UNL Chancellor Rodney Bennett speaks at a public forum regarding his then-candidacy for the position Friday, June 9, 2023, in Lincoln. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the source of private funding for some staff salaries.
LINCOLN — While departments at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln look to do more with less due to millions of dollars in cuts, the chancellor is expanding his staff through private funds.
UNL Chancellor Rodney Bennett has revived two positions: directors of university relations and external relations. UNL spokesperson Leslie Reed said the positions had existed at UNL under previous administrations, although not when Bennett started July 1.
Those positions, as well as two others in top campus offices, have been filled by former colleagues of Bennett from the University of Southern Mississippi. Bennett led USM for nearly 10 years. They are:
- Dee Dee Anderson, former special adviser to the president and vice president for student affairs and now UNL’s vice chancellor for student affairs (as of Sept. 5). Bennett had recommended Anderson to a UNL search committee.
- Ernest “E.K.” Franks, former executive associate athletic director for student-athlete services at USM and now UNL’s director for university relations (as of Nov. 1).
- Jim Coll, former chief communications officer at USM and now UNL’s chief communication and marketing officer (as of Nov. 13).
- Brian Morrison, outgoing senior associate athletic director for development at USM and UNL’s incoming director of external relations at UNL (beginning Dec. 1).
Franks and Morrison will each be paid $180,000, Reed said, through the University of Nebraska Foundation, not through state funds or tuition dollars. Anderson’s salary is $267,000; Coll’s salary is $250,000, according to Reed.
Both Anderson and Coll make less than their predecessors.
Bennett received a 37% salary increase over his predecessor, with a base salary of $720,000.
Hires are a ‘strategic decision’
This month, Bennett proposed $12 million in budget reductions to shore up years of declining enrollment. Those cuts are separate from the University of Nebraska system’s $58 million shortfall and $2.3 million in academic cuts at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
About 21 staff positions at UNL would instead be funded privately or through means other than state funds or tuition under Bennett’s recommendations. Bennett’s cuts also call to eliminate at least eight full-time staff positions and almost 15 vacant staff positions, according to Sara Haake, dispatch director for the UNL Police Department and UNL Staff Senate president.
“We know as an institution that we are already short-staffed in many areas,” Haake said in a statement to the Nebraska Examiner. “The loss of these vacant lines prolongs the assistance needed to manage the workload that we were anxiously awaiting.”
Haake declined to comment on the staff expansion in the chancellor’s office.
Bennett also proposes cutting the budget of UNL’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion by 46% and reducing the funding for student teaching assistants and temporary lecturers by $1.4 million.
Reed said that the onboarding process for a new chancellor includes building a team needed for success.
“As Chancellor Bennett assembled his team, he made a strategic decision to hire a director of external relations and a director of university relations to help him achieve his goals for UNL,” Reed said in a statement.
She noted that the Office of the Chancellor cut its overall use of state funds and tuition dollars earlier this year and will do so again in the current round of reductions.
‘Ripple effect on the workplace’
Haake said she and Jordan Gonzales, Staff Senate vice president of internal affairs, have participated in the ongoing budget conversations and are working to minimize possible negative outcomes of the proposed cuts.
While all impacts can’t be mitigated, Haake added, the Staff Senate intends to support and inform staff to navigate the current challenges.
“The University of Nebraska-Lincoln staff are exceptional and dedicated individuals,” Haake said. “The involuntary loss of a single staff member has a ripple effect on the workplace.”
The University’s Academic Planning Committee is seeking feedback on the proposed budget cuts through Friday.
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