At the annual “State of Our University” address Monday, Chancellor Ronnie Green named seven “grand challenges” the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will work to solve.
From the Lied Center for Performing Arts stage, Green announced the problems as part of UNL’s N2025 Strategic Plan — which was unveiled in last year’s “State of Our University” address with a theme of “where every person and every interaction matters.”
The first four of the challenges listed below build on UNL’s well-established areas of leadership, according to Green:
Sustainable water and food security
Early childhood education and development
Climate change, mitigation and resilience
Quantum science and engineering
Anti-racism and racial equity
Science and technology literacy for society
These aims and the rest of the plan will utilize UNL’s strengths and be a primary focus of 2021, Green said.
“They are necessary work and distinct opportunities at UNL to have an even greater defining impact for Nebraska and our world,” he said.
The necessity for narrowing issues into grand challenges has been in discussion since 2016, Green said, and last year the Office of Research & Economic Development worked to finalize the themes. In total, he said nearly 500 faculty, staff and students worked to shape these themes.
“Even though this past year we have, by necessity, been looking at a convergence of crises, we have continued to move forward on N2025,” Green said.
In addition, UNL will also focus on two ongoing problems from 2020 moving forward — racial justice and the coronavirus pandemic.
The killing of George Floyd and others in 2020 was “yet the latest chapter in our centuries-old struggle with racism and racial equity in our nation” and a “tipping point” for an already divided America, Green said.
UNL’s steps last year began with Green’s statement in response to Floyd’s death, vowing that “now must be different,” and the naming of six co-leaders to advise Green and Marco Barker, vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, in a journey toward anti-racism racial equity.
Priorities of this aim and of UNL’s journey include addressing: issues with the campus climate; examining how curriculum addresses diversity with a focus on race, privilege and power; implementing a chancellor’s reading program each academic semester focused on race and identity beginning in fall 2021 and holding university leaders at the highest levels accountable.
“No matter how much we may want to believe or proclaim that we are unbiased, biases exist and can impact the way we see and treat others,” he said.
The university will also review the honorific naming of campus buildings and structures, establish a Native American and Indigenous Advisory Board and a University Land Acknowledgement statement and continue community approaches with community policing and relations with the UNL Police Department.
“This work will take all of us,” Green said. “It will take all of us to proceed and do well in order to achieve racial equity and be an anti-racism campus.”
The coronavirus pandemic served as a reminder of the disparities in health care and in life expectancy seen based on race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity and poverty, Green said.
As a result, the university will examine underlying factors that perpetuate these disparities and help to impact the lives of Nebraskans and people worldwide.
In addition to the update on the N2025 Strategic Plan, Green thanked the UNL community for being resilient and dedicated. He celebrated UNL’s third largest graduating class amid a pandemic, and the faculty and graduate assistants who pivoted and continue to adapt to remote education.
“We never ‘shut down’ our world-leading research and creative activity, we kept going,” Green said. “We continued to engage and support the people of Nebraska during this pandemic.”
Though there were challenges, Green said UNL’s greatest days lie immediately ahead, and he has never been prouder of UNL and its community.
“We saw the obstacles, we stepped up with unparalleled commitment to deliver on our mission, and we have met the challenge — and then some,” Green said. “We have truly shown our grit in a time where glory is simply the satisfaction of persevering successfully and gracefully together.”