University of Nebraska president previews athletics bylaw change, budget status

By: - May 31, 2023 2:18 pm

University of Nebraska President Ted Carter addresses the NU Board of Regents on Wednesday, May 31, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty told the University of Nebraska Board of Regents on Wednesday they were “blindsided” by a proposal to shift the authority of Husker Athletics to central administration.

Kelli Kopocis, a UNL professor and president of the campus’s Faculty Senate, said faculty are “very concerned” about proposed budget cuts and the proposed bylaw change related to athletics. 

That change would vest hiring decisions and oversight of Husker Athletics to the NU system president rather than the UNL chancellor.

“The system is only as strong as the flagship,” Kopocis said. “Moving the oversight of Husker Athletics away from the flagship will have grave consequences to the academic side of the institution.”

‘In search of a leader’

University of Nebraska Regent Tim Clare of Lincoln, the chair of the board, presides over the Board of Regents on Wednesday, May 31, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Regents Tim Clare of Lincoln and Rob Schafer of Beatrice unveiled the proposal last week to instead authorize the NU president to make hiring decisions within UNL’s athletic department.

The change would not extend to NU’s other campuses in Omaha or Kearney.

Clare and Schafer said Husker Athletics is the “single most iconic brand” of Nebraska, and college athletics is “in the midst of the most intense period of change in our lifetimes.”

“I think intercollegiate athletics is in search of a leader who can help them navigate these issues,” Clare told the Nebraska Examiner last week, pointing to NU President Ted Carter.

‘Take Ted Carter out of it’

Carter said the regents approached him about the bylaw change and noted he served on the NCAA Board of Governors for five years while he was superintendent of the Naval Academy. 

But despite the change, Carter said the change would not dilute oversight requirements and “certainly not take anything away” from Rodney Bennett, the priority candidate to succeed UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green.

Green plans to retire at the end of June.

Carter said he has advised the regents the change needs to be bigger than him because the Big Ten and intercollegiate athletics generally deals with topics such as name, image and likeness.

“If it’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do,” Carter said. “Take Ted Carter out of it.”

Carter said Bennett, if approved by the regents, would still be involved with athletics and said he  would ensure Bennett knows what is going on.

“We want to make sure Nebraska is staying out front and that we’ve got a good seat at the table,” Carter said.

Academic impacts

Kopocis said the proposal could impact student-athletes in addition to UNL’s budget, diverting a direct on-campus connection with UNL faculty, residence life, Title IX and other campus-level offices.

Kelli Kopocis, president of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Faculty Senate, addresses the University of Nebraska Board of Regents on Wednesday, May 31, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

The NU president’s office is located near UNL’s East Campus, not City Campus where Memorial Stadium and most resources are located.

UNL’s chancellor currently represents UNL on the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors. This would change to the NU system president under the bylaw change.

Except for Rutgers University, the leaders of each Big Ten institution’s flagship campus form the council that oversees the Big Ten’s policies, budget and operations. 

The Big Ten Academic Alliance, Kopocis explained, has helped UNL to negotiate better library collections and access, technology collaboration, large-scale purchasing power and leadership development for faculty and staff.

Husker Athletics also provides direct support to the UNL campus, Kopocis said, such as donating $10 million in excess revenue to UNL in three of the past four academic years. In each of the five years before that, Athletics gave UNL $5 million that funded non-academic scholarships for students who “might not have been able to go to college otherwise.”

“Providing a high-quality education for the next generation of Nebraska’s leaders is the reason that we are all here and is the responsibility you have entrusted with us, the faculty,” she said.

The board is set to consider the bylaw change at its June 22 meeting, which will also feature NU’s biennial budget and the likely final approval of Bennett for UNL chancellor.

NU budget update

NU President Ted Carter and Chris Kabourek, NU senior vice president and chief financial officer, offered an update Wednesday on the university system’s budget prior to the June 22 Board of Regents meeting.

They noted NU faces strong headwinds in an inflationary environment similar to other higher education institutions.

NU’s budget request will be finalized over the next few weeks, but Carter and Kabourek said it could include a 3.5% tuition increase for undergraduate resident students.

This translates to an increase of approximately $9 per credit hour at UNL, $8 per credit hour at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and $7 per credit hour at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Chris Kabourek, senior vice president and chief financial officer for the University of Nebraska, details the NU system’s budget system on Wednesday, May 31, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

“Not the lowest but still in the lower quartile,” Kabourek said, compared to other Big Ten institutions, which are looking at tuition increases from 0% to 4%.

The Nebraska Legislature approved a 2.5% increase in state aid for NU’s budget, which is between Gov. Jim Pillen’s recommended 2% increase and NU’s requested 3% increase. 

Pillen served as a regent before being elected governor.

Carter said that even with budget cuts and tuition increases — for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic — nothing will take away from the students.

“Students will still be the top priority, and the student experience here will still matter,” Carter said. “There should be no student in Nebraska who does not know that we’ve got a seat for them here.”

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach rejoins the Nebraska Examiner after studying abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, following a yearlong Examiner internship. His coverage focus areas have included politics and government, health and well-being and higher education.