To the Faculty and Staff of the University of Nebraska:
As we prepare for a new semester, I want to say again how grateful I am to serve in this role alongside such remarkable colleagues.
I’ve been able to work with many of you during my 26-plus years at the university and I’ve seen firsthand how your teaching, research and service impacts students and people across our state.
My own story is proof of how higher education can change the life of a young person. If you would have told me as a first-generation kid from David City that I would one day have the opportunity to serve my alma mater, I’m not sure I would have believed you. But college opened every door for me, just as it does for our 50,000 students who are able to pursue their dreams right here in Nebraska because of the work you do.
I’ve been asked a number of times over the past few weeks what our priorities will be for the interim period. Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch. The ambitious plan we outlined last year for the University of Nebraska to grow and compete with the best institutions in the country is still our primary agenda. We have made good progress on our plan over the past seven months and I appreciate the contributions you, your chancellors and leadership teams have made so far.
But the bulk of the work is still ahead of us – and as I have told the Board of Regents, the urgency for us to reimagine ourselves into a more competitive and dynamic university has only grown in that time. Higher education is changing more rapidly today than at any other point in our lifetimes. If we want to compete with the best – and I think Nebraskans expect and deserve that kind of university – now is the time for us to recommit ourselves to the work and mission of the university and set uncommonly high standards for ourselves.
It’s not enough, in other words, for us to beat the No. 1 team in the country on the court, something we’ve accomplished not once but twice in the past few months. No doubt a world-class athletics program is a powerful part of our national brand. But we should expect to compete at the elite level on the academic side and in student recruiting as well.
Knowing the talent that exists among our faculty and staff, I believe there’s no reason we shouldn’t be a member of the Association of American Universities, as every other Big Ten institution is, or that we shouldn’t compete for a top-tier research ranking, as all our peers do. I’m absolutely convinced we can be that university for Nebraskans, delivering the highest-quality education at an affordable cost and keeping company with the best of the best – if we hold ourselves to bold, higher standards of accountability and excellence.
As we’ve discussed with the vice presidents and chancellors, the work of reimagining our university will require us to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I recognize difficult conversations are already underway across our institution as we manage the impacts of declining enrollment and rising costs. We have more hard choices ahead of us. Being excellent does not mean we can be excellent in everything. We are fortunate that the State of Nebraska has been a steady and generous partner to its university, but unless we are successful in growing enrollment, there is no realistic scenario for significant revenue growth in our foreseeable future.
Therefore, we will need to decide how best to prioritize the dollars that students and taxpayers entrust to us. We will all need to take off our “campus hats” and consider what is best for the University of Nebraska and our state as a whole. In some cases, this means acknowledging that some programs are not producing enough return for Nebraskans’ investment. In other cases, we will need to question whether the structures that served our university in the 1960s are still appropriate for a 2024 institution aspiring to look like the rest of the Big Ten and AAU.
Uncomfortable as these conversations can be, this is the most optimistic I’ve been about our future in my years here. Because the payoff of our work – the reason I think we all come to work every day – is truly exciting: A highly competitive, nationally relevant University of Nebraska positioned to meet the evolving needs of students, our workforce and the state.
This is the time to take control of our own destiny and go invest in Nebraska’s strengths.
I’m excited to work with all of you to go get stuff done, and I am confident in our future because of all of you, the people who serve this university.
Thank you again for all you do, and I hope to see you on campus soon.
Interim President, University of Nebraska