After following the United States Navy around the world for 38 years, Walter “Ted” Carter’s next calling has led him to Nebraska, where he hopes to take on the role as University of Nebraska system president.
Carter was named priority candidate for the NU system presidency on Oct. 25 and could be confirmed to the position as early as Nov. 24 after a 30-day review period. After 38 years of service with the military, he said he would use his leadership experience to empower the NU system and take it to a higher level.
“I feel like this is the next highest calling that I can [have] for my entire life,” he said. “That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m your priority candidate.”
The search for the next NU president began after Hank Bounds stepped down from the position earlier this year. AGB Search, the firm the Board of Regents charged with finding candidates, reached out to Carter in September. He sent his letter of intent to the Board of Regents about a week later on Sept. 21.
Carter said his candidacy is a team of him and his wife, Lynda Carter. She said the position seems to describe him perfectly. Even though Carter retired from the United States Naval Academy in July, she said she knew that wasn’t their final chapter of service.
“It was taking off the cloth of our nation, knowing all along that there was going to be another chapter in the life of the Carter family,” Lynda said. “Once we read the nine pillars that they were looking for here in Nebraska, it fit like a glove. I thought they had written it for him.”
She said she has supported and will continue to support her husband in whatever he pursues.
“I have always been involved in supporting my husband in whatever endeavors he has,” she said. “Whatever I can do to support my husband, of course I will.”
Carter said the two met at a dance during his sophomore year at the USNA. When Lynda came to his hockey game the next day, his team’s losing slump ended. He asked her to come to the rest of his games, and she said yes.
For the first time in nearly four decades, Lynda said she and her husband were able to choose where they want to live, and coming to Nebraska was a choice they were happy to make.
Carter was born and raised in Burrillville, Rhode Island, a rural city in the northwestern part of the state. He said he grew up in a family of educators, including his grandmother, mother, sister and brother. That trend continued with Lynda, who was a substitute teacher in many places they were deployed.
He said he was one of the first in his family to go into the military and the first from his high school to go to the USNA.
Throughout his years of service, Carter said he has lived in all four corners of the United States and served two tours of duty in Japan, as well as being stationed in other parts around the world.
He said he’s met people from around the world, served constituents of every background and learned the importance of diversity and inclusion through his service.
“Wherever we go, whatever walk of life, we like to think that we’re representative of the entire nation and our state,” Carter said. “I think it’s important to have that reflective of your college campuses.”
Carter said he had three main chapters within his military career. First, he was a naval pilot and went to the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, TOPGUN, where he learned the art of teaching and educating others.
“I regained what I loved about education and training by wearing the patch that you get when you graduate from TOPGUN and being an instructor for life,” Carter said.
He said the program trained him to be a flight instructor for four years, where he helped 31 pilots, 17 of which had failed the course previously, successfully fly and land a Grumman F-14 Tomcat.
“I learned more about human performance — how to get the best out of somebody, how to talk somebody through when they said, ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I don’t want to do this,’” he said. “To see the lightbulb come on for those aviators when they learned that trade was where I really grew my passion.”
Second, he completed the Navy’s Nuclear Power Program in 2001, according to his biography on the Navy website. The 18-month program taught him how to to refuel nuclear reactors on aircraft carriers.
Finally, Carter recalled his work as a flag officer serving on the USS Enterprise, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Carl Vinson throughout his years of service.
Carter served as the 54th president of the U.S. Naval War College and the 62nd superintendent of the USNA before retiring in July.
UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said he was very excited to have Carter speak with the UNL community at forums held last week and looks forward to his potential service for the NU system.
“I’m very excited about the leadership he promises to bring if confirmed to the position,” Green said. “He’s a very strong leader, a very empowering leader [and] gets who we are, who we can be and who we need to be at the university level. I couldn’t be more excited about his candidacy.”
If confirmed, Carter could become the eighth NU system president as early as Nov. 24.
When he was told he was selected as the priority candidate on Oct. 25, Carter said he was emotional, excited and ready to use his leadership style to empower the NU community.
“I don’t have to run the whole thing,” he said. “I just have to empower the campus leadership to do their job … and all the pieces that fit and make up the individual campuses and university system. It’s daunting yet exciting.”