University of Nebraska lobbyist wins national award for governmental relations

December 12, 2013

Ron Withem, senior associate vice president for university affairs and director of governmental relations at the University of Nebraska, today was presented with a national award honoring his achievements in higher education state relations.

Withem is the 2013 recipient of the Marvin D. “Swede” Johnson Achievement Award, administered annually by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the American Association of Community Colleges. The award recognizes extraordinary achievement in state relations and institutional advocacy to governors, state legislators and other policymakers.

“My goal is to communicate to policymakers the enormous value the University of Nebraska brings to the state and its people. It’s an honor to be recognized for my efforts with the Swede Johnson Award,” Withem said. “I’m grateful for the support of President Milliken and my colleagues who join me in advocating for the important role the University of Nebraska plays in the state’s success.”

University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken, who nominated Withem for the award, said: “Ron knows the legislative process inside and out, is a masterful tactician and has a keen sense of effective legislative strategy. He has excellent political instincts that allow him to advance the university’s agenda, adjust strategy as needed and maintain positive relationships with a range of policymakers. His efforts have benefited the University of Nebraska tremendously. I can think of few people who are more deserving of the Swede Johnson Award than Ron Withem.”

Withem, a former Nebraska state senator who served as Speaker of the Legislature and chaired the Legislature’s Education Committee, has been at the University of Nebraska since 1997. He also has experience as a classroom teacher, contributing to his deep understanding of education policy. His accomplishments at NU include:

  • Leading a university legislative relations strategy in 2013 that resulted in an increase in state appropriations to NU for the 2013-15 biennium, which allowed the university to freeze resident tuition for two years. Prior to the increase in appropriations, state support to the university for operations had been essentially flat for the past five years – a success when compared to many other states that have reduced funding for higher education.
  • Leading the university’s Building a Healthier Nebraska legislative initiative in 2012, which resulted in state investments in critical health-related projects including a new cancer center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, a new veterinary diagnostics laboratory at the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and a new health sciences complex at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. The projects will have a significant impact on the health of Nebraskans and the state’s healthcare workforce.
  • Helping to craft a compromise that transferred the Nebraska State Fair property to the University of Nebraska for the development of Nebraska Innovation Campus, a private-public partnership that will leverage university research and contribute significantly to the state’s economic growth.
  • Creating a university ambassador program, an extensive network of volunteer grassroots supporters who contact policymakers on behalf of the university.
  • Developing a university-wide legislative strategy in which the university speaks to policymakers in one voice – versus different voices for each campus – which results in more effective advocacy.

Withem is being honored today during the 2013 Higher Education Government Relations Conference in San Francisco. The Marvin D. “Swede” Johnson Award is named for the former director of state government relations at the universities of Arizona and New Mexico.

Media Contact:
Melissa Lee
Director of Communications,
University of Nebraska