Voices from UNO community heard at listening session for next NU president

Toni Monette, volunteer and civic engagement programs coordinator for the office of engagement, addresses Senior Consultant George Ross from Academic Search. Photo by Andrew Smith

Tuesday’s listening sessions regarding the search for the next University of Nebraska System President brought members of the UNO community to the Milo Bail Student Center to discuss their values with a board from Academic Search.

Academic Search, a higher education recruiting organization, was contracted by the Nebraska Board of Regents after approval of a $225,000 plus contract during their Oct. 5 meeting at UNMC.

The search team consisting of Dr. Jay Lemons, President of Academic Search, Dr. George Ross and Jennifer Kooken visited with faculty, staff, students and other community members. The team asked attendees about the desired pillars and characteristics of the ideal system president.

“I feel like it’s really important as times are changing and evolving, that we are being more respectful of people’s religions, people’s ethnicities, their gender, all of those sorts of things, Amy Kica, administrative coordinator and graduate program assistant in the psychology department, said. “I think that if we want to move forward, that’s something that we need to be very well aware of and working to be more progressive.”

Regents updated their desired core leadership pillars at the Oct. 5 meeting to better reflect the university since the pillars were initially erected in 2019.

“I’m a nontraditional student; a little bit older with work experience. I’d like to see more of an emphasis because I think they’re like 25% to 30% [of the student body],” Marina Hardy, student and student senator from the College of Public Affairs and Community Service, said. “I would like to see programs and activities a little more catered to them.”

Staffing and retention concerns were the heart of many concerns, and many present told the Academic Search Board that a future president would have to be able to address the problem.

“Universities have been bleeding staff left and right for a large variety of reasons, and I think that’s a big concern here…there is a concern that there is that lack of perspective officially on the search committee,” Bethany Hughes, president of the staff advisory council, said on behalf of all staff members after highlighting the lack of any on the 22-member search committee.

Lemons thanked everyone in attendance at the meeting and stated how their contributions would shape the search committee’s work.

“I think one of the hardest things to do in higher education, if you are a leader charged with this task is thinking about how you build search committees that don’t collapse under their size,” Lemons said to the representation concerns.

In the midst of a budget crisis, university officials alluded to the fact that UNO receives significantly less state funding per student than the other NU schools, yet does all that it can with its allocation.

“Once we might have been the third wheel, or even maybe the fourth wheel in the university system, but give us whatever, and we’re going to fight and we’re going to achieve something,” Steven Kerrigan, assistant vice chancellor of human resources, said. “There’s also a sense that we’re kind of tired of being the underdog. Why don’t you recognize this as what you truly are as a partner; a strong partner in the system?”

Rich Klein, vice chancellor of institutional effectiveness and student success, listed statistics surrounding UNO’s budget compared to student enrolment, stating that UNO has “30% of the students, 28.6% of the credit hours and 11% of the state funding” in the system.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the ad has a specific call for somebody who works with Lincoln athletics or with the academic medical center and not anything specific to us. I think we’ve had presidents who understood an urban campus well, and its role and potential in the system, and others who have not. I think that as the ad is written, or at least the call is written, UNO is an afterthought,” John Bartle, dean of the College of Public Affairs and Community Service, said.

Ross, of Academic Search, led a round of questioning with the audience and asked the room what characteristics and attributes are critical to see in the next system president.

Key characteristics the audience desired in the next president included being a strong communicator, collaborative, adaptable, able to engage across the entire state including rural areas, understanding of and value of the diversity across campuses, staying power and commitment to the university as a champion both internally and externally.

Staying power was reiterated throughout the 1 p.m. listening session at UNO. Materials presented at the Oct. 5 Board of Regents meeting emphasize that “92% of presidents or chancellors placed by Academic Search serve for five or more years.”

“President Carter’s contract and President Bounds’ contract are both public. There was a liquidated damages provision for the first three years of his service here that required him to pay us back an amount of money if he left during that period. “That elapsed in December of 2022,” Phil Bakken, Chief of Staff to the NU President, said.

Regent Tim Clare said that previous hopes to have a candidate lined up by Dec. 31 are optimistic, but the process would not be rushed simply to fill the vacancy.

“There are lots of rumors out there about who it’s going to be or who it already is. I’m the chair of the committee; would you please let me know who that is,” Clare jokingly asked the room.

After the search committee narrows its options down to a primary candidate, that candidate will be vetted across the state in a 30-day process.

Feedback from the listening sessions held across all four campuses will contribute to the final position profile created by the Board of Regents in conjunction with Academic Search.

If you weren’t able to attend a listening session, you can voice your thoughts through an anonymous pre-search survey here.

Updated leadership principles from Oct. 5 meeting

  1. Proven Leader – demonstrated ability to lead and manage a large, complex organization, work effectively with the Board of Regents, build a strong leadership team, and possess a commitment to integrity and ethics.
  2. Strategic Thinker – ability to articulate a vision for the future of the University of Nebraska that can be developed into a strategic plan. Prioritizes Higher Education, Academic, and Research Excellence – understands, appreciates, and prioritizes excellence in higher education, academics, research; and its importance to faculty, students, and their families, and the state.
  3. Committed to “One Nebraska” – understands and appreciates the value of including all voices in the University community, including students. Ability to develop and implement more collaboration and cooperation among the four campuses that leads to the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Maximizes the economic impact to the state. Connects with Nebraskans—rural and urban.
  4. Political Acumen – ability to develop and maintain effective working relationships with the Governor, members of the Legislature, and other elected officials across the state.
  5. Capable of Fundraising – ability to develop and cultivate relationships with potential donors and work with the University of Nebraska Foundation to design major capital campaigns.
  6. Values Diversity and Inclusion – understands and appreciates the importance of campuses having students, faculty, and staff from diverse backgrounds and campuses that are inclusive and welcoming to all.
  7. Values University as a Global Leader – views the University of Nebraska having an impact across the world through its academic programs, research, and service.
  8. Values Intercollegiate Athletics and Academic Health Science Centers – understands and appreciates intercollegiate athletics, especially Husker Athletics, and academic health science centers; and views them as important doors to the University of Nebraska.
Editor in Chief of The Gateway and journalism student at UNO. Enjoyer of tinkering, fancy coffee and independent student media.