University of Nebraska President Ted Carter, at right, leads an NU Board of Regents meeting on June 22, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with Carter’s official selection, comments from the Carter and the Ohio State Board of Trustees and reaction from Nebraska.
LINCOLN — The University of Nebraska needs a new president next year.
NU system President Ted Carter, the former superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy and a vice admiral, was named the next president at The Ohio State University in Columbus. He will start in January 2024.
Ohio State University’s Board of Trustees unanimously selected Carter during an afternoon meeting.
Hiroyuki Fujita, the board chairman, and John Zieger, its vice chair, lauded Carter as a man of integrity and experience.
“We needed to find a candidate that all seven members of the search committee could be excited about endorsing,” Zieger said. “We have identified a candidate in Ted Carter … that exemplifies those qualities.”
Carter, in brief comments in Columbus, said he was “humbled” by “the greatest honor of my career.” He touted the university’s focus on education for citizenship and service to the greater good.
He also hinted at headwinds facing higher education — and education in general.
“I know that education across our nation is somewhat under attack, and I believe that Ohio State University is that institution that can change the course of that dialogue,” Carter said.
‘Bittersweet’ departure from NU
In a brief note to faculty and staff Tuesday, Carter wrote that leaving Nebraska was “bittersweet.” He said he and his wife Lynda were welcomed by people from “a special place,” one with a university that “is achieving great things for the state and the world.”
“We make this decision knowing the University of Nebraska is in excellent hands…,” Carter wrote. “This moment in our history is too important to let our momentum stall.”
Earlier Tuesday, multiple people who were informed this week of Carter’s pending departure had confirmed the hiring first to the Nebraska Examiner before the trustees’ vote.
Several members of the NU Board of Regents and the university contacted Tuesday afternoon had no immediate comment about Carter’s departure.
Helped bridge political divide
Carter just received a positive evaluation of his work at Nebraska during the 2022-23 academic year, including notice that he would receive a $144,000 bonus. His total annual compensation at NU, including extras and benefits, is more than $1.2 million.
The regents cited his work boosting a private fundraising campaign to raise $3 billion, his efforts to secure more state funding for NU than Gov. Jim Pillen, a former regent, proposed in his first state budget. They also mentioned increased research funding and improved retention rates for young students.
Carter said he would donate that bonus to charity, partly because the university’s campuses in Curtis, Kearney, Lincoln and Omaha are coping with a $58 million budget shortfall, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.
The NU president helped launch the Nebraska Promise program that helped low- and middle-income Nebraskans attend NU tuition-free. He has been working on a five-year plan to improve the university system. He also helped the campus navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pillen, in a statement Tuesday, credited Carter’s embrace of the NU Board of Regents’ “leadership pillars.” Pillen chaired the Board of Regents search committee that recommended Carter’s hiring.
He said Carter’s skill set was right for the NU presidency and called him “an extraordinary asset to NU students, faculty, staff members and our state taxpayers over the last three and a half years.”
“The role of NU President is one of great responsibility, as well as great opportunity — especially the ability to impact future generations,” Pillen said. “I know the role of NU President will speak to others very soon and we will gain another perfect fit for the university system.”
In a radio interview Wednesday with KLIN in Lincoln, Pillen said he was disappointed that Carter was leaving after just a handful of years, saying “him bailing at this moment is very disappointing.”
Carter made waves in Nebraska with his ability to persuade conservative and liberal constituencies about the value of investing state and private resources in higher education, several political observers said.
But the state has changed since he arrived in January 2020. A more conservative Legislature increasingly puts university spending and actions in the political crosshairs. including public spats between former Gov. Pete Ricketts and former University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green.
Carter also defended academic freedom in 2021 when Pillen, then a member of the NU Board of Regents running for governor, tried to pass a resolution banning the imposition of critical race theory on NU campuses. The resolution failed.
Carter has answered some of those changes by trading on the trust he had earned and, as his critics explained, consolidating power in the president’s office.
The most recent example came in June, when the NU Board of Regents unanimously moved final decision-making authority over Husker athletics under Carter instead of under the UNL chancellor.
NU Board of Regents Chairman Tim Clare said Carter’s selection speaks highly of the progress NU made under his leadership that a university the caliber of Ohio State recognized his work.
“It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to work with him,” Clare said. “He’s made the University of Nebraska better than it was before he got here.”
The Board of Regents has scheduled a meeting Friday to begin mapping out a process to pick the next NU president. Clare said that it was too soon to say how long that work might take and that NU will take its time.
He said the value of the regents’ processes is clear from the university’s hires and that four years is a typical length of time for a university president to stay.
Leading NU is a great job, he said. And Carter did a “great job teeing up the University of Nebraska” for what comes next.
Heath Mello, the new CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, said Carter had made “an incredible impact” at NU.
Mello, a former state senator who then worked as a lobbyist for NU until this year, credited Carter for addressing workforce concerns in a state short of workers, including emphasizing internships and smoothing cooperation between the military, employers and NU.
“Admiral Carter has been a valuable mentor and trusted friend…,” Mello said. “I’m sad to see him leave Nebraska but know he will be a lifelong promoter of our state and people.”
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said Carter leaves NU with “a lasting legacy.” She said he put the university “on a path to even greater success” and made sure students were “well-prepared for the workforce.”
Rep. Mike Flood, R-Neb., who represents the Lincoln area in Congress, said Carter “strengthened the university’s finances and helped better connect the system to the communities it serves.” He called NU one of the state’s “most critical institutions.”
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.