EDITORIAL: NU’s next president will have a full plate of responsibilities

Vice Admiral Walter E. 'Ted' Carter, the priority candidate for the NU presidency, speaks during a press conference Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, at Varner Hall in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Ted Carter, former superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, brings various strengths as the prospective choice as the University of Nebraska’s next president. At the same time, Carter needs to appreciate the many complexities an NU president faces in regard to management, diplomacy and time demands. If the retired vice admiral is ultimately chosen for NU’s top administrative post, he needs to be wide awake to the scale of responsibilities he’ll need to shoulder.

The NU search committee, as well as the Board of Regents, were clearly impressed by Carter. Both groups forwarded his nomination unanimously. A 30-day “get to know you” period has begun, to help Carter acquaint himself with NU and Nebraska and to give Nebraskans a chance to get to know him. At the end of the period, the regents will make their final decision.

Carter has demonstrated notable leadership ability and has experience dealing with bureaucracy and organizational planning. A Rhode Island native, he led the Naval Academy, known for its strong academic standards, for five years, ending three months ago.

During his Navy service, he has commanded 20 ships and two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. As a fighter-jet aviator, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star, among other awards.

Friends and colleagues describe Carter as down-to-earth, humble, a “regular guy.” Such qualities would have value for him at NU, since the university president has an obligation to travel the state extensively and work with Nebraskans from all walks of life. It’s important for NU’s top administrator to understand that the university system is a statewide institution.

Carter’s comments about the importance of diversity, in regard to students as well as faculty, are welcome. Nebraska’s population is growing ever more diverse, and NU campuses are working hard to nurture welcoming, supportive environments.

Such steps send an important message in modern society and have the practical benefit of enhancing recruitment of students and faculty. At the Naval Academy, women make up 28% percent of the Naval Academy’s Class of 2023, and 40% of the student body are ethnic minorities, The World-Herald’s Rick Ruggles reports.

As superintendent of the Naval Academy, Carter addressed suicide and mental health issues and testified before Congress on the academy’s work to address sexual assault and harassment. All of those issues have great significance for university campuses, including at NU.

The Naval Academy stands out for its high academic standards and strong graduation rates, and as NU president, Carter would be expected to draw on his experience in those regards. The Naval Academy’s excellence in engineering and aerospace/astronautics have relevance to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. UNL’s College of Engineering is in the midst of major investments and upgrades, and UNL’s law school has carved out a promising niche in space law.

NU researchers have worked with the Pentagon since 2012 on a wide range of projects through NU’s National Strategic Research Institute. Carter’s military background would help him build on that relationship.

The NU system has 52,000 students and 16,000 faculty members and staffers. Its budget exceeds $2.6 billion. Managing an institution of that size and complexity requires tremendous managerial capability and dedication. Hank Bounds dealt repeatedly with major fiscal challenges during his four and a half years as NU president. NU’s next CEO will likely face similar challenges.

Carter also would need to meet that and other key goals set by the regents as part of the search process. Those obligations include promoting solidarity among the four campuses, with the vision to lift up all parts of the state; and working successfully with the philanthropic community on fundraising.

Altogether, NU’s CEO has a tremendous amount on his plate. It’s crucial for the next NU president to understand the breadth of those responsibilities, and for the regents to choose wisely in deciding on the appointment.

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