The University of Nebraska system has made major strides forward over the past two decades. Its strategic investments have built its national reputation in areas including medical research, natural resources studies, biomechanics and early childhood studies. NU has strengthened supports for first-generation college students. It’s focusing increased attention on helping students reach graduation.
As NU President Hank Bounds steps down in August after four years of energetic leadership, the Board of Regents needs to select a successor with the skill set to continue to move NU forward. Here are some needed qualifications, which relate to NU’s key needs:
» Vision. The NU president needs to point the way ahead and lead Nebraskans — the university community and the general public — toward key goals. Testimony before the Legislature this year described how strongly Nebraskans, across the state, express their support for NU. A focused, energetic NU president can draw on that support to achieve progress and build a positive public spirit both for the university and for the state as a whole.
» Managerial ability. The NU system is an enormous enterprise. It enrolls 52,000 students and employs 16,000 faculty members and staffers. The budget totals $2.6 billion. Bounds has noted that, from the start of his presidency in 2015, he had to don a “fireman’s hat” and regularly address major fiscal challenges. He has proved a determined and forceful budget manager. His successor will likely face similar challenges and will need to demonstrate similar focus and financial acumen.
» Diplomatic skill. The NU president is a high-profile position in Nebraska life. The president needs to engage with Nebraskans across the state, explaining NU’s statewide land-grant mission. The role comes with important duties in interacting with the governor and members of the Legislature, who decide the state budget. The NU president needs to promote a collegial, constructive spirit in working with multiple campuses and taking into consideration the many needs and perspectives of such a complex institution. A key part of the job is being an attentive listener in order to understand the views and interests of faculty, students, parents and other stakeholders.
» Focus, priority-setting, firmness. The NU president has to make hard decisions. Resources are limited; priorities need to be set. The president must be willing to say “no” when conditions warrant and to make key decisions for the system in a timely manner.
The NU Board of Regents will hire a search firm for its presidential search and will gather public input through public sessions this year. The regents encourage Nebraskans to share their thoughts by emailing NU at email@example.com.
It’s crucial that the regents select a capable, energetic candidate to lead this Nebraska institution so vital to the state’s future.