Laurie Nichols, interim president at Black Hills State University, discussed improving student and faculty success at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in her presentation for the position of UNL executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.

The presentation took place at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 1, in the Nebraska Union Auditorium. 

Nichols is one of four candidates for the position. The search began following the departure of Donde Plowman. UNL named College of Law Dean Richard Moberly interim executive vice chancellor in May.

In her presentation, Nichols discussed how UNL can better measure and strengthen student and faculty success, as well as bolster the university’s reputation and quality. 

Nichols first discussed meaningful criteria for building a university’s quality and reputation, including national scholarships awarded to UNL students, the reputation of faculty and Big Ten standing.

“As you think about elevation and distinction of the university, it’s really important on a national landscape to know about the widespread criteria that’s being used today,” she said in her presentation. “It’s worthwhile to have a discussion about what criteria matter.”

Nichols said she believes there are certain elements needed to improve the university in terms of research, such as making sure UNL is attracting the right talent. She also discussed improving research and expectations through professional development and annual evaluations.

“If one is going to continue to grow the research enterprise at this institution, it’s going to take certain ingredients to really drive that growth in research productivity,” she said.

Nichols said it’s important to build strong communities at UNL. She said UNL could improve in areas like hiring more female faculty and faculty of color.

“Women are very underrepresented at the full and associate professor level,” she said. “Faculty of color represent about 22% of the faculty at UNL, which is a nice base, but I would say keep growing that.”

Nichols discussed what she said are hallmarks of student success at UNL, like its retention rate of 83%, graduation rates and student engagement.

“Students are the center of this university,” she said. “If we don’t do well at our role of educating students, we won’t do well as a university overall.”

Nichols said she believes college affordability and accessibility are important components in discussing student success.

“Education elevates lives,” she said. “It’s worth looking into to see if you’re affordable for low-income students.”

Chancellor Ronnie Green said he feels the next executive vice chancellor for student affairs should be a strong academic leader that will push the campus forward. He said he’s pleased with Nichols and the other three candidates.

“I’m very encouraged that we’re going to find the leader in this pool [of candidates],” he said.

Nichols said she wants to work closely with agriculture and natural resources and the vice chancellor of research economic development to strengthen UNL’s research efforts. 

“This isn’t work that anyone can do alone,” she said. “This is going to be a university effort.”