As students and faculty return for a new semester of classes in Kearney, Lincoln, Omaha and Curtis, I’m reminded again of how lucky I am to be able to serve at a place like the University of Nebraska.
Not quite two weeks into my new role, I am more convinced than ever that this is truly one of the country’s great institutions of higher learning.
Every day I read another story about the life-changing research our faculty are doing in water and agriculture, medicine, national defense and other areas. Every day I learn more about how our campuses are helping our 51,000 students succeed. Every day I meet thoughtful, engaged Nebraskans who are kind enough to extend well-wishes and share their thoughts on where the university system should be headed.
Indeed, our university – and our state – have arrived at a critical moment in our history.
Many of you have asked about my goals for the university system.
It would be presumptuous to make a plan before I’ve had the opportunity to listen and learn from Nebraskans who know this university far better than I. I’ll spend my initial months doing just that, and I will need the good ideas of partners across the state to help us chart a path forward.
I do know this: We’re going to talk a lot about growth, in just about every sense of the word.
The University of Nebraska has enrolled more students over time, but not nearly enough when we consider the urgent workforce needs facing our state. We have grown graduation and retention rates, but campus leadership teams are focused on doing even more to ensure every student reaches the finish line. And too many of those who do graduate are leaving our state, exacerbating our workforce challenges.
We are proud that we are a more diverse community than we have ever been. But we have much work to do. And too many underrepresented students have yet to realize the promise of a college education.
The breadth, impact and stature of our research activities are growing. But too many of our fellow human beings are still hungry and thirsty. Terrorism is a constant threat. Too many Nebraskans have lost loved ones to cancer or face grave illness themselves. Too many do not have access to the technology, health care or support services they need to prosper. A leading public research university can help deliver solutions.
We have dramatically expanded our partnerships. A new engineering building at UNL, new facilities for early childhood education and STEM learning at UNK, an updated home for programs serving developmentally disabled individuals at UNMC, and expanded space for biomechanics work at UNO are only a few examples of growth in our campus footprints, made possible through forward-thinking collaborations with Governor Ricketts, state senators and private donors. At a time when economic development is a chief concern of business leaders, policymakers and Nebraskans alike, we must expand our public-private partnerships even more to maintain our state’s competitiveness.
I expect us to think boldly about growth – but only growth that is responsible, transparent and true to our values of access and service to the people of our state. Above all, Nebraskans expect and deserve a university that provides an excellent education to their children at an affordable cost. That has been a fundamental principle for us for the past century and a half, and I will work every day to preserve the value and quality of your University of Nebraska.
I thank Nebraskans once again for the opportunity to serve in this role. As we begin this new year with a statewide conversation about the future of the university, I’m excited to see what we will accomplish together.