LINCOLN — Susan Fritz chipped away at the glass ceiling for women on Friday, but whether she broke through is in the eye of the observer.
Fritz became the first woman to lead the University of Nebraska system. She is serving as interim president while the NU Board of Regents seeks a permanent president. Fritz has told the regents that she will not compete for the permanent presidency, a position that might be filled late this year. So her presidency is short-term.
The regents celebrated her interim presidency Friday with testimonials and photo sessions during the 45-minute installation of the longtime NU professor and administrator. University of Nebraska at Kearney Chancellor Doug Kristensen called it “a very historic event.”
Cookies with lavender frosting and in the shape of a No. 1 were made for Fritz and the regents.
Non-voting student regent Aya Yousuf of the University of Nebraska at Omaha said Fritz demonstrates what is most important to her: “What is best for the students of the University of Nebraska?” is the key question Fritz asks, Yousuf said.
Fritz noted that her husband and other family members were in the audience. She most recently has been the provost, or No. 2 administrator, of the NU system. NU includes institutions in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Curtis.
“I am honored and excited to be part of this next chapter for the University of Nebraska,” Fritz told the eight-member Board of Regents. Only six voting regents were in attendance; the Omaha area’s Howard Hawks and Elizabeth O’Connor were absent.
Female leaders contacted by The World-Herald generally expressed optimism about the interim appointment.
“In the end, it’s about results,” Jeanette Wojtalewicz, chief financial officer of CHI Health, said in an email. “Men and women both have the ability to ‘get it done.’ The glass has been broken for some time as I see it!”
Kim Robak of Lincoln, an attorney and former NU vice president, noted that UNO, UNMC and UNK have had women as chancellors.
Robak said Varner Hall, the NU system’s headquarters, “is the last vestige” of challenge for female leaders. But the naming of Fritz as interim president is a good sign, Robak said. And if the glass ceiling in Lincoln’s Varner Hall is “not completely gone, there are big cracks” in it.
Andrea Skolkin, CEO of OneWorld Community Health Centers, said Fritz’s ascension was “a step on the ladder, (but) much more needs to happen to open the ceiling for all women.”
Fritz was chosen to serve as the interim president after Hank Bounds announced that he would step down.
The NU system was created 51 years ago, and eight men have led it. One of those, James Linder, was an interim president like Fritz.
Bounds had been president for 4½ years but went back to the South with his family. His last day at NU was Wednesday.
Fritz has been NU’s executive vice president and provost under Bounds.
Fritz, 62, grew up on a Nebraska farm and received all three of her degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her professional career has been spent as a faculty member and administrator at UNL and in the NU system. The bulk of her work has been in the UNL College of Agricultural Sciences.
Ann Mari May, a professor of economics at UNL, said in an email that she has much respect for Fritz.
“This is an important step for the University of Nebraska, but of course it is only chipping away at the glass ceiling. We need to continue to work on openness and inclusivity,” she said.