Sept. 16, 2014 – Testimony to Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, 2015-17 biennial budget request
Sept. 16, 2014
Chairwoman Adam and members of the Commission, I am Dr. Jim Linder, interim president of the University of Nebraska. Thank you for the opportunity to present the University’s 2015-2017 biennial budget request, which has been approved by the Board of Regents. I will spend a few minutes outlining our request, and then I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
A few days ago I was asked during an interview, if I could change one thing about higher education, what would it be? I thought for a moment and answered, “awareness.” I meant it in a broad sense…awareness of the role of higher education, both in the individual lives of our students, and also in a larger societal context. During a university education students should gain skills to support their career, learn how to learn through critical thinking, and become a person who can contribute to society. And that is the message I hope to leave with you today – that higher education, and the University of Nebraska specifically, plays a vital role in improving the lives of our citizens, and in ensuring the long-term economic vitality of our state through those we educate. This is the guiding principle of our budget request.
One thing that has struck me in my short time as Interim President is how fortunate we are in Nebraska to have a strong working relationship between the University and the State – one that is focused on shared priorities and the best interests of our citizens. And when I talk to Nebraskans, they understand the important role of the University.
Other states are not so lucky. Particularly in the recent economic downturn, many of our peers experienced budget cuts that damaged their quality and reduced access. Meanwhile, in Nebraska, while we too reallocate funds, we have been able to not just maintain the status quo, but advance. Policymakers have continued to show strong support for affordable, quality higher education in the state and have made important investments in initiatives like Nebraska Innovation Campus, the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, a health science complex in Kearney and, for the current biennium, an “affordability compact” that allowed for a two-year tuition freeze for all Nebraska students.
We are very grateful for this support. It has helped Nebraska maintain a competitive advantage and I believe the economic payoff – in terms of job creation, workforce development and expanded access for students who want to enjoy the benefits of a college degree – will be significant. Those working at the University are proud of what we contribute, but I constantly remind my colleagues that pride should not lead to hubris. It is our job to support education, research and service to our citizens. What we do must include supporting P-16 goals, STEM education and the mutual goals we share with the state colleges, community colleges and others.
Today, as the nationwide economy is improving, other states are investing in major initiatives tying higher education to economic competitiveness. Wisconsin has proposed a $95 million “talent development” initiative that includes expanded opportunities for entrepreneurship, internships and student and faculty growth. Minnesota is considering a $36 million “discovery, research and innovation” effort. Missouri has put forth a $51 million plan to expand capacity for STEM education and research. Those are just a few examples.
What does this mean for Nebraska? If we want to be competitive edge, we need to keep moving forward.
The facts are clear. The share of working-age Nebraskans who hold at least a two-year degree is slightly above the national average – but with our state ranked seventh in the nation in demand for workers with postsecondary education, we need to do more to make sure college is within reach for all who are qualified and want to attend, and that students who enroll on our campuses are prepared for success.
We have made it a high priority to align our academic programs with the needs of Nebraska companies – but with workforce analyses showing high demand for more nurses, engineers, IT workers, physician assistants and physical therapists, to name a few, we will need to produce more graduates who can fill the jobs of the future. I know workforce development is one of the Commission’s Areas of Emphasis for the upcoming biennium and I strongly agree that growth of high-skill, high-paying jobs in Nebraska should be at the top of our agenda.
We are making significant progress in linking faculty with entrepreneurial experts who can help them commercialize their innovations – the University of Nebraska recently ranked 20th in the nation in licensing revenue from university-developed inventions. Hudl, a startup company from Lincoln, ranks among the highest growing companies on he Inc 500 list. We have great opportunities to do more, so that more Nebraskans can benefit from our faculty’s work in medicine, agriculture, engineering and other areas.
This was our thinking as we developed our biennial budget request. I hope you will keep the same facts in mind as you consider our request.
The key component of our request is a $20 million economic competitiveness package which seeks to advance University initiatives that leverage the talents and resources of our four campuses for the benefit of Nebraskans. Let me briefly touch on the initiatives we are targeting for additional investment:
First, Nebraska Innovation Campus. The state provided an initial generous investment that we have been able to leverage with significant private-sector funding. Because of that, a conference center, “maker space” for innovators, business accelerator for start-up companies, and highly specialized greenhouse center are now taking shape at Innovation Campus. The UNL Department of Food Science and Technology also is relocating there, which will provide exciting new opportunities for joint research activities with ConAgra and other partners. The companies at Innovation Campus will expose our students to real-world experiences, and create job opportunities that keep our graduates at home. Because thousands of jobs can be created at successful university technology parks, the competition is intense. Additional state and private investments are essential for Innovation Campus to have its optimal economic impact. Of our $20 million request to the state, we estimate we would invest about $4 million in moving Innovation Campus forward.
Third, the Health Science Education Complex in Kearney, which broke ground earlier this year. You may remember that the complex was one component of our Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative, which the state generously supported. We now must staff the building with faculty and staff and we would use about $2 million in state support to do that. These talented employees will expand UNMC nursing and allied health programs at the UNK campus and put us in a better position to meet health needs in rural Nebraska, where shortages of health care workers are especially acute. For example, 23 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.
Next, 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. The NSRI is off to a very successful start, with 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. The contract research done at NSRI can grow substantially in coming years, and could have an economic impact on Nebraska of more than $200 million. We estimate we would invest about $1.5 million of our request in the NSRI.
Fifth, the Rural Futures Institute. Nebraska is well-positioned to be a leader in developing strategies for enhancing the economy and quality of life in nonmetropolitan areas, and we will do that through the RFI and the Community Vitality Initiative. 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. An investment of about $1.5 million in state support would be a significant boost to these efforts.
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. Collectively we seek about $6.5 million in state support for these opportunities. For example, we’re looking at creating “maker spaces” in Omaha and Kearney that will be tied to local STEM education efforts. We’re also exploring opportunities to more effectively link our research activities with industry, a priority that we share with the Commission.
Beyond the economic competitiveness package, our request also includes support for Collegebound Nebraska, our financial aid program that promises full tuition assistance to qualifying Nebraska students, and a “college pipeline” initiative that will help more underrepresented students – including minority, first-generation and rural students – access and succeed in college. I know that access is a high priority for the Commission and I fully agree that ensuring that higher education remains open to all Nebraskans is our most fundamental responsibility. Our College Pipeline project also ties directly to the Commission’s emphasis on improving retention and graduation rates in our state. It includes expanded outreach to prospective students; growth in our online high school, particularly among underrepresented students; and expansion of our summer bridge programs that help incoming students become familiar with the college environment. These efforts, together with other student-focused strategies our campuses have put in place, will put more students in a position to stay in school and earn their degree. You rightfully expect us to demonstrate continued improvement in this area; we share that goal and monitor our progress very rigorously.
Regarding salaries: The University of Nebraska – like many business in our state – competes on a global stage for talent. We have incredibly talented faculty and staff on our campuses who are responsible for educating our students, conducting research, and performing outreach in every Nebraska county. But if we do not provide competitive compensation, we risk losing key employees we are handicapped in being unable to attract new talent. Our faculty and staff salaries currently lag behind their peers. We hope to make some targeted investments in cases where salaries of key skillsets are particularly far behind the market average.
I’ve spent the past few minutes talking about opportunities for investment. Let me say a word about a topic that is equally important: cost control. I want to assure you that it is a very high priority for the University of Nebraska to be accountable to the policymakers and Nebraskans who invest their resources in us. We have worked hard at cost effectiveness and will continue to do so. We have managed to grow enrollment and research activity without adding employees supported by tax and tuition dollars. We have kept administrative spending at levels that are lower than our peer institutions. We have made $80 million in budget reallocations since 2000 in order to maintain investments in our priorities while also keeping tuition affordable. These cuts haven’t always been easy, but we are proud of the results: Tuition rates that are well below our peers, including the lowest tuition and lowest debt levels in the entire Big Ten; and academic quality that is widely recognized on a national scale. However, when it comes to cost savings, there are always more opportunities. We currently have task forces working on IT, energy utilization, financial transactions, health services, human resources and other areas to identify additional opportunities. On-line learning is cost-effective, and demanded by students, so we are expanding our use of online learning tools, and studying how our facilities must change to meet the new learning environment. Efficiency will continue to be a high priority for the Board of Regents, the chancellors and myself.
Let me conclude by saying that I feel very fortunate to be Interim President at a time when such great things are happening at the University of Nebraska. Our success is thanks in no small part to the support of policymakers who have generously invested in affordable, excellent higher education. I thank you for that support. Now I ask you to partner with us again as we seek to build on our momentum.
Thank you, and with that, I’d be pleased to respond to your questions.
Sept. 2, 2014 – Message to all students
Sept. 2, 2014
Dear University of Nebraska student:
As interim president of the University of Nebraska, I am happy to welcome you to campus. Some of you are returning, some come as transfer students, and others are beginning your university experience. Collectively you represent every Nebraska county, all 50 U.S. states and well over 100 countries around the world. Each year the University of Nebraska educates more than 50,000 students and each of you faces different opportunities and challenges – but I am confident that for all of you it will be an exciting year.
I thought back to my freshman year and asked myself: "If I could talk with the 1972 version of myself, what would I say?" So here is two minutes of advice from the 2014 Jim Linder to the 1972 Jim Linder, shared while sitting in the student union. You are eavesdropping.
"First, no matter how smart you are now, you will be wiser in five years. This has been consistently true for 40 years. Every five years I look back and realize I did not know as much as I thought. So be humble in what you think you know. Wisdom grows from experiences, and those only come with time.
"Second, because experience is the best teacher, say yes to different opportunities. Take part in that study-abroad program. Accept that internship in a different state. Take that course outside your academic major. Get to know people outside your circle of friends. There is a big world outside the Midwest, filled with incredible people, and college offers you a unique opportunity to experience it.
"Next -- and this one is important – develop abilities that justify someone paying you money. It sounds simplistic, but if you want your employer to give you a dollar, you must add value to their business in excess of a dollar. The abilities you develop can match your interests -- a technical skill (coding, healthcare, engineering); communication skill (teaching, journalism, law), creative skill (design, research, arts) or something else. Maybe, Jim, you should think about medicine.
"Fourth, while it's important to earn a living, learning how to live your life is the most valuable lesson from college. Your time at the University should help you understand people and how the world works. And when you understand, compassion follows. If people are compassionate, many of the seven deadly sins are avoided.
"Finally, the current generation will look to you, the next generation, to lead change that improves the world. Don't be afraid to lead and create, even if that effort carries the risk of failure. The fear of being embarrassed by failure often is the greatest barrier to success.”
So, that would be my advice to me. I might also mention buying stock in a computer company named after a fruit, or share a tip about an Omaha-based investor.
I hope your eavesdropping stimulates thoughts on a life built on great experiences at the University of Nebraska. Chancellors Perlman, Christensen, Kristensen and Gold, and I are honored to have you as students and as future alumni.
James Linder, M.D.
May 5, 2014 – Message to all employees
May 5, 2014
I am pleased to write to you on my first day as interim president of the University of Nebraska. Over the last month I worked closely with President Milliken, learning more about the great things happening on each of the campuses and the many opportunities that lie ahead for us. My respect for President Milliken, which was already high, has only grown as I learned more about the complexities of leading a multi-campus university. He deserves our sincere thanks and we wish him well as he begins his new job in New York.
Some colleagues have asked why I would take on the task of leading the university during this time of transition. The answer is simple. As a member of the faculty for more than 30 years, my institutional loyalty runs deep. Like most Nebraskans, I take great pride in the many contributions the University of Nebraska makes to the state. I know you share that pride, since it is your work – educating our students, conducting important research, and performing outreach activities in each Nebraska county – that advances the university’s fundamental mission to serve the people of the state. Our university focuses the energies and ideas of 13,000 talented faculty and staff to change Nebraska and the world, and together we are making great progress. I am grateful and excited for the opportunity to work with you in the months ahead.
The Board of Regents, in collaboration with a leading executive search firm and two search committees whose members represent a wide range of university constituencies, has begun the task of selecting the next permanent president. Much work is ahead, but I have full confidence that they will identify the right person to build on our impressive momentum. In the meantime, our commitment to doing work that serves Nebraskans and others will remain.
Thank you for all you do for the University of Nebraska.
James Linder, M.D.
Aug. 11, 2014 - Message to all employees
Aug. 11, 2014
Dear University of Nebraska Colleagues,
I have now had the honor of serving as interim president of this great institution for 100 days. There is a tradition, often linked to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in which individuals in a leadership position use their 100th day of service to reflect upon their early accomplishments.
I’m adopting this tradition – with a twist. These are not my personal achievements, but those of many from throughout the University. I also want to share with you what I have learned about the University from this unique vantage point, which is quite different than my lens as a faculty member. And, I want to lay out some of what I hope we can accomplish together during the next 100 days and beyond. I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, which violates (in a big way) my usual “one-page” rule for correspondence. I hope you agree the content justifies the length. Nothing written here is confidential, so please feel free to share these thoughts with your friends and family.
The breadth of activities at the University of Nebraska is substantial. I regularly read the news coming from each campus and am amazed by your accomplishments, contributions and engagement. Examples include the formation of a new integrated clinical enterprise at UNMC, the rapid growth of programming at the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center at UNO, the excitement about Nebraska Innovation Campus, which celebrates its grand opening this week at UNL, and the newly opened, state-of-the-art Wellness Center at UNK – to say nothing of the work you do daily to provide our students with a high-quality education that prepares them for success, conduct research relevant to Nebraskans and people around the world, and perform outreach in every county in the state. This snapshot, however brief, reflects your commitment to the University of Nebraska’s fundamental responsibility to change lives, as well as the effective leadership of the Chancellors and Deans. I encourage you to follow University developments at www.nebraska.edu or @U_Nebraska on Twitter. Knowing what your peers are doing can create interesting opportunities for collaboration.
As a longtime UNMC faculty member, my understanding of Central Administration (UNCA, located in Varner Hall) was limited. Working with the 40 or so individuals based at UNCA has been a pleasure. They usually contribute in the background, since most of the “action” (education, research and service) is on your campuses or at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis. During my initial months as interim president, I’ve come to understand that a university system office fills three major roles: 1) interacting with oversight bodies, including the Board of Regents, Nebraska policymakers and the federal government; 2) securing financial resources for the University, largely through state appropriations and in partnership with the University of Nebraska Foundation; and 3) providing a framework for a multi-campus system to collaborate. I’ll discuss each of these and their impact on the University.
The elected regents and student regents supervise the operation of the University and the direction of expenditures. They care deeply about the University and are committed to the success of each campus. Nebraska is fortunate to have its only public university organized as a single system to serve its citizens. There are unique strengths at UNO, UNK, UNL and UNMC, and in NCTA, and each plays a vital role for the people of our state. Our counterparts in states with multiple uncoordinated public institutions are forced to expend great effort lobbying their state governments and competing against their higher education counterparts. But we have the opportunity to speak in a single voice to the Nebraska Governor and Legislature, which we believe strengthens our message and is a key reason why Nebraska has a strong history of supporting public higher education.
While our policymakers must balance many important priorities, they recognize the contributions the University makes in educating the next generation of Nebraskans. I have met with many Senators and to a person they understand the important role the University of Nebraska plays and appreciate the good work being done here. We are indeed fortunate, and should humbly accept our role and continue our efforts to retain that respect. I should also mention that the University of Nebraska works closely with the community and state colleges in Nebraska. We have recently put new procedures in place to optimize transfer of credits when possible and to build an integrated learning experience for students who chose that path. In addition, we manage two major automated systems that also support the state college system’s finance and payroll (SAP) system as well as their student information system (NeSIS) and in concert with the State we operate a Statewide network called Network Nebraska.
On the federal side, many of the programs we have adopted, such as Collegebound Nebraska, the University of Nebraska High School, our P-16 programs and efforts to assure the safety of students, are in line with or ahead of some of the priorities that have been articulated nationally. There is particular interest across the country in doing more to ensure that all students – no matter their socioeconomic status – have access to higher education, and in this area I think the University of Nebraska is ahead of the game. Our tuition rates are typically 25 percent or more lower than those of our peer institutions, which results in lower student debt burdens.
The second topic – our financial resources – is important to understand. The budget defines what the University can do; it’s no different than how you manage your household. You may hear that the budget of the University is $2.4 billion. Yes, that is “billion” with a B. But the majority of those funds – about two-thirds – come to us with designations and restrictions, including private gifts, financial aid, research contracts, and self-supporting operations such as housing and UNL athletics. These monies flow through the University accounting system with little latitude on how they can be spent. The remaining funds – state appropriations and tuition revenue – constitute the FY2015 $864 million “state-aided” budget that supports key instructional activities, research, outreach and general operations of the University. Investment in our employees is our single biggest expenditure, with salaries and benefits making up more than 80 percent of the state-aided budget.
Even though we are only a month into the current fiscal year, we are already planning for the two-year budget cycle that will begin next year. In July we developed biennial budget request guidelines for FY2016 and FY2017 that were unanimously approved by the Board of Regents. Subsequent editorial coverage in the media was positive, as were my initial meetings with policymakers. But regental approval is just the first step in a long process. Next the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education will review our request, which in turn will be sent to the Governor and Legislature for consideration. No funding is guaranteed until the Legislature appropriates funds and the Governor acts on the budget bills in May 2015. Then the University President will present the FY2016 annual operating budget to the regents, which will include recommendations on tuition, salaries and other priorities. Because of term limits, we will have many new leaders in state government and in the coming months we will be communicating with them and other citizens around the state about the importance of supporting the University. Remember, all of you can be advocates.
Our biennial budget request includes modest increases for healthcare and operations, strategic investments in high-priority academic areas, funds to address salary shortfalls of some faculty and staff, and support for multi-campus initiatives that can advance the University’s work in growing Nebraska’s economy. We believe – and we hope policymakers agree – that the University plays a leading role in economic development, so we have put forward an economic competitiveness initiative that would help build Nebraska’s economy, creating opportunities for both our graduates and the state. We hope to make a strong case that the University is well-positioned to do even more to meet workforce needs through education, critical research and private-sector partnerships if the right investments are made. We are very grateful for the support the state has provided in recent years for University projects and we look forward to discussing our request with policymakers in more detail in the months ahead.
I won’t talk about revenue without also talking about spending – and specifically the steps we are taking to demonstrate accountability to Nebraskans who entrust us with their resources. We have begun looking at potential cost saving opportunities in areas that include information technology, business transactions, health services and human resources. By managing costs we can undertake new programs that benefit the University and the state. And no cost savings is too small. I have invited my colleagues in Varner Hall – and I invite you now – to send me suggestions, anonymously or otherwise, on how the University can save money, operate more efficiently or better accomplish our education, research and service missions. You are welcome to submit your suggestions using the submission form. I review each suggestion personally and would be pleased to hear your ideas.
Speaking of costs, some facts you should know:
• After inflation, spending per FTE student has decreased over the last 15 years. State appropriation and tuition per FTE student was $19,200 in 2014 versus $19,600 in 2000 on an inflation-adjusted basis.
• We’re delivering a great value. Education and related spending per completed degree (2011) at UNL is $56,374 compared to a peer average of $66,462 and a national average of $63,739.
• Administrative spending per student at all four campuses is lower than that at peer institutions.
• There has been a 12 percent decline in state-aided employee FTEs per student from 2000 to 2014. In that same time period, the overall number of state-aided employee FTEs has remained flat at around 7,800, even as enrollment has grown from 45,000 to 50,000 and our research enterprise has expanded significantly.
• There are more than 13,600 employees at NU, of whom 5,800 are supported by grants, contracts or other non-state aided funds. These employees greatly enrich the University without cost to the Nebraska taxpayer.
My message is that, taken together, these facts illustrate that the University has been responsible in its use of public resources, being able to educate more students, grow research activities and expand its outreach without pricing out the Nebraska families we exist to serve. I believe the runaway education costs reported in many media outlets are not evident in Nebraska.
Philanthropy has been an enormous driver of the growth of the University during the past decade. The “Campaign for Nebraska” will conclude in December, having raised nearly $1.8 billion – 50 percent more than our original goal. Generous donors have thus far contributed $260 million for student scholarships, $87 million for faculty support, $566 million for academic programs, $55 million for research, $624 million for capital projects and another $150 million in multi-purpose gifts. Without this support, the University would be a shadow of what it is today. The University of Nebraska Foundation, volunteer campaign leaders and all of the donors who have given during the Campaign have our deep gratitude. I am now working with the Foundation on planning for initiatives that will begin in 2015 to carry on the momentum we have built. These will include alumni outreach, enhanced academic program support and expansion of scholarships to maintain affordability. Nebraskans understand the good work that comes from the dollars that they donate to the University – work that likely would not be possible without philanthropic support.
The third topic to address is collaboration between campuses and faculty across the University of Nebraska. The short summary is, “The more we work together, the more we can accomplish.” For years institutes and centers on the campuses have pooled the talents of faculty to conduct research and deliver education. But, thanks to your good work, the support of University leadership, and in some cases the contributions of generous and visionary donors, in recent years we have been able to take that model to the next level. We have launched broad and deep University-wide institutes – the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute, Buffett Early Childhood Institute, Rural Futures Institute, Peter Kiewit Institute and the National Strategic Research Institute – each rooted in University strengths and priorities, and each with a mission to link faculty and resources across our campuses to accomplish goals that could not be met by a single department, college or campus alone. Unexpected discoveries can occur when you partner with colleagues from unrelated disciplines. These institutes, each led by incredibly talented and recognized leaders, have the potential to attract talent to our state, generate significant research support, elevate the University’s national and international reputation and – most importantly – deliver results that change lives in Nebraska and around the world. I encourage you to become affiliated with an institute if your academic activities can support its mission.
A substantial opportunity for faculty collaboration is the University of Nebraska Online Worldwide. The University of Nebraska currently offers more than 100 online degrees, certificates and endorsements. Expanding distance education opportunities is essential to our goals of increasing access, meeting student needs, and producing a highly skilled workforce for the state. We are seeing significant growth in enrollment in online courses among both undergraduate and graduate students, and there is demand from students who attend our physical campuses and those who are distant from NU. Our first MOOC, a health literacy course developed at UNMC, debuts this fall and already has 4,500 students signed up.
To be blunt, the University must have an aggressive online education strategy – one focused on expanding access while maintaining our high quality – or we risk becoming irrelevant. There will be great opportunities for faculty who are willing and able to develop coursework for the new learning environment. Your peers, faculty who have already had experience in these courses, can be great advisors as you consider developing online content.
I could go on for quite a while detailing the important and impressive work that you’re doing now and the opportunities that are emerging at the University. You may be interested to read “A Decade of Distinction: State of the University 2014,” which highlights accomplishments of the past decade and lays out some themes for the future. Suffice it to say here that because of you, we have built tremendous momentum and we have potential to achieve even more.
The next 100 days will take us almost to Thanksgiving. Between now and then, I challenge all of us to work together to take advantage of the opportunities we have to change the lives of people in Nebraska and around the world. Thank you for all you do for this great university.
Presidential Search Committee to Meet
August 6, 2014
The Presidential Search Screening and Selection Committee will meet on Wednesday, August 13, in the board room of the University of Nebraska Foundation office located at 2285 S. 67th St., Suite 200, in Omaha. The committee meeting will begin at 11:45 a.m.
Statement on the passing of Union Pacific Chairman Jim Young, Feb. 15, 2014
I don't know that I've met anyone I admired more than Jim Young. He had a great story--growing up in South Omaha, attending UNO with the support of his wife Shirley, and succeeding through hard work and determination. And he did it all with unmatched integrity. We are extremely proud to call him an alumnus of the University of Nebraska. The University, Omaha and Nebraska have lost a good friend, an exceptional leader and a great man.
Statement on the call to boycott Israeli universities, Jan. 2, 2014
Jan. 2, 2014
The following is a statement issued by the University of Nebraska, representing the position of University President James B. Milliken and the Chancellors of the University of Nebraska campuses, rejecting the call for a boycott of Israeli universities. The American Studies Association has voted to boycott higher education institutions in Israel to protest the country’s treatment of Palestinians. Numerous U.S. universities and higher education organizations – including the Association of Public and Land-grant Institutions, the American Council on Education and the American Association of University Professors – have opposed the boycott.
The University of Nebraska’s statement is as follows:
“The leadership of the University of Nebraska rejects the call to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education. We support the unfettered pursuit of knowledge, the open exchange of ideas, and the robust engagement of faculty and students among institutions around the world.
“We believe the call to boycott Israeli higher education institutions is misguided, and if successful would hinder the open pursuit of knowledge and exchange of ideas and threaten the very institutions that stand for these principles.
“U.S. universities and scholarly associations have long encouraged and supported the very academic freedom universities in Israel offer. We urge our colleagues to adopt policies that encourage dialogue rather than those that threaten the institutions and communities that are founded on free and open inquiry and discourse.”
Rural Futures Conference Opening Remarks
November 4, 2013
Good morning, and welcome to the University of Nebraska’s second annual Rural Futures Conference. Special greetings to those of you joining us for the first time. I am especially pleased that tomorrow we will be joined by Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, who is delivering the Heuermann Lecture on his vision for rural America and growing the rural economy. Secretary Vilsack will be here in his capacity as chair of the White House’s National Rural Council and we’ll be delighted to have him in Nebraska. I think the president’s creation of the Rural Council indicates that rural issues are regarded at the very highest levels as critical to the nation’s health.
I want to say a word about the history of the university’s Rural Futures Institute, because I’ve been a supporter and champion of this initiative since Day 1 and I have a deep personal interest in the work that will take place here. The inspiration, of course, dates back to 1862 and the land-grant movement in this country. Nebraska, like Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan and many other states represented at this conference, was at the forefront of this movement and is still committed to it today. The Morrill Act ushered in a remarkable period of advancement in this country that we are reaping the benefits of in the 21st century: opening the doors of higher education to the sons and daughters of farmers and mill workers, creating a platform for research to provide economic opportunity and advance a new nation, and connecting through extensions and other means the intellectual capital of great universities with people in the field, the factory and our communities.
There have been many initiatives in Nebraska and elsewhere to further this important work, but I know that many of us felt we were not realizing the full potential of what could be achieved by leveraging our resources, intellectual capacity and energy. The forerunner for this effort was the Nebraska Rural Initiative, launched in the late 1990s by the University. With the wise guidance of Sam Cordes and others, we assessed what was positive with that initiative and others, but more importantly what could be achieved with the right recipe. The germ of an idea for RFI was hatched. With the addition of Ronnie Green, we had a partner who shared the vision and commitment and brought new energy and ambition to our dream.
A year and a half ago, when we hosted the first Rural Futures Conference, the idea began to catch fire. The Rural Futures Institute hadn’t been officially launched yet. We didn’t have an organization or permanent leadership in place. We had begun laying the groundwork by surveying faculty and other key stakeholders, but our thinking about the mission of the institute was still in its nascent stages. We are much indebted to Mark Gustafson for his early leadership as interim director of the Rural Futures Institute.
Last year’s conference – in which a number of you were active participants – provided an opportunity for us to test our theory that an institute dedicated to rural life and development was something we should invest in. We sensed that an institute like this could make a major difference in the lives of rural residents in Nebraska and globally, and we felt that the University of Nebraska – with faculty and resources across four campuses, partners around the state, and a rich history of serving Nebraska’s communities – had an opportunity to take a leadership role. We knew we were talking about something big that involved significant risk… but as I said then, and as I continue to believe, that’s what makes this worth doing.
But we wanted to confirm with external partners that this was a path we should go down. And you helped us do just that. Not only with interest in our first conference that exceeded our capacity, but with your deep engagement, energy and support for what we had set out to do. Two broad concepts came out of that conference that have greatly helped our thinking: First, it became clear that if we were going to create a Rural Futures Institute, it needed to be truly trans-disciplinary. This is not about agriculture or business or health or tourism alone. It involves all of those disciplines and many others – law, economics, transportation, medicine and public health, communication – all the areas relevant to rural people and rural communities. The University of Nebraska, with faculty with expertise in each of these areas, is well-positioned to address such a range of issues.
Secondly, the conference validated the idea that the research mission of the institute needed to be broad-based, including the biological sciences, social sciences, the business world, the legal world and others. But to realize the vision many of you helped nurture, we cannot do this alone. We knew we needed to engage partners in the state, regionally and beyond in order to be successful.
I am pleased to be able to say that today, in addition to continuing to talk about those things, we’re doing them. We have made real progress since the last time we convened this conference. First, we’ve hired a founding executive director of the Rural Futures Institute, Chuck Schroeder, a son of the soil from a ranching community with deep experience with and passion for rural issues. Chuck doesn’t officially begin until Dec. 1 but he is already engaged in the work of the institute and he is with us this week. I believe we’ve found exactly the right person to lead the institute through its early phases and I could not be more pleased to have attracted Chuck back to Nebraska. Chuck will speak tomorrow about his vision for the institute and it will be an excellent opportunity for all of us to hear from him directly.
Additionally, following a call for proposals, we have awarded $750,000 in competitive grants for teaching, research and outreach projects focused on issues of importance to the Rural Futures Institute.
In evaluating the many proposals we received, we kept in mind a few key criteria: The projects had to involve faculty from one or more University of Nebraska campus, and they had to involve partnerships outside the university. The first round of projects is underway and they are addressing issues as diverse as ecotourism, juvenile re-entry into rural communities, rural public health, rural entrepreneurship, community marketing and others. All four University of Nebraska campuses are represented among the grant recipients, as are partners in the business sector, government and other land-grant institutions. We’ll initiate the second round of grants at this conference and I’m excited to see what new projects come out of that.
Much of the heavy lifting for the Rural Futures Institute is in front of us. But when I reflect on where we were just a short time ago, I am extremely pleased with the steps we’ve taken and the momentum and energy that I see around this initiative. That is a testament to the hard work and commitment of colleagues at the University of Nebraska and other universities represented here today, community leaders around the state and across the region and beyond who share our vision for a Rural Futures Institute that will help create, grow, and sustain a vibrant, competitive future for rural people and communities everywhere. I want to thank you for your collaboration thus far – and urge you to keep thinking boldly and creatively going forward.
Again, welcome to the Rural Futures Conference. I think we have a great couple of days ahead of us, and I’m excited to see what new ideas emerge.
Appropriations Committee hearing (budget), March 2013
Testimony of James B. Milliken - President, University of Nebraska
Appropriations Committee – March 19, 2013 Chairman Mello, members of the committee, I am J.B. Milliken, president of the University of Nebraska and I am pleased to join Regent Clare in support of the University’s budget request for 2013-15.
Higher education is more important today than at any time in our history. The connections between educational attainment, personal earning power and the economic competitiveness of a state or region are well documented and widely acknowledged. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce has done state-by-state projections of jobs and education requirements through 2018; their report shows that 66% of Nebraska jobs will require education beyond high school – 7th highest in the nation – and that we will add 56,000 new jobs requiring post-secondary education and training over the next five years.
More recent studies by the same center reinforced that message, showing that unemployment for recent high school graduates is almost four times higher than for college graduates; and, that since the recent recession began, the number of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree increased by 2.2 million, while those requiring an associate’s degree broke even and those requiring a high school diploma or less decreased by 5.8 million. New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that workers with a bachelor’s degree earn, on average, 36% more than those with an associate’s degree and 63% more than those with a high school diploma – making a million-dollar difference over a lifetime.
Increasing educational attainment in the United States has become a high priority nationally. Last fall I joined some 500 presidents of colleges and universities in pledging to increase the number of college graduates by 3.8 million by 2025. Our own ambitious growth goals at the University – to increase enrollment by 10,000 students to 60,000 this decade and to increase graduation rates—are aligned with those priorities.
At the same time, there has never been greater scrutiny of higher education – from tuition and student debt to graduation and retention rates and student success—as well as increasing pressure on state funds. In addition, there have never been more challenges and opportunities presented by technology – online learning, MOOCs and other technological advances.
We would be the first to say that there are areas where we can improve. We have put metrics in place for each of the goals of our strategic framework that Regent Clare outlined; we report on our progress on those at every Board meeting and they are always on our website.
Affordable access has been the Board’s number one priority and we have been successful in keeping tuition well below the average of our campuses’ peers—resulting in a significant value for Nebraskans. We have also increased financial aid for those who need it most. This year we are encouraging a more dramatic statement about tuition at Nebraska—and I know you’re quite familiar with that.
On a related note, student debt is a concern in Nebraska and nationally, but our story is better than many. Average debt at UNL averages $21,000, the lowest among its peer institutions, which average $25,000. We will continue to work with our students and their families on financial literacy, and continue to advocate for affordability and student financial aid. And our student loan default rates are the lowest in Nebraska.
Although we are not satisfied with graduation rates, on two of our three predominantly undergraduate campuses we exceed the average of our peer institutions; UNL lags the peer average by 3 percent but is gaining and does well in state and national comparisons. We want these rates to be higher and we are implementing a number of strategies to achieve this.
As one example, last year the Board approved a new university-wide policy capping the number of credit hours required for graduation at 120, to help ensure that students can graduate in four years. We have found great success with new strategies for student retention, including the Thompson Learning Communities and early warning systems.
We have ambitious plans for the future of the university and the state. To meet our enrollment goals, we will recruit more aggressively in Nebraska, outside the state, and internationally. We will continue to strengthen our online education programs at both the high school and college level, leveraging the power of technology to serve more Nebraskans and to expand nationally and globally. That growth will require investments in facilities, faculty and student support services – but it will help position Nebraska for success.
We now offer 1,500 courses and more than 130 programs online – including bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, PhDs and certificates. We have seen a 130 percent increase in online credit hours over the past five years, which tells us that we are meeting the needs of working adults and full-time students who need increased access and flexibility in order to reach their academic goals. We also have a fully accredited online high school, offering 100 courses, both foundational and advanced placement, to students in Nebraska (and globally) to supplement their high school courses or whose schedules prevent them from taking needed classes.
It’s tempting to say that the goal of all higher education should be to educate the greatest number of students for the lowest cost. And for certain kinds of institutions—small liberal arts colleges, regional universities, community colleges—that may be a very appropriate metric.
There are of course such institutions in Nebraska that spend less per student than we spend at the University of Nebraska. Their missions, their responsibilities, and their cost structures are very different from ours. There is nothing new about this; one of the great strengths of American higher education is the diversity of institutions, serving different types of students with different educational needs and providing states with a wide range of educational resources and strategies.
The University of Nebraska is a research university … the only public research university in the state. It includes a land-grant campus with all that mission implies for the state; a metropolitan campus engaged with extensive community outreach; a health science center with medical research and treatment that is second to none; a residential undergraduate campus that serves many students from greater Nebraska, with a majority being the first in their families to attend college; and a two-year school of technical agriculture focused on aspects of the ag workforce.
Without taking away anything from the other fine institutions in the state, it’s clear that the University of Nebraska’s mission, structure and operation are far more complex and multi-faceted than a small liberal arts college, or a community or state college.
The significant investments that we make in research in water, energy, early childhood, public health, engineering, cancer, national security and other fields create new knowledge, new jobs and new economic vitality for our state. This research has greatly improved the quality of life in Nebraska and has the potential, literally, to change the world.
Funds spent on research in agriculture alone have contributed enormously to the productivity and profitability of our crop and livestock enterprises – having an impact not just on Nebraska but on global food security. And funds spent on extension and outreach, in every county in Nebraska, have modernized agriculture, strengthened families and built successful new businesses. In our state, with many public and private institutions, these are activities unique to the University of Nebraska.
With regard to the work that is uniquely the mission of a research university, there could hardly be better examples of significant progress in recent years. Our recent selection by the Department of Defense as one of only 14 universities nationwide to host a university-affiliated research center, or UARC, provides tremendous opportunities for Nebraska. The UARC promises significantly higher federal investment in basic research, the opportunity to help keep our soldiers, citizens and allies safe, and a valuable step in significantly deepening the university’s ties to Stratcom.
The potential of Nebraska Innovation Campus is huge, and we very much appreciate the investment the state has made toward the renovation of the 4H building and the construction of a new research facility focused on food, fuel and water. The state investment, which we are leveraging many times over, provided a critical spark. It was a key factor in ConAgra’s decision late last year to become our first industry partner, and it will pay significant and long-term dividends for Nebraska.
Likewise, your commitment last year to the Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative will have far-reaching benefits for the state. Next month we will break ground on the first phase of the comprehensive cancer center in Omaha, which has the potential to transform the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in our state and region. Work will also begin soon on a new health sciences building in Kearney, to help address growing shortages in the rural healthcare workforce, especially in nursing. And we are making good progress on plans for the veterinary diagnostic lab, which is critical to our livestock industry and food safety.
We recognize the state’s partnership with the university in these endeavors is critical, and it happened during difficult budget years. We understand the causes that led to five years of flat operations funding for the university, and we have not been critical, although we have pointed out each year that it is not, in our view, sustainable.
The University budget has been prudently managed over those five years, making $31 million in reallocations to cover rising costs associated with teaching a growing number of students while reducing the number of FTE paid for by our state-aided budget, and conducting research on an unprecedented scale. But a renewed state investment is critical if we are to continue to provide affordable access to a high quality education – which is our highest priority.
Funding at the level requested would allow us to do something we haven’t done in nearly 25 years: offer our students no tuition increase for the next two years. I hear very positive reactions to this everywhere I go.
Our request also anticipates modest salary increases, to begin to close the gap between UNL and UNMC faculty and those at their peer institutions, as well as funding for our highest-impact academic and research programs—strategic investments that have led to recent successes and a tremendous ROI.
As you know, our budget request also includes the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis, which has seen a real resurgence in the past two years, with new facilities including a residence hall and education center, new programs focused on ag entrepreneurship, and recruiting a new dean.
The other component of our request is $17 million in one-time capital construction funding for a new facility for the College of Nursing’s Lincoln campus. This was part of the Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative and remains our number one capital priority. I would ask the Committee to again consider this project, which would replace an inadequate and ill-suited facility in downtown Lincoln and allow us to better meet the demand for nursing education to help address the growing shortage of nurses in Nebraska.
The Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative that was funded last year also included a new veterinary diagnostic lab, for which the legislature appropriated $50 million, to be matched with $5 million in private or other support. This appropriation was based on early estimates, which have now been revised and we have reduced the price down by almost $10 million, to $45.6 million. We have two requests in connection with this: first, that you reduce the required “private or other” match for vet diagnostics proportionately, from $5 million to $4.1 million. And, that the $9 million in state funds that will not be needed for the lab be redirected to a new College of Nursing facility in Lincoln.
I appreciate the committee’s consideration and would be pleased to respond to your questions.
Statement on the Appropriations Committee’s preliminary budget recommendations, Feb. 28, 2013
Statement on the Appropriations Committee’s preliminary budget recommendations, Feb. 28, 2013
Statement of President Milliken on the Governor's budget recommendations
I am deeply disappointed in the Governor's proposed budget for the University of Nebraska. At a time when higher education is more important than ever for individual economic opportunity as well as state competitiveness, Nebraska risks taking a big step backwards.
The University's number one goal has been affordable access to a college education, and with the leadership of the Governor and the Legislature over the last two years, we have kept tuition increases at their lowest levels in years. The Governor and I have joined to advocate a significant increase in the state's college-going rate. But under this proposed budget, access and affordability for students and families would suffer.
I have high regard for Governor Heineman, and I have no doubt he believes the course he has recommended is good for Nebraska. But funding higher education at a level that would almost certainly restrict access and require a combination of significant tuition increases and major cuts to programs cannot be good for our state's future.
The key to Nebraska's future is to be successful in the competition for talent—by providing quality teaching, research and outreach for Nebraskans and by attracting new, talented people to our state. I believe Nebraskans understand that investing in higher education is essential to this goal.
President Milliken and Secretary Spellings' news media telephone conference from São Paulo, Brazil
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings joined University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken for a Nebraska news media telephone conference from São Paulo, Brazil during their seven-day trip to Latin America.
Media conference [.mp3, 20.8 MB]
Milliken was one of eight university presidents chosen to accompany Spellings and other government officials late in August on a seven-day trip to Brazil and Chile. The delegation promoted international education and collaboration, including study abroad and student exchange programs, and encouraging Latin American students to study in the United States.
The group talked with university students, leaders in government and higher education, and participated in round table discussions in Santiago, Chile; and São Paulo and Brasilia in Brazil.
The Latin America delegation included: Spellings; U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Farrell; U.S. Under Secretary of Education Sara Martinez Tucker; U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Lauren Maddox; U.S. Secretary of Education’s Senior Counselor Robin Gilchrist; Milliken; President Susan C. Aldridge, University of Maryland, University College; President Gregory Geoffroy, Iowa State University; President John Hennessy, Stanford University; Chancellor Sean O'Keefe, Louisiana State University; President Eduardo J. Padrón, Miami Dade College; Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, Washington University in St. Louis; and Chancellor Henry Yang, University of California, Santa Barbara.
Free Expression of Ideas is Essential to a University
Free Expression of Ideas is Essential to a University
Time to capitalize on the University’s momentum
President Milliken: Time to capitalize on the University's momentum
Why we support equitable employee benefits at the University of Nebraska
By: James B. Milliken, president, University of Nebraska; Harvey Perlman, chancellor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; John Christensen, chancellor, University of Nebraska at Omaha; Doug Kristensen, chancellor, University of Nebraska at Kearney; and Harold Maurer, chancellor, University of Nebraska Medical Center
In recent years, employer-provided benefits to partners of unmarried employees have become a more widely available part of competitive benefits plans. A growing number of public and private sector employers – including in Nebraska – have expanded benefits programs to include employees’ partners and their dependent children as a way to recruit and retain talented people, address the changing needs of employees, and promote workplace equality. We believe it is time for the University of Nebraska to do the same.
This week, the NU administration briefed the Board of Regents on a proposal to expand eligibility for participation in the University’s benefits program to include employees’ partners and their dependent children. The logic behind the proposal is clear: Every other Big Ten university provides partner benefits, as do a majority of the peers of the NU campuses and a number of leading private companies in Nebraska and across the country. We believe the University should provide similar benefits, not only to maintain our competitiveness in a marketplace for talented faculty and staff, but also because treating our employees equitably is the right thing to do. At a time when Nebraska must do all it can to attract and nurture human capital to grow the innovation economy in our state, not providing equitable benefits harms our ability to compete for talent. Most important, we believe we have an obligation to treat people fairly in the workplace.
Providing partner benefits would bring the University of Nebraska in line with the prevailing practices of comparable universities. More than 300 higher education institutions across the country offer partner benefits, including public universities in at least 30 states and most of the highly ranked research institutions. Furthermore, more than 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies and nearly 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer health insurance benefits to employees’ partners. In Nebraska, a number of major companies offer partner benefits, including ConAgra, Union Pacific, Mutual of Omaha, Ameritas, HDR and Baker’s Supermarkets.
The proposal is consistent with the University’s existing goals. The University’s Strategic Framework includes several objectives related to ensuring competitive employment practices – including fringe benefits – to recruit and retain faculty and staff. The Board’s philosophy has been to strive for compensation that is at least at the midpoint of peer institutions. Since benefits can account for up to a quarter of an employee’s compensation, providing equitable benefits is, we believe, a key component to achieving the Board’s goal for competitive compensation. Further, in 2005, the Board of Regents adopted a nondiscrimination clause that includes sexual orientation and marital status.
We fully recognize that this change will not be supported by all Nebraskans. Nothing in the proposal would recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships in violation of the state’s constitution, and public universities in other states with “Defense of Marriage” amendments have adopted benefits plans such as the one that was proposed to the Board of Regents. Equitable benefits are a matter of fairness and competitiveness for the University – and, because the success of the state is so closely tied to the success of its only public university, this is a matter of economic competitiveness for Nebraska as well.
The faculty senates on all four campuses have formally asked that the university provide expanded benefits coverage, as have student governments in Omaha, Lincoln and Kearney. Our university-wide benefits committee also supports the proposal. It is our hope that the Board of Regents will adopt an equitable benefits program so that we can compete effectively for talent and do the right thing for our employees as we continue to fulfill our goal to serve Nebraska.
This editorial originally appeared in the Omaha World-Herald on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011.