LINCOLN — Walter “Ted” Carter sat with his hands folded as University of Nebraska representatives gushed about him, and it appeared that he had made another safe landing.
Carter holds the American record for aircraft carrier-based plane landings, and on Friday, he landed in Nebraska to accept his role as the sole finalist for the NU presidency.
The 60-year-old spent the past five years as superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland and one year before that as president of the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island.
Having retired from the Navy as a vice admiral this year, he sought another challenge.
“I thought this might be a fit for me,” he said Friday evening.
As the priority candidate, he will spend the next 30 days touring the state and speaking to Nebraskans. The 30 days amount to a review for Carter, after which he will most likely be selected by the Board of Regents as the NU system’s next president.
Carter defined the term “priority candidate” this way: “It means that all this is just talk, and I haven’t done anything yet.”
Carter’s record shows diverse interests and abilities. The graduate of the Naval Academy played hockey in college and graduated from the Top Gun fighter pilot school, which was made famous by a 1986 movie starring Tom Cruise.
NU said in press release that Carter has run eight marathons and commanded 20 ships and two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
He addressed suicide and mental health issues while superintendent of the Naval Academy. He also reported to a U.S. House subcommittee on the academy’s efforts to address sexual assault and harassment.
He grew up in a Rhode Island town and played clarinet and baritone sax.
He and his wife, Lynda, have two adult children.
Carter flew combat missions in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, a Navy biography says.
That biography also says he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star, among other awards.
“He knows a lot of things,” said John Bravman, a friend who leads Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. “He also knows what he doesn’t know.”
Bravman, who was reached Friday afternoon, wrote a letter of endorsement for Carter.
Carter won unanimous support from the regents and the 23-member advisory search committee, which worked with the East Coast consultant AGB Search to find candidates.
The committee forwarded roughly 10 names to the regents, who are charged with making the final call.
Regent Jim Pillen of Columbus, who chaired the search committee, said Carter is a top-rate leader.
“I’m certain once everyone else meets him, everyone will feel the same,” Pillen said during the regents meeting.
Carter, who didn’t attend the regents meeting, said in prepared remarks that when he left the Naval Academy in July, “I said that the role had been the highest calling of my life. Then I saw that the University of Nebraska was looking for its next president. The more I learned about the university, the more I read about the remarkable work of its faculty and students, the more convinced Lynda and I became that we had found our next calling.”
The president oversees the NU system, which has campuses in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Curtis. Chancellors report to the president, and the president reports to the regents.
Carter would replace Hank Bounds, who stepped down as president in August.
The board met Friday at Varner Hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus. The regents went into closed session and unanimously voted for Carter when they came out.
Susan Fritz has served as interim president since Bounds stepped down.
The regents need to name only one finalist.
Three years ago, university leaders convinced the Nebraska Legislature to change state law so that searches for the top positions at NU — the president and chancellors — had to publicly divulge only the “priority candidate” and no one else.
Before the change in law, the regents named four finalists for the top positions in the NU system.
Bounds, who was NU’s president for 4½ years, said in the spring that he was tired and that it was time to move on. Bounds is now on the faculty at the University of South Alabama.
The NU regents have hired Bounds as a consultant 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.
World-Herald researcher Sheritha Jones contributed to this report.