LINCOLN — A 100-minute closed session preceded what everyone expected — Walter “Ted” Carter won confirmation Thursday from the University of Nebraska Board of Regents as NU’s next president.
The duration of the closed-door meeting over Carter’s contract and the fact that Regent Elizabeth O’Connor of Omaha voted against it came as surprises. And neither Carter nor the board has signed the contract while “nonmaterial” matters get worked out, the regents said.
Carter agreed in a phone interview that there were no major items to resolve and said he is eager to start work on Dec. 16. “First of all, I’m excited and humbled,” he said. His confirmation is “powerful stuff,” said Carter, 60. He called it “a mandate through the board to come and do the job.”
Carter, who currently lives on the East Coast, said he listened to the open portion of the meeting by computer.
The regents have expressed deep admiration for Carter, the former superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, from the beginning of the selection process. Carter was the sole finalist, and the ultimate decision was predictable.
O’Connor, an attorney, called Carter “wonderful” but said the $934,600 base pay was extravagant during tenuous financial times for the university.
She said the NU system has had budgetary challenges, relies on too many adjunct professors and has plenty of students who struggle financially.
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“It was just the salary,” she said of her reservations after the meeting.
Carter will have a five-year contract and the chance to make up to $140,190 more in the first year if he hits undetermined performance goals.
The bonus pay can reach 15% of the base salary each year.
Regents Chairman Tim Clare said the board has great expectations of Carter.
“His character and integrity are second to none,” Clare said during the meeting.
He said the NU system wants to compete with the best public universities.
Workforce concerns stare the state in the face, he said. “This is a critical moment in the history of the University of Nebraska and for our state.”
Kevin Hanrahan, president of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Faculty Senate, said the compensation would place Carter near the top of chief executives in the NU system’s peer universities. Meanwhile, he said, UNL faculty members’ average salary of $104,033 is well below the average in peer schools.
Hanrahan said he was arguing neither for nor against Carter’s compensation but requested a 7.5% raise for UNL faculty members.
Carter is expected to begin a 16-day transition on Dec. 16, during which time Susan Fritz will continue as interim president.
He will take over as president Jan. 1.
His pay will be by far the highest compensation awarded to an NU president, who is the top executive of a system that includes institutions in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Curtis.
He will live with wife Lynda in the official NU president’s house, will have access to a country club membership (or more than one club) and will also receive deferred compensation of 11.5% of his base salary annually after he serves for three years.
After he was named the sole finalist for the job, he used much of a 30-day public review period to address Nebraskans in communities across the state. Carter, who speaks without notes, recently said the almost nonstop speech tour was harder than marathons he has run.
Carter spent five years leading the Naval Academy. He left that post in the middle of the year. Before heading the Naval Academy, Carter spent a year at the helm of the Naval War College in Rhode Island.
He is a graduate of the Naval Academy and among other things was a naval aviator. He has what amounts to a master’s degree in the Navy’s nuclear power program. He finished his naval career as a vice admiral.
He replaces Hank Bounds, who was NU’s president for 4½ years before stepping down in August. Bounds is now on the faculty of the University of South Alabama. Bounds said the NU system’s presidency had worn on him, and he and his family wanted to return to the Deep South.
Any speculation that he left because of a conflict with the Board of Regents was squashed this fall, when the regents hired him as a consultant. Bounds is expected to help raise money for the planned $155 million sports complex at UNL. He will be paid $250,000 a year.
Bounds was paid $540,000 a year as president.
Regent Rob Schafer of Beatrice said he was “honored, proud and thrilled to have him (Carter) on board as our next president.”
Schafer said compensation is relative, particularly when considering that some college sports coaches make far more than a million dollars a year. He said Carter would be worth it.
“We wanted the best,” Schafer said, “and we’ve gone out and found the best.”