. But to meet the goals of the plan, and the needs of the state, significant investments in talent and infrastructure will be required. In my view, the cost of not investing – in terms of unmet workforce needs, lost opportunities to attract talent and serve students, and a missed chance to be a global leader in an area that is widely recognized to be a foundation of economic growth – is one Nebraska cannot afford.

Next, the Rural Futures Institute. Nebraska is well-positioned to be a leader in developing strategies for enhancing economic opportunity and improving the quality of life in nonmetropolitan areas. Already the Rural Futures Institute has had an impact in more than 70 communities across Nebraska communities through its innovative rural serviceship program for students. The program is distinct from extension services in that it sends students around the state – from Kimball to Neligh, Valentine to Red Cloud – to work with community leaders on real projects that benefit the community. The institute is planning to hire faculty experts in key areas related to rural development, continue its successful grant program that funds collaborative research projects relevant to rural communities, and move forward on a new initiative that focuses on workforce development, entrepreneurship, talent recruitment and business growth in rural areas. State support would be a significant boost to these efforts.

Fifth, the National Strategic Research Institute. This is an initiative we launched in 2012 to create a partnership with the U.S. Strategic Command focused on research and development that can advance national security. It is one of only 13 such institutes across the country, a distinction we are very proud of. The NSRI is off to a successful start, with 33 initial research projects focusing on vaccine development, prevention of foodborne outbreaks, detection of nuclear weapons and other areas critical to the safety of our country. For example, one of our faculty members at UNMC leads a team that is working to develop a more effective vaccine for anthrax. His research has the potential to protect soldiers and save lives. Another faculty member, a UNL physicist, is exploring ways to better detect nuclear materials. The NSRI also has provided a vehicle for UNO to launch a leadership fellows program for the nation’s top civilian security specialists. And these are just some of the early success stories. There is significant growth potential for the research and educational activities being done at NSRI.

And finally, we are exploring a number of business engagement and workforce development opportunities across our campuses that can help drive economic growth in our communities. These include a new biomedical institute which will be jointly led by UNMC and UNO and will provide new opportunities for faculty to commercialize their biomedical technology discoveries. The institute has received enthusiastic support from the Board of Regents and represents a major opportunity to fill a gap in the market. We are not the only ones who think so. The Omaha World-Herald recently endorsed this project, calling biomedicine “the next niche” for Omaha and noting that this field offers major economic development opportunities for our state.

Also in the business and workforce category, we are exploring the potential for creating “maker spaces” in Omaha and Kearney that will be tied to local STEM education efforts, and for enhancement of the UNO-based Nebraska Business Development Center. NBDC has a strong record assisting Nebraska businesses, and we are planning to bring it into a new phase of growth, expanding access at its seven locations and initiating an incubation accelerator for new businesses. Finally, we hope to expand support services for veterans at the university, such as counseling, advising, career services, learning communities and financial aid.

Members of the Committee, we know we have put forward an ambitious package. We are very excited about the programs we are targeting for support and we think each can directly benefit Nebraskans and yield a strong return on the state’s investment. Nevertheless, we understand that you may not be able to fund the entire proposal. But should you decide to partner with us, I ask your consideration on two points. One, that any support you provide for our economic competitiveness initiatives come on top of, not within, your baseline investment in the university for our salaries and core operating needs.

And two, that if you decide to provide support, you provide a lump sum that gives the President and Board of Regents the discretion to allocate the funds to the projects that we decide are most pressing and promising. In choosing which programs to fund, the Board and President would look to the university’s Strategic Framework, which you heard about earlier today, to guide us in allocating resources to our highest priorities.

Thank you, and I’d be happy to take your questions.

01/22/2015 Statement on Governor Ricketts’ budget recommendation

The university and the state have a long and successful history of working together to achieve shared goals for affordable education and economic competitiveness. The budget recommendation illustrates opportunities to continue that partnership going forward. We're excited about the initiatives that are in our budget request - university efforts in rural development, engineering and IT, health care and other areas that will attract talent, meet workforce needs and grow Nebraska's economy - and we hope policymakers agree. While the Governor's budget recommendation would not cover all of our proposed investments, it is a very positive starting point for discussion and we are grateful for his support. We share the Governor's goal to work together to grow Nebraska.

We are grateful for the state's investment in the university that allows us to serve the citizens. The University has a strong record of managing our budget in a cost effective and proactive way that has allowed us to advance important priorities while maintaining affordable access to excellent education - the Board of Regents' highest goal. A stable base of state support is fundamental to our ability to meet the expectations of Nebraskans. We are very fortunate in Nebraska that policymakers have long recognized the important role the university plays in the state's economy. We look forward to continuing to discuss our budget request with the Governor and members of the Legislature.

11/11/2014 Statement from Interim University of Nebraska President James Linder, M.D., on Veterans Day
Nov. 11, 2014

Interim University of Nebraska President James Linder, M.D., issued the following statement today in honor of Veterans Day:

“On behalf of the University of Nebraska, I want to thank all the men and women who have served or are currently serving our country, as well as their family members. The university is proud to support veterans and military students and their families by making sure we provide high-quality, flexible academic programs and services that meet their unique needs. We are honored that our campuses are recognized for what they do to help military students succeed in the classroom and beyond, and we look forward to continuing to serve those who have served us.”

Linder noted that more than 50,000 veterans in Nebraska – more than one-third of the state’s total veteran population – have either earned an associate’s degree or completed some college but not earned a degree. Another 40,000 of Nebraska’s veterans have only high school credentials. Linder said that expanding access to education for veterans and enhancing services for military learners so that they can earn their degrees, meet the state’s workforce needs and build better lives for themselves and their families is an important priority for the university.

The university currently provides a number of services to support military learners, including military counselors and advisors on all four campuses, scholarships for military students and their families, flexible deployment policies, veteran student organizations, and flexible online degree programs that include opportunities for students to earn academic credit for military service. The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s online Bachelor of General Studies degree and University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s online Master of Business Administration program both have been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as among the best online programs in the country for veterans.

On Monday, UNO also was named the nation’s No. 1 four-year institution for veterans by the Military Times.
10/28/2014 Oct. 27, 2014: Campaign for Nebraska Update

October 27, 2014

Dear Colleagues:

Nine years ago, the University of Nebraska and University of Nebraska Foundation launched the third comprehensive fundraising campaign in our history. We set a simple but powerful goal: Connect private philanthropy to the vital work you do in education, research and outreach to become the best public university in the country in terms of our impact on the people we serve.

Two months remain in the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities. But the impact that the campaign is having on our campuses and the state of Nebraska is already clear. Today – because of your hard work, the generosity of our donors, and the support of many other individuals in Nebraska and beyond – we are in a better position than at any other time in our history to achieve the vision we laid out when this campaign began.

First, we have raised more than $265 million for scholarships – a generous investment that has made a college education more affordable for thousands of students. Enrollment is at a 21-year high, with more top scholars choosing our campuses, and we believe that’s an indication that students and families recognize the University of Nebraska provides excellent education for a great value. We know unmet need remains, and ensuring that college is within reach for all Nebraskans will continue to be among our highest priorities moving forward.

Visionary gifts also have allowed us to advance the good work you are doing in areas that matter to Nebraskans and people around the world. When we began the campaign, we established a clear set of priorities that would guide our efforts. We looked for areas in which we already had expertise and where we could be a global leader with the right investments. Those were: water for food, agriculture and life sciences, early childhood education, cancer research and care, business and information technology, and architectural engineering and construction.

As a result of the campaign, new facilities and exciting initiatives are underway across our campuses. Of course, the true impact of any new building or program is the critical work that takes place within it – the education of the next generation of leaders and research that serves our state and the world. Daily we see evidence that you are succeeding in these efforts.

All told, we are proud to share with you today that the Campaign for Nebraska has raised more than $1.8 billion – 50 percent more than our original goal, making this by far the largest campaign in the university’s history. More than 4,500 new funds for scholarships, faculty chairs and professorships, academic programs, research and capital projects have been created. More than 97,000 individuals and organizations contributed to the campaign, half of whom were giving to the Foundation for the first time. We are humbled and grateful that so many people recognized the great work you are doing and wanted to be a part of it.

At the same time that we celebrate the results of the Campaign for Nebraska, we must recognize that our work in expanding access to more students, attracting more talented employees, developing world-class facilities and building our national and global reputation is not over. But we are convinced that great things are ahead for this university – first because of the great work you do every day. Thank you, and congratulations.

James Linder, M.D.
Interim President, University of Nebraska

Brian Hastings
President and CEO, University of Nebraska Foundation

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