I am writing to update you on the University of Nebraska’s legislative agenda. The Legislature is two-thirds of the way through its current session and is scheduled to adjourn late next month.
As always, policymakers are balancing many pressing issues, and I am grateful for their good work in continuing to support affordable, quality higher education. Chairman Heath Mello and members of the Appropriations Committee have made no changes to the university’s 3% base funding increase for 2016-17, which means we will be able to continue to advance key priorities including affordability and economic competitiveness.
“As always, policymakers are balancing many pressing issues, and I am grateful for their good work in continuing to support affordable, quality higher education.”
The university has two main legislative priorities which are the focus of my update today:
1. Our proposal to extend our partnership with the state on building renovation projects.
Our capital proposal seeks to extend a nearly 20-year partnership on NU renovation projects. Because of the state’s partnership, combined with our own investments and generous contributions from private donors, many of our facilities are in good condition today. But like any building, ours require continued maintenance, and our costs will only grow without a proactive, strategic plan to address our needs. Our buildings make up 70 percent of the state’s net total building assets and we believe the state has a stake in continuing to partner with us to protect our classrooms, labs and offices – which play a vital role in our ability to attract and retain talent, conduct cutting-edge research and provide our students with an excellent education.
The state currently invests $11 million annually, matched by the university, in NU building renewal. The Appropriations Committee is recommending extending that annual commitment through 2030, again to be matched by our own investments. While less than the amount we had requested – and even our full request would have addressed only a share of the $1.1 billion in total deferred maintenance needs that exist across the university – we are grateful to the Committee for its support. We hope the Legislature and Governor will agree with the Committee’s recommendation, which would allow us to undertake critical renovation projects selected in consultation with your chancellors that will serve our students, faculty and staff, and Nebraskans well into the future. I thank the many colleagues who have joined me in advocating for our proposal, whether by hosting policymakers on your campus, testifying before the Legislature, writing letters, communicating with stakeholders, or otherwise voicing your support. I am also tremendously grateful to Speaker Galen Hadley, a great leader and friend to the university, for sponsoring our capital proposal.
2. LB1109, a bill that would significantly improve our competitive position in the national marketplace in our searches for presidents and chancellors.
LB1109 would allow us to identify a single priority finalist in our presidential 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 Nebraska law has the effect of requiring us to identify four public finalists in our leadership searches – limiting us in our efforts to attract the best talent to lead this institution. LB1109, sponsored by Sen. John Murante, would put our search process more in line with those of a majority of leading public universities across the nation.
Our goal with LB1109 is to position the University of Nebraska to cast the widest net for talent in our executive searches. The bill is certainly not a commentary on the outstanding leadership we have in place now. It is, however, about putting us on a more level playing field in the most competitive higher education marketplace of our lifetimes.
Nor does LB1109 reduce the transparency of our searches. Board of Regents policy requires us to appoint search committees which include representatives of key university constituencies – students, faculty, staff, leaders in agriculture and business, and others. In the current UNL chancellor search, for example, I am being assisted by a 25-member advisory committee that includes faculty members and others who have provided me with valuable advice and input at every step. LB1109 changes none of that. The 30-day vetting period established in the bill also ensures that our current practice of hosting open forums with finalists will continue, providing opportunities for members of the university community, Nebraskans and news media to ask questions and offer feedback.
LB1109 will be debated by the full Legislature today. We hope policymakers will agree this bill strikes the right balance between the public’s right to know and our ability to consistently attract the best talent to the University of Nebraska.
We are fortunate in Nebraska to enjoy a productive, mutually beneficial relationship between the state and its public university. Our partnership has positioned us to advance shared goals related to affordability, quality and economic competitiveness. I’m grateful to the Governor and Legislature for their support. And, I am grateful to each of you for the good work you do daily to serve students and citizens across our state. Our future is bright.
President, University of Nebraska