Hank Bounds will leave as NU’s president in August.

LINCOLN — Everybody knows Husker sports are a big deal and major business in Nebraska, but there wasn’t consensus Tuesday on whether the NU system’s president should prioritize athletics.

The NU presidential search committee spent some of its time Tuesday discussing the importance of University of Nebraska athletics to the system’s next president.

So, too, were diversity and inclusion debated as being vital enough to place among the search committee’s “pillars” for the next president. The 23-member committee met for the first time at the Nebraska Innovation Campus and began discussion of what the committee will stress in its job description and published material in the hunt for the next president.

Members generally agreed on the importance of the job. Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the NU presidency is a unique role. And it’s probably the second-most-important position in the state, he said, behind the governor.

NU Regent Jim Pillen of Columbus, the search committee’s chairman, said the committee will help write the key tenets of the position and the job profile that will convey to potential applicants what the university desires.

Pillen said regents and AGB Search executive Roderick McDavis already have put together an early draft of the top pillars, based on “listening sessions” they have had with the university community, Nebraska leaders and the public. McDavis’ search firm, based in Washington, D.C., will assist the committee and the Board of Regents.

The tentative set of seven pillars: proven leadership of complex organizations; prioritization of higher education, including academics and research; a commitment to the notion that the NU system, made up of institutions in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Curtis, is a collaborative “One Nebraska” enterprise; the ability to think strategically and with vision; political acumen; fundraising skill; and an appreciation of the value of intercollegiate athletics, especially, Pillen said, UNL Husker athletics.

The last concept struck businessman Mike Flood, a former speaker of the Legislature from Norfolk, as dubious. Why, when other NU institutions have athletics, too, would the committee stress that one campus “has sports that you’re really going to pay attention to”?

Flood also suggested that the campus chancellors, and not the system president, should oversee their sports programs.

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Regent Rob Schafer of Beatrice said the tenet acknowledges how important big-time athletics are to places like Nebraska and Alabama. They’re a key part of the university brand and build enrollment and support, Schafer said.

Flood said his family spends time at his two sons’ Little League baseball games, but sometimes he looks around the park and imagines the Chinese using that time to learn languages and lap the United States academically.

“I’m tunnel-visioned on the academics,” Flood said.

Kwame Dawes, a search committee member and UNL English professor, said a commitment to diversity, inclusion and national and global leadership should be among the pillars.

McDavis said he and the regents want to keep the pillars to a small list and place other concepts into the text of the job description and promotional material.

“That’s not enough,” Dawes said.

Committee members also considered the president’s role as the system’s overall administrative leader, while the campus chancellors oversee the operations of their respective institutions.

McDavis said large system presidents like NU’s typically make $800,000 to $1.2 million a year in total compensation. Hank Bounds, who is departing as NU’s president in August, receives base pay of $540,000 plus use of a house and a one-time deferred compensation payout of $300,000.

The search committee will help AGB Search find top applicants and nominees to replace Bounds, who is leaving in August after 4½ years on the job.

The NU president performs administrative duties over the system’s campuses in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Curtis. Susan Fritz, who has been executive vice president and provost of the NU system, will take over the presidency on an interim basis on Aug. 15.

Fritz has said she will not pursue the permanent position.

The search committee includes Nebraska business leaders, NU regents and administrators, faculty members, students and others.

The committee is expected to whittle the list of presidential candidates to four. AGB’s McDavis said he hopes to put the regents in a position to decide before December.

Although the NU system used to publicly name four finalists for the presidency, state law has been changed to allow NU to name only one.

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rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123

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