The writer is chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Nebraska Medical Center.
This September, the University of Nebraska at Omaha will welcome the community to campus for my formal investiture as chancellor, a ceremony and celebration deeply rooted in academic tradition and required by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.
I am honored and excited to continue my service to UNO. Its culture is best described by the investiture’s theme: Access to Exceptional.
It is a powerful phrase. Separately, the word access calls to mind an openness, a portal, a means to achieve a goal. It is the idea that any student, faculty and staff member who is willing to be dedicated to our mission, to do the hard work, is welcome here. Exceptional references the highest standards of quality, standards that will be defined only by the university of the future. Together, this idea of Access to Exceptional implies, requires, demands a transformation of higher education.
Excellence is a journey, not a destination. It requires a culture that is open to a transformational process. Very few universities have been capable of embarking on that journey, taking on the responsibility of providing true access to universally exceptional education, research and service. I believe UNO is not only capable of this significant achievement, but is particularly well suited; after all, we took our first steps on that path more than 110 years ago.
The same values that inspired UNO’s creation carry forward today. We have an open, embracing culture, but one that is not afraid to question current practices and dream bigger. As the state’s metropolitan university, we are unwavering in our focus on the communities we serve. A truly unique relationship.
I am proud to say Maverick culture has inspired growth that extends far beyond facilities and academic programming. For example, although access has always been a guiding principle for our university, today we work to ensure all voices are at the table, equally heard and respected. We strive not just to hear, but truly to listen, and are stronger for it.
Why do we so uniquely embrace Access to Exceptional? From national challenges to our own state’s workforce crisis, the moment demands a willingness to think beyond what has been done in the past. At UNO, we believe in audacious goals and defining our own rules for the future.
With our community partners and sister universities, we are eager to take on the pressing work before us. It will fall to all of us to discover the best path forward, but surely it must include a model for higher education with even stronger university-employer partnerships, continual education and a rethinking of how educational costs are covered and hopefully eliminated.
UNO’s use of Access to Exceptional in its branding is only a year old, but the philosophy behind it is older than our nation, and it must inform this new model. Higher education is a social contract, a promise, that our work will be relevant and responsive to the needs of our global community. It is a simple idea, but at the same time a transformational thought. That promise builds a foundation of trust that will allow us to build a better future.
I find it energizing that each step UNO takes is in the company of others — businesses, government agencies, nonprofits and our university partners. To me, the most exciting part of Access to Exceptional is that it is, by necessity, a collaborative effort, a true partnership building bridges across the street and around the world.
UNO’s story is Omaha’s story. Together, we will expand access to exceptional opportunities, strengthen community ties and foster new relationships. We will redefine the learning environment and optimize the exchange of knowledge and research creativity of high impact.
This idea, access for everyone to an exceptional education, research and service, is what has guided our institution to great success and will usher us into what will surely be an extraordinary future, a Maverick future.