Governor signs budget package, NU search bill
The University of Nebraska will be able to continue to advance its goals for competitiveness, quality and affordability thanks to recent action by the Legislature and Gov. Pete Ricketts.
The Governor on Wednesday approved legislation related to the University of Nebraska’s two highest priorities with policymakers this year: a proposal to extend a state-university partnership on building renovation projects; and a proposal to improve the university’s competitive position in its president and chancellor searches. Both received strong support from state senators.
“The Governor and Legislature are balancing any number of pressing issues and I am very grateful for their ongoing commitment to excellence at the University of Nebraska,” said President Hank Bounds. “We’re fortunate that our policymakers understand well the vital role the state’s public university plays in ensuring Nebraska’s economic competitiveness and quality of life. Their support – together with the good work of our faculty and staff – positions us well for the future.”
Bounds in particular thanked and highlighted the leadership of Sen. Heath Mello, chairman of the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee; Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley, who sponsored the building renovation proposal; and Sen. John Murante, who sponsored the NU search legislation.
The budget package approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Ricketts continues the state’s current $11 million annual commitment to NU maintenance projects from 2020 through 2030. While less than the amount the university had requested, the funding will allow the university to issue about $200 million in debt to pursue some of its highest-priority projects. In consultation with the chancellors and using data from an analysis of the condition, capacity and use of its state-aided facilities, the university has identified the following renovation projects for funding:
- UNL: Scott Engineering Complex, Nebraska Hall and Mabel Lee/Henzlik Halls
- UNMC: Wittson Hall phase 1 and the former College of Pharmacy
- UNO: Strauss Performing Arts Center, Arts & Sciences Hall and renovation of the First Data Corp. building adjacent to the Pacific Street Campus which has been acquired using private funds
- UNK: Otto Olsen Vocational Arts Building demolishment and replacement
Bounds noted that the total cost to bring all university facilities to “like new” condition would exceed $1.1 billion. While maintenance challenges will remain, the state’s continued partnership in caring for valuable shared building assets will help ensure that students, faculty and staff have quality facilities in which to learn and work.
The budget package also includes a 3 percent increase in the university’s base funding for 2016-17, which Bounds said will allow the university to advance a number of key priorities. He added that in the current higher education environment – in which the market for talent is increasingly competitive, the need to expand access and success for students is growing, and universities are expected to play a more prominent role in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges – continued investments will be necessary for NU to maximize its impact.
Bounds will bring a proposed 2016-17 operating budget, including proposals for salaries and other priorities, to the Board of Regents in May. The Board already has approved a 2.5 percent tuition increase for the upcoming year. The Board will consider the university’s 2017-19 budget request to the state in July.
NU’s other priority legislation, LB1109, will allow the university to identify a single priority finalist in president and chancellor searches who would be subject to a 30-day public vetting period prior to Board of Regents consideration of his or her appointment.
Current law effectively requires the identification of four public finalists. The new process is more in line with an overwhelming majority of leading higher education institutions in the country and ensures NU’s continue competitiveness in the national marketplace for talent.
University stakeholders – including faculty, staff and students – will continue to be engaged in senior leadership searches. LB1109 does not change, for example, university requirements for broadly representative search committees which must reflect the constituencies with whom the relevant position interacts. Additionally, the public vetting periods for priority finalists will include campus forums that will provide opportunities for members of the university community, Nebraskans and the news media to meet candidates, ask questions and provide feedback.
Director of Communications University of Nebraska