Where to place the engineering program for the University of Nebraska — in Lincoln or in Omaha — has been a matter for debate for decades. The last thing NU needs is to revive that argument and spur a new eruption of ill will.
The key concern, after all, should be what’s best for the students. NU should structure its engineering programs so the resulting degrees have the highest value possible for the students earning them.
The best way to do that is through a unified engineering program that uses sound strategic planning to lift itself to a level of excellence. That’s the goal as UNL Engineering Dean Tim Wei promotes new initiatives to boost the College of Engineering’s national ranking.
Some say it may be time for an independent college of engineering in Omaha. But offering students in both Omaha and Lincoln a degree from one large, improving program ultimately would be better than having two separate, smaller engineering programs. The rising tide would lift students at both campuses.
Trying to have two programs, in contrast, would result in duplication, rancor and upheaval. That’s hardly the signal NU needs to be sending when UNL’s membership in the Big Ten is opening up invaluable opportunities for academic improvement.
The strategic improvements Wei advocates no doubt will involve change. The same goes for adjustments that Michael McGinnis is making at the Peter Kiewit Institute (a UNL-UNO collaborative venture) as PKI’s executive director. Both of these leaders were hired to move their respective institutions in new directions.
As a result, both the College of Engineering and PKI are, in some cases, revamping organization structures, programs and habits of thinking. NU’s academic departments need to facilitate constructive changes that can build up the College of Engineering’s national standing as well as PKI’s aim to become a first-tier scientific research institution.
On the Omaha-Lincoln issue, both sides have a responsibility to avoid any revival of tensions. That’s going to require some give and take on each end.
UNL leaders should work to make sure that UNO faculty and students are full partners. That means open communication and conscientious deliberations concerning departmental needs and allocation of resources. On UNO’s end, faculty need to be willing to accept some changes in the status quo and embrace the initiatives that aim to boost the program’s national standing.
All faculty, whether in Lincoln or Omaha, need to be encouraged to see themselves as a single team working toward unified goals rather than as separate teams looking to parochial concerns. NU leaders have a responsibility to promote and facilitate that spirit.
As for PKI, McGinnis deserves support as he pursues important initiatives to strengthen the institute’s research capabilities. Indeed, rather than going their separate ways, Omaha and Lincoln interests should make PKI a common focus they can rally around.
Wei is right when he says that working to raise NU’s engineering programs to a new level is a challenge but also an opportunity. The more that Omaha and Lincoln cooperate in that effort, the greater the benefits for everyone.