University of Nebraska President Ted Carter leads a Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023, NU Board of Regents meeting at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
OMAHA — University of Nebraska President Ted Carter, who will leave his role later this year, said Thursday that possible budget cuts are about the “survival of the overall institution.”
Carter, at an NU Board of Regents meeting at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said the work outlined this summer in a “Five-Point Plan” is ongoing to address a projected $58 million shortfall over the next two years.
That plan is not just a drill to find cost savings, Carter said, because without action, the university’s deficit will grow and the risk of losing major programs or even colleges will increase.
“This isn’t about looking for who to fire. This isn’t about which programs are not performing,” Carter explained. “This is about survival of the overall institution. This is how we will protect ourselves and eventually grow.”
‘Nobody is going to be immune’
There are no predetermined answers, he added, and NU plans to strategically apply cuts rather than uniformly spread them across the university system, as it has been done in past years.
“Nobody is going to be immune,” Carter said.
Faculty and students at the University of Nebraska at Kearney have protested campus plans to cut $4.3 million this fiscal year. Those plans include eliminating UNK’s departments of Geography, Philosophy and Theater and various degrees.
Will Avilés, a professor of political science at UNK and president of the UNK Education Association, described some of the cuts as “the heart of humanities” at UNK.
“I don’t think they appreciate or understand how harmful these cuts are going to be,” Avilés told the Nebraska Examiner this week.
Carter said budgeting conversations across NU must continue as the system cannot subsidize one campus because that campus “thinks that the cuts are unfair.”
Nebraska’s Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education sets minimum standards for higher education programs, including that there must be at least seven students graduating per year over a five-year average. Some programs have not met those requirements, Carter said, and those programs will need to be reviewed.
“That’s just the reality,” he said.
For students whose programs may be cut, Carter said, NU will help them complete their degree. Final campus cuts are due to Carter by Dec. 1 — the same day as the next Board of Regents meeting.
Memorial Stadium renovations
Regents on Thursday also unanimously approved $450 million in renovations to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
Regents Jim Scheer of Norfolk and Barbara Weitz of Omaha expressed a desire for more information, including potential “off-ramps,” or an exit strategy, if the project needs to change.
Huskers Athletic Director Trev Alberts said that if at any point funding sources do not materialize or if they fall short of expectations, leaders will alter the project’s strategy and scope.
“We will cut the cloth to fit the quilt,” Alberts said.
The first ever game played at Memorial Stadium was on Oct. 13, 1923, and Alberts said the renovations — informed by fans — will provide longevity for the next 100 years.
Presidential search continues
The search to find Carter’s successor after he accepted the top role at The Ohio State University is also ongoing. Carter joined NU in 2020 but will leave at year’s end.
NU will spend $225,000 to contract with Academic Search, the first national organization committed to higher education recruitment, to aid the process. The company highlighted that 92% of the presidents or chancellors it has recruited serve for five or more years.
Gov. Jim Pillen, who served as a regent before taking the highest state office this year, led the 2019 search for NU’s eighth president: Carter. That process included nine “Core Leadership Pillars” that regents revived Thursday with two additions.
This time, regents also are looking for a leader who values academic health centers and who will listen to all university voices, including students.
Included in the nine pillars is a proven leader who values diversity and inclusion, intercollegiate athletics and political awareness.
Regent Tim Clare of Lincoln, board chair, said he anticipates the next presidential search committee will be finalized in the next few weeks.
“There are amazing things happening on all of our campuses,” Clare told the Examiner after the meeting. “I think it’s going to be a great job for somebody that’s a great visionary.”
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