Ronnie Green

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie discussed UNL’s 150-year history and looked 50 years into the university’s future during his State of the University address Tuesday in Lincoln.

LINCOLN — University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green’s speech Tuesday covered 200 years, going back to 1869 and looking ahead to 2069. It lasted 68 minutes and consumed 45 pages of copy.

Speculation is inaccurate, however, that Green’s new beard came in entirely during his State of the University address, which won him a standing ovation from the 637-person crowd in attendance at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

Many in the audience also went onto the stage afterward to try out the Dairy Store’s new Nifty 150 flavor of ice cream. The popular UNL Dairy Store set up a temporary soda fountain shop onstage, complete with servers in uniform. The ice cream flavor and the speech celebrated the 150 years of university progress since it was founded as a land-grant college in 1869.

And Green looked ahead 50 years, suggesting that faculty, students and administrators should be as bold today as leaders were long ago when they envisioned a university for all Nebraskans, not just the privileged or the young.

Here are some key observations from Green’s speech:

» He discussed some “wicked problems.”

Twice he talked about the need to tackle the “wicked problems” facing the state and world — feeding growing populations with less water; developing early childhood education programs; fighting infectious diseases; reducing income and health disparities; and using artificial intelligence and data.

» He emphasized UNL’s excellent programs.

Those include the Raikes School of Computer Science and Management; UNL’s long-standing extension programs that touch all 93 counties of the state; the First Huskers program, which provides support to first-generation college students; and the Husker Scholars program, which started this year and provides $5 million in scholarship support from the athletic department to non-athletes.

» He received some laughs and applause.

The crowd chuckled at his mention of the beginning of Husker football in the late 1800s. The audience laughed when he mentioned that tuition started at UNL in 1923 at $1 per credit hour. Applause came with mention of NU’s excellent women’s volleyball program (final four in three of the last four years); and applause came with this guarantee: “We will not accept harassment, intimidation, racism or hate-filled behavior or actions.”

» And he recalled the university’s emphasis on access.

Green said UNL was created for all Nebraskans and must continue to serve them. The university’s original charter stated that no person would be excluded on the basis of “age, sex, color or nationality.” UNL’s creators and national leaders at the time believed in bringing “publicly accessible higher learning to the masses,” Green said.

The federal land-grant act, Green said, was “bold, it was risky and it was visionary.” It envisioned prosperity for all, he said, through the attainment of knowledge.

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Rick covers higher education for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @RickRuggles. Phone: 402-444-1123.