Editor’s note: Outgoing University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman annouced his resignation in April 2015, exactly 14 years after his tenure as chancellor began, citing his age, longevity and “the uncertainty of (his) continuing tenure” as factors in his decision. A national search yielded four finalists for Perlman’s replacement, which were introduced by University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds in February 2016. Bounds named Green as his pick to succeed Perlman on April 6. Although Perlman’s official resignation is to take effect June 30, Perlman announced April 21 his plans to allow incoming Chancellor Ronnie Green to begin his role May 8. As of press time, Green’s nomination was subject to the Nebraska Board of Regents’ approval.
When Ronnie Green was first asked by Harvey Perlman to consider becoming chancellor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Green thought he was “nuts.”
Green grew up in Virginia and was a first-generation college student, attending Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science. Green also earned a master’s degree from Colorado State University and a doctorate from UNL, both in animal genetics.
After leaving UNL in 1988 with his wife, Jane, Green worked at Texas Tech and Colorado State as a faculty member before working in the private sector and for the government.
“Throughout that period of time, we stayed connected, indirectly, to the university,” Green said. “I had collaborations here research-wise.”
Green and his family moved back to Nebraska in 2003, while he was still working for the USDA, and became the vice chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 2010.
“The unique thing about (the VC for IANR) position that is different than any other position in the university is that the legislature, in the 1970s, made this position also the vice president of the university system.”
In 2015, Green was asked to serve as the interim senior vice chancellor for academic affairs.
“That’s why my signature block has like 89 words in it, and I’m glad to get it down to one,” Green said.
Green said he initially didn’t want to serve as chancellor after Harvey Perlman stepped down.
“There were a lot of people that talked to me about it over the last couple years,” Green said. “Harvey talked to me about it saying, ‘You should really look at this position when I step away from it.’” That’s when he told him he was “nuts.”
Green said people continued to talk to him about the position and it caused him to think, “Well, maybe they know something I don’t.”
Green said discussions and preparing to apply for chancellor began just before Harvey made his retirement announcement. Green talked with friends, family and colleagues about whether the chancellor position would be a good fit.
“It came down to one question,” Green said. “Would I be able to make a bigger difference here in this position, or would I be able to make a bigger difference in the chancellor’s position?”
Green said the ability to make a difference depended less on the scope of the role and more on where the university is and what opportunities are ahead.
“In the last six years, we’ve set the stage for IANR to be one of the top leaders in the world,” Green said. “We have the plans laid, and it’s happening. But, the rest of the campus has a lot of other opportunities. There are lots of great things that can happen with the campus as a whole.”
As chancellor, Green said two of his main goals are continuing the university’s growth efforts and increasing the graduation rate.
Green said within the next 10 years, he expects to increase student enrollment by 40 percent. In the fall of 2015, there were 25,260 students enrolled at UNL according to the Institutional Research, Analytics and Decision Support Fact Book.
“That’s a big number, huge number,” Green said. “But, it won’t be that we’ll have 35,000 people in Lincoln. It’s that we’ll have 35,000 students all over the place, though most of them will be in Lincoln. There will be a significant percentage that will be non-traditional students — distance, online, credential and master’s programs. Those are growing sectors of the higher education market.”
Green said another portion of the enrollment increase will be graduate students. They made up 4,576 of the 25,260 students according to the IRADS Fact Book.
“I think we’re significantly under our capacity of where we should be in master’s and doctoral students on our campus,” Green said. “We’re going to seek to grow that substantially.”
Green said increased enrollment goes hand-in-hand with students graduating quicker.
“As compared to today where we’re averaging 13 or 14 credits for a full-time student in a semester, I want that number to be 15 or 16,” Green said. “I want the graduation rates to be substantially higher. If you have more students enrolled combined with students graduating faster, we produce more graduates that are going to make a difference.”
Green said he recognizes the fact some students can’t finish in four years, due to working, family, study abroad, internships and other opportunities. There’s nothing wrong with that, he said.
“I’m not putting in everyone in a box and saying, ‘Everyone must graduate within four years or you get a demerit,’” Green said. “It’s more to push those people who can finish in four years.”
Green said one issue causing students to not graduate in four years is that advising and curricula have become more relaxed, he said. Students are getting the message that it’s okay to take six years.
“The downside to that is if you don’t have to (take longer than four years to graduate), it adds to the cost of your education,” Green said. “Every additional semester that you’re in school adds to the total cost.
Another issue Green said he recognizes is that the course offerings aren’t perfect.
“Not all students can get into all courses that they want in the time that they want them,” Green said. “We’ve got work to do on that end, and we need to get better at that. We need to make sure the availability of classes doesn’t slow students down due to sequencing.”
Green said he hopes to create a more diverse, representative environment, especially with faculty.
“Our faculty is not terribly representative,” Green said. “We want a very high quality faculty, but we also want a diverse and representative faculty.”
Green also hopes to increase the university’s research stature and to continue developing Innovation Campus.
On expanded attention paid to Title IX’s impact at universities, Green said the legislation has already had an effect at UNL, and he hopes a culture of reporting sexual assault continues to improve.
“We’ve already seen tremendously higher reporting of sexual assault and investigation of sexual assault,” Green said.
If a sexual assault happens, Green said one thing he and other faculty and staff members have to remember is they are not responsible for people’s behavior.
“I’m responsible for my behavior; you’re responsible for your behavior,” Green said. “We certainly should try everything in our power to have a environment that doesn’t foster bad behavior, but we’re not responsible for each other’s behavior.”
Green hopes to create a stronger relationship with UNL and the University of Nebraska Medical Center for both research and student health, especially with mental health discussion on the rise.
“It’s a consequence of the changing world we live in,” Green said. “It changes the way people communicate and work in the world. We know it’s a trend that we see and need to address.”
As for the all-important topic of his favorite Runza, Green said although he enjoys the occasional seasonal special, his go-to meal is the Swiss Mushroom Runza combo.
Green said he has always enjoyed music and musicals, but his favorite musical is “Les Misérables.” Green has performed as Javert in a production of the show, as well as Joseph in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
“Both of our sons thought that was the most bizarre thing in the world because they were 13 and 15 at the time and thought, ‘Oh, God, my dad’s in that robe,’” Green said.
In his free time, Green said he enjoys taking care of his property.
“I’m kind of a farmer at heart,” Green said. “I have a tractor, and we have about four acres here in town. My kids know that when I’m on the tractor, I’m idling my mind but thinking about stuff.”
Following Perlman’s social media presence, Green said he will be active on social media, but he’s not sure how it will present itself. Green said he wants to be seen as approachable.
“I’m the kind of person that really likes to be out and about,” Green said. “I’ll be seen a lot on campus. I would expect a lot of people in my office, but I’ll also be out of my office.”