In its first meeting of the new year, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents heard students’ concerns regarding climate change, approved new leadership for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the board and received an update from NU President Ted Carter at his first official meeting as president.
On Thursday, Sustain UNL and the Environmental and Agricultural Law Society kicked off their Divest NU campaign. The campaign urges the University of Nebraska Foundation and the Board of Regents to completely divest from around $91 million in investments in fossils fuels as soon as possible and in a financially responsible way, according to Sustain UNL President Brittni McGuire.
Four students, including McGuire, spoke in front of the board on the importance of divestment. Joining McGuire was Seth Keith, a representative of the Law Society and an environmental law student, who said the campaign is ready to support the board should they choose to divest.
Kat Woerner, a sophomore economics, environmental studies and natural resource economics triple major, told the board about her experiences witnessing climate change, from tornadoes in Bellevue in summer 2017, to the repeated destruction Nebraska saw with 2019’s floods. She urged the board to think about future generations when making the decision about divestment.
“When you took your position, you took our future into your hands,” Woerner said. “Now, are you going to let it slip out of your fingertips? Or are you going to hold it and protect us?”
District 7 Regent Bob Phares said the Business Affairs Committee has heard and looked into taking action on the concerns the students expressed, and the committee has asked the NU Foundation to make a recommendation as to what would be best for the university.
Phares said the committee is waiting for a review of those investment programs and priorities. He commended McGuire for pointing out that, if NU divests, they want it to be a financially responsible decision.
Also at the meeting, Carter reflected on his first month in office and gave an update on his Presidential Transition Committee and the five-year strategy they intend to release before Carter’s 100th day in office.
He said the committee includes 28 members, comprised of students, faculty, staff and members of the community, who will work together to release a strategy by the next Board of Regents meeting on April 17, the same day as Carter’s investiture.
According to Carter, the plan supports a growing student body and emphasizes the value of education, while building off of other campus-specific plans, such as the N2025 Strategic Plan and the N|150 Commission Report at UNL, to stitch together a systemwide plan that would place the university as a global leader based on three main criteria: growth, retention and culture.
“Today I want to reiterate to you that there is no higher priority to me than our students,” he said. “We’re going to put our time, energy and resources into what matters most: our 51,000 students.
Vice Chairman Jim Pillen assumed the new position of chairman of the board, following the end of the current Chairman Tim Clare’s term. An election was held for the next vice chair from among the board’s ranks, and District 6 Regent Paul Kenney was unanimously named the next vice chairman with a motion by District 4 Regent Elizabeth O’Connor.
Elizabeth Spiller was officially named the next executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and a professor of English at UNL beginning March 23. Shari Veil was also confirmed as the next dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications and a professor in the college effective July 1, according to the meeting’s agenda.
Spiller succeeds interim executive vice chancellor Richard Moberly, who will resume his role as dean of the College of Law, and Veil will succeed interim dean Amy Struthers.
The board unanimously voted to approve four amendments to the board’s policies related to admission standards, sponsored by executive vice president and provost Susan Fritz.
According to the new amendments, transfer students with 24 credit hours or more of transferable credit will no longer be required to meet core course requirements for admission. Each campus will determine how students can satisfy those potential deficiencies.
Students will also be eligible for admission to the NU system if they acquire a cumulative 3.0 GPA after six consecutive semesters in high school, adding a third option for eligible admission as high schools across the United States move away from evaluating students by class rank, according to the agenda.
A budget increase for the replacement and relocation of the outdoor track at Ed Weir Stadium was also approved by the board, which previously approved the program statement on Oct. 25. There are three main increases, each potentially funded from private donations, trust funds, cash and the University Internal Lending Program.
District 5 Regent Rob Schafer expressed concerns over the additional $5,025,000 after $11,475,000 was approved in the initial program statement. He recommended a more in-depth look at project statements with fund sources before seeking approval from the board. Doing so would reduce a similar occurrence of asking for the large increase in funds.
District 2 Regent Howard Hawks had concerns with reduced parking for Husker volleyball at Bob Devaney Sports Center because of the proposed relocation of the track, but Chancellor Ronnie Green said UNL is shifting parking east of the sports center. Over time, Green said the parking zone may be converted into a permanent parking garage.
Substantial completion of the replacement track is expected to be finished by March 2021 with Hawks asking for a follow-up on the progress of the parking situation at a future meeting.
A program statement for the renovation of UNL’s Nebraska Hall was also approved to bring together teams working with information regarding student enrollment, financial aid, academic advising, payroll and accounting from across the university, according to the agenda. The renovation would provide greater efficiency and collaboration with consolidating the teams into one location.
The program statement also confirms UNL as the housing site of the Enterprise Technology Services and Data Solutions team. Construction is expected to begin in June before completion in December, according to the agenda. The project has a budget of $5.1 million, and estimated operating and maintenance costs are expected to be $12,000 per year. The project will be funded through LB 957 in the Nebraska Legislature.
An addendum sponsored by Moberly and Green was approved, establishing the Nebraska Governance and Technology Center to be primarily housed in the College of Law. The center is designed to create a novel, interdisciplinary, research program to study the relationships between technology, society and government, according to the agenda.
The establishment would be paid for by funds from the University of Nebraska Foundation, receiving $507,321 for the first year and $4,989,529 over five years.
Chris Kabourek, NU’s vice president for business and finance and chief financial officer, presented highlights from fiscal year 2019. The audited financial statements of the NU system and related entities for the fiscal year were accepted by the board.
Kabourek also sponsored an addendum to consolidate multiple campus network equipment needs. The addendum, approved by the board, will cost $21 million over five years and save the NU system $15 million, according to the agenda. Master pricing agreements with information technology support companies DataVizion LLC and Connection Inc., formerly GovConnection, were also approved.
District 19 Sen. Jim Scheer, speaker of the Nebraska Legislature, provided a legislative update. He said there is still a lot to be done in the next 40 days of the legislature, but, eventually, the urgency of the closing of the legislative session will settle across the senate floor.
He also thanked the university and said the NU system’s “amount of potential is truly unlimited.”
“This university, if I’m going to be honest with you, is not just on the verge,” he said. “You are at a pinnacle where … literally the sky's the limit.”
Amendments related to undergraduate Regents Scholarships previously listed in the agenda were removed from the meeting’s University Consent Agenda, and no further discussion was held.
The next Board of Regents meeting will take place on Friday, April 17, in Varner Hall.