LINCOLN — Susan Fritz grew up on a farm from which she could see the Lincoln skyline and imagine what living in that city was like.

Now 61, Fritz will have the chance from her Lincoln office to take a broad view of the University of Nebraska system as its interim president starting on Aug. 15. She will be the first woman in the history of NU’s central office to serve in the top job.

She won the position Thursday on a 7-1 vote of the NU Board of Regents. Board member Howard Hawks of Omaha said during the roll call: “With all due respect, I vote no.” He shook her hand afterward and said she had his support.

Asked after the meeting whom he preferred, Hawks said, “It’s irrelevant. It’s my job to support Susan now.”

Fritz is currently executive vice president and provost of the NU system, the central office’s No. 2 job. She made it clear to the board that she was delighted to be appointed interim president.

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“Board members, I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she said. Fritz will be paid $540,000 a year, although a permanent president will most likely be picked before she has been in the interim job for a year.

NU President Hank Bounds announced this year that he would leave his job in August and move back to the South with his family. Bounds said he is worn down and wants more family time. That means that the regents must find a permanent replacement and might do that before the end of the year.

The president is the top administrator of the NU system and is the boss of the chancellors of the system’s institutions in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Curtis.

Also on Thursday, the regents assigned NU attorneys to work out a contract with AGB Search, a Washington, D.C., executive search firm. The firm is expected to help create a presidential profile, recruit a pool of candidates and perform reference checks.

Regents documents indicate that AGB Search will be paid $169,750 plus expenses.

AGB is a search firm created in 2010 by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. The latter organization provides guidance to higher education boards and leaders to “help them navigate the changing education landscape,” according to its website.

On the three-person team from AGB Search expected to serve the NU system is Sally Mason, the former president of the University of Iowa.

Fritz said she was a first-generation college student — that is, no family members had preceded her in higher education. She received all three of her degrees, including her doctorate, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She has worked as a faculty member and administrator at UNL and in the NU system throughout her career.

“I have been connected to the university for most of my personal and professional life,” Fritz told the board.

Her expertise is in leadership development, and the bulk of her time has been in the UNL College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

She remains close to the farming industry. Fritz, her husband, Russell, and one of their sons own and run a farm near Crete.

Fritz was selected after a closed session that lasted more than two hours.

Board of Regents Chairman Tim Clare of Lincoln then called it “a historic day” because Fritz will be the first woman to lead the system.

“For Susan, it’s all about the students,” Clare said. He looked over at Fritz and said he believes in her.

Fritz responded quietly: “Thank you.”

Fritz said she has agreed not to be a candidate for the permanent presidency.

Regent Jim Pillen said he knew that Fritz works and advocates “tenaciously hard” for students. Pillen, of Columbus, said Fritz has worked with students on getting the right number of credit hours transferred to or from another institution and on “finding the right fit” for students in higher education.

Bounds said that when he arrived at NU almost four years ago, Fritz was interim provost. She made it clear to him that she would step aside without dissatisfaction if he wanted someone else in that role. Bounds said: “I quickly came to the conclusion that I couldn’t do this job without Susan’s help.”

Fritz said she never would have expected to rise this high when she was a girl who would look from the farm toward Lincoln and find the view “mesmerizing.” The farm girl will now lead one of the state’s most important institutions.

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