LINCOLN — A nearly $100,000 search for a new director of Nebraska Educational Telecommunications has been reopened, and the network's top fundraiser is leaving, creating uncertainty at the top of the statewide public broadcasting operation.
Despite that, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln official expressed confidence Friday that a replacement would soon be found for retiring General Manager Rod Bates, who has postponed his retirement by three months to accommodate the extended search process.
“I'm totally optimistic that we're going to get a good GM. It's considered a gem of a job,” said Ellen Weissinger, UNL's senior vice chancellor of academic affairs.
UNL, along with the State of Nebraska and the NET Foundation, are the entities that govern the statewide public television and radio network. A mix of university and state employees are among the 200 workers at NET, which operates on about $22 million a year in state and federal funds and donations.
The general manager is a university position, and UNL hired a Washington, D.C.-based search firm, Spencer Stuart, to identify candidates for the $184,000-a-year job. Hiring the search firm cost $85,000, plus $8,500 for administrative and other expenses for travel, video conferencing and background checks.
But after one of two finalists for the NET position dropped out, the search process was reopened last week, and Bates was asked to stay on past his intended March 31 retirement date.
Weissinger said she now hopes that two to three more finalists can be selected, and that they can visit the campus by late February. Bates has agreed to stay until at least June 30.
But now, NET is also looking for a new executive director for its fundraising foundations for TV and radio.
Jeff Beckman was the recognizable face of NET during televised fundraising drives, and he led a successful campaign last summer that raised $25 million. He announced his resignation last month to take a job with an Omaha company, three days after learning that he was not among the two finalists to be NET's new general manager.
Beckman said the timing was an unfortunate coincidence. He said that he had been on “parallel” tracks for both the NET post as well as for the new job, and that failing to make the final cut with NET just “made my decision a whole lot easier.”
“It was not a knee-jerk reaction,” he said, adding that he was not sure which job he would have chosen had he been offered both.
“Frankly, it's been a privilege to work for NET for seven years,” said Beckman, a native of Pilger, Neb. “Am I disappointed? Yes, definitely. I thought I had a vision for the future of NET. ... But at the same time, I fully recognize that the search committee has a big job and a lot of candidates for this great job.”
Margaret Hornady, a member of the NET Foundation Board, questioned why Beckman was not chosen as a finalist, given his successful work as a fundraiser.
“It's tough to lose Rod Bates and Jeff Beckman at the same time,” said Hornady, a former mayor of Grand Island. “The uncertainty doesn't do us any good.”
She also questioned why such a complex selection and search process was undertaken for the NET post, when a new athletic director was chosen at UNL only eight days after Tom Osborne announced his retirement.
Weissinger said the network's search process was the same that she uses when selecting new academic deans at UNL and that she was not involved in the selection of a new athletic director.
She added that she could not comment on why Beckman was not selected as a finalist for NET general manager. That decision was made by a committee of representatives from UNL, the NET Foundation and NET employees.
Weissinger said it is not unusual for finalists in executive searches to remove their names from consideration just before their candidacies become public. She said that she and other leaders on the search committee decided to reopen the search so that more than one finalist would be considered.
Bates, the retiring general manager, said it was unfortunate to lose Beckman, whom he called probably the best development director ever at NET, to the private sector.
“He has assured me he's not bitter,” Bates said. “He had a really good offer for another position, and he took it.”
Bates, only the second general manager in NET's 59-year history, said that top executives in public broadcasting tend to gravitate to the two coasts but that NET has a very good reputation nationally.
He said that the organization has never been on stronger footing and that he would be willing to stay past June 30, if necessary, to ensure a smooth transition in leadership and fundraising.
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