Leaders in higher education always say they have tough jobs, and they probably aren’t exaggerating.
Some, such as University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds, say those jobs are tougher than ever today.
Unquestionably, college and university leaders face big challenges. As NU begins the process of replacing Bounds, who is stepping down in August, here are five challenges facing the next president:
The joys, risks of college sports
College sports are regularly stained by revelations of corruption in player recruitment, massive pay for coaches in high-profile sports, the overall cost of programs and mediocre graduation rates in major sports. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has one of the few athletic departments in the country that makes a profit and donates some of that to academics. Otherwise, the price of playing big-time sports can be steep.
The great political divide
In this day of division in America, some conservatives view colleges as bastions of liberal propaganda. With that in mind, higher education must be increasingly vigilant about political biases and clashes between conservatives and liberals. UNL had one such clash in 2017 between a conservative student and a liberal grad student-lecturer. The incident gained national attention and still dogs the university.
The cost of going to college has risen with inflation and generally exceeded it. In fact, colleges have their own measure, the Higher Education Price Index, which takes into account the often bigger increases for administrative salaries, faculty salaries, benefits, services and other costs.
Those increases mean lifting the price of tuition and fees paid by Mom, Dad and the student. Bounds and many other leaders express concern about increasing tuition and rising student-loan debt pricing some families out of the market.
Diminishing share of state funds
Public colleges cling to smaller portions of the state tax pie, losing out to Medicaid, prisons and demand for tax relief. The NU system and state colleges have struggled over the last several years to hold their own. Public higher education seems to be in an annual battle to persuade governors and legislators that it needs more money.
Concern about relevance
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Nov. 2014: Hank Bounds, 47, Commissioner of higher education at the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, is named as one of four finalists to replace President J.B. Milliken as president of the University of Nebraska system. Milliken had stepped down to take a position as chancellor of the City University of New York.
Jan. 2015: Bounds, center, is selected by regents as the next president.
April 2015: Bounds begins work in Nebraska under a three-year contract paying a $480,000 base salary plus $20,000 supplemental compensation. He launches a 6-day listening tour across the state.
Jan. 2016: Bounds requests an outside survey examining performance of University of Nebraska-Lincoln Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst. Eichorst, whose controversial moves include a surprise 2014 hire of Mike Riley as UNL football coach after an abbreviated search, publicly says he welcomes the review.
April 2016: Bounds names Ronnie Green as chancellor of UNL.
Sept. 2016: Regents vote unanimously to give Bounds a 6.3 percent raise to $510,400.
September 2016: After UNO's arena finishes its first year in the red, Bounds pledges $2.3 million in NU system reserve funds over six years to help the school meet bond obligations.
December 2016: Bounds signs a petition of higher education leaders in support of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
Jan. 2017: Bounds confirms he has told University of Nebraska at Omaha administrators that he will review any new expenditures of $10,000 or more that aren’t standard costs such as utilities, health insurance and other normal payouts. Bounds said the state’s budget bind and particularly tight financial margins at UNO precipitated the move. It comes as the university has an active search to replace retiring Chancellor John Christensen.
March 2017: Amid budget cuts forced in part by reduced state appropriations, working groups appointed by Bounds come up with budget savings across the university.
April 2017: Bounds announced the search for John Christensen’s replacement was on hold because the right person hadn’t been found. Bounds inserts Jeffrey Gold, University of Nebraska Medical Center chancellor, as UNO’s interim chancellor, most likely for two years or more. Gold also continues to lead UNMC.
Sept. 2017: Bounds reveals embattled football coach Mike Riley received a one-year contract extension through the 2020 season. Bounds also said that in August, Green had requested a one-year extension for Eichorst, but Bounds told him “let’s visit that in December.”
Sept. 2017: Eichorst is fired days after the Huskers suffer an embarrassing football loss to Northern Illinois. Bounds and Green say they weren’t satisfied with the results across all sports — not just football. Bounds deflects questions of Riley's status, saying “this is not about Mr. Riley right now.”
October 2017: After a search in which Bounds takes active part, Bill Moos is selected as the new UNL athletic director. By end of season, Moos fires Riley and names Scott Frost as new coach.
June 2018: Regents give Bounds a contract extension that will carry to mid-2023, but it does not include a raise.
Sept. 2018: Bounds begins serving on the board of The Buckle, the Kearney-based teen retailer.
September 2018: Bounds says he was "shocked and deeply saddened" by a state senator's column criticizing UNL's plan to hire a diversity vice chancellor, saying, "I've seen time and time again" the importance of diversity.
October 2018: Bounds says his office will analyze campus recruiting strategies after the overall NU enrollment drops by 1 percent.
Dec. 2018: Bounds names Gold as the "priority" candidate — and only candidate — to serve as UNO chancellor while continuing to lead UNMC, effectively making the dual role permanent.
February 2019: In joint statement with Green, Bounds releases a statement of "full support" for Moos.
March 2019: Bounds urges Legislature to fully fund NU's state appropriations request to to make the university more competitive.
March 2019: Bounds announces his resignation.