Opponents plan to ask the NU Board of Regents to stop the proposed merger of an Omaha-based computer engineering program with the electrical engineering program in Lincoln.
They are calling for an independent study of whether Omaha-based engineering programs should stand on their own and be removed from the control of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
About three dozen Omaha engineering students met Wednesday night on the Omaha campus with members of an industry advisory board who are fighting the merger.
Business executives John Smith and Rick Gregg of Omaha said the merger could erase years of effort to establish an autonomous engineering program in Omaha that serves the needs of local businesses.
“It's taken us 18 years to build the program you now participate in,” said Smith. “The group in Lincoln seems insistent on ignoring everything that led up to this.”
Currently, UNL administers all University of Nebraska engineering programs, including the computer, architectural and construction engineering programs offered at the Peter Kiewit Institute on the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus.
UNL Engineering Dean Tim Wei was recruited last year to help the Lincoln campus boost its engineering game to better compete with the elite engineering schools of the Big Ten.
Wei recently proposed merging the electrical engineering program in Lincoln with the computer and electronics engineering (CEEN) program at Omaha's Kiewit Institute.
A merger, he has said, would give Omaha students another degree option and eliminate duplicate courses on the two campuses. It would also free faculty to develop classes, conduct research and guide graduate students.
Smith and Gregg, however, said a merger would erode the applied-research approach that makes the Omaha-based program well-suited to the needs of Omaha industry.
“The Lincoln program is designed to answer the question 'Can it be done?''' Smith said. “The Omaha programs are designed to answer how it can be done.”
At least in some quarters, the merger has revived decades-old disagreements about how best to deliver engineering instruction in the Omaha metropolitan area.
UNL has managed the engineering program since the early 1970s, after the former Omaha University became part of the University of Nebraska system.
As the years passed, the Lincoln programs grew while the Omaha programs dwindled. Omaha stakeholders saw a deliberate 25-year effort to starve Omaha and fatten Lincoln, a team of outside reviewers observed in 1992.
In the mid-1990s, Omaha business leaders mounted an intense campaign that resulted in the Kiewit Institute, a $70 million effort largely financed through Omaha-based philanthropy. A $40 million building was constructed to house new computer technology programs tailored to the needs of industry.
At that time, NU President L. Dennis Smith said the time was not right to establish a separate College of Engineering in Omaha. There were not enough engineering students enrolled at the Omaha campus, he said, and research funding, graduate programs and industry investment were lacking.
In a letter to Omaha business leaders, Smith said he would revisit the issue if enrollment, research funding and business investment increased.
John Smith said that since the Kiewit Institute was established in 1999, enrollment has grown from 87 students to more than 800; research funding has grown from nothing in 1995 to a total of $28 million over the past decade. Industry has contributed more than $130 million for scholarships, research facilities and classrooms and residence halls.
Newly elected Regent Hal Daub said he has been involved in numerous meetings in recent weeks to discuss a merger.
As Omaha mayor from 1995 to 2001, Daub was involved in the fight to expand engineering instruction in Omaha.
He said he has yet to be convinced that a merger would be beneficial. He also would be interested in an independent study of the issue.
Wei was not available for comment Wednesday evening.
A spokeswoman for the College of Engineering said the proposed merger now is under discussion by faculty and no decisions have been made about how to proceed.
Contact the writer: 402-473-9581, firstname.lastname@example.org