One of the key positions with the University of Nebraska is about to be filled. It's encouraging to see that four highly qualified candidates have been announced as potential successors to Harvey Perlman, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln chancellor who's retiring in June after 16 years in the post.
The finalists — hailing from UNL, the University of Iowa, Kansas State and Oregon State — each bring notable strengths. It's crucial that NU President Hank Bounds make a wise choice in installing someone with the proper combination of abilities to maximize UNL's opportunities. The selection comes at a time when UNL is seeing important progress, while also facing challenges.
Over the past decade, UNL has boosted its undergraduate enrollment by 17 percent, to just under 20,000, with total enrollment of about 25,000. Its ambitious goal for further growth is 30,000 students by 2020. Carrying out a strategy to meet that goal stands as one of the new chancellor's most important but complex responsibilities.
UNL deserves great credit for helping develop NU-wide research/outreach institutions — on water policy, scientific innovation, early childhood issues and rural needs — that receive national and in some cases international recognition.
UNL, now part of the Big Ten Conference, has commendably nurtured a stronger research culture and built important relationships that have produced major research projects. Challenges ahead include reaching a goal of $300 million in research contracts and, in the wake of criticism from state lawmakers, setting the new Innovation Campus on a clearer strategic path.
Other top issues facing Perlman's successor include continuing efforts to boost student academic achievement and increasing the graduation rate. UNL has made progress on both, with a focus on help for first-generation students and incorporating career development into the curriculum.
UNL's next chancellor will need the talents and temperament to pursue multiple duties: nuts-and-bolts budgeting and administration; promotion and implementation of a sound strategic vision; diplomacy in working with fellow administrators, faculty, students, legislators and the public.
NU deserves credit for encouraging Nebraskans to share thoughts on what they are looking for in the UNL chancellor. As for the candidates, the public hiring process already has told Nebraskans that each would bring particular talents to UNL:
Ronnie Green, vice president of agriculture and natural resources at NU, has won praise for his leadership in that post and as vice chancellor of UNL's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, overseeing a strategic strengthening of UNL's ag-studies and natural resources offerings.
April Mason, provost and senior vice president at Kansas State University, has helped that university work through major budget challenges and leads the K-State 2025 strategic plan.
Sabah Randhawa, Oregon State University provost and executive vice president, has extensive experience in university budgeting and wins praise for his work with faculty and students as chief academic officer.
Daniel Reed, vice president for research and economic development and chair of computational science and bioinformatics at the University of Iowa, has wide experience in large-scale scientific research in the public and private sectors.
These candidates now have another key task: explaining their talents and vision while meeting with Nebraskans so the best decision can be made for the future of UNL and Nebraska itself.