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Jim Pellen, Search Committee Chair and Regent, speaks in a listening session for the next University of Nebraska System President in the City Campus Union Auditorium on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

As the search for a long-term University of Nebraska president continues, Presidential Search Advisory Committee chair Jim Pillen is looking for input from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln community.

Pillen and NU Office of the President chief of staff Phil Bakken hosted a series of five listening sessions to gather feedback from students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, respectively, on Tuesday, Sept. 3, in the Nebraska Union Auditorium. 

Throughout the seven and a half hours, the five groups were able to ask questions, express concerns and make comments. Overall, attendees were looking for a president committed to diversity who has an academic background and will keep students’ costs low. They were also concerned about a lack of faculty representation on the search committee.

Listening sessions were previously held on NU’s four campuses in June, where initial feedback along with input from the presidential search advisory committee contributed towards NU’s leadership profile, which established nine core pillars the Board of Regents will look for in candidates.

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Jim Pellen, Search Committee Chair and Regent, speaks to students in a listening session for the next University of Nebraska System President in the City Campus Union Auditorium on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Multiple faculty members brought up the lack of faculty representation in the presidential search committee, in which two of the 23 positions are filled by faculty members 

“I’m puzzled and perturbed by the fact that there’s so little faculty representation on the search committee,” professor of physics and astronomy Shireen Adenwalla said. “And the reason it does puzzle and perturb me is because I think academia is a very special environment that can be ruined or be bolstered by the thinking of the president.” 

Pillen said the Board of Regents feels good about the search committee’s diversity. He said other NU stakeholders, such as members of the agricultural industry, feel their representation is also inadequate. 

“We did the best that we could, we made that decision, but we’re not here to speak to that today,” Pillen said.

Multiple faculty members asked Pillen about the likelihood the president will be an academic or scholar, as opposed to someone with military, government or private-sector experience. 

“I think it is very difficult if you have not been in the trenches to really understand what academia is, what research is,” Adenwalla said. “I’d like to re-emphasize someone who has been through the ranks and is a valued researcher and valued academic because otherwise he or she will not have the respect of the faculty.” 

Pillen responded and said the Board of Regents, search committee and AGB Search, the firm hired by NU, are committed to the best candidate possible.

The pillar of diversity and inclusion was also mentioned in the staff and faculty sessions. Some faculty members, such as associate professor of plant pathology Sydney Everhart, appreciated the committee’s desire to find a president who appreciates diversity. 

But assistant professor of educational administration Sarah Zuckerman wanted to ensure the committee would follow through with this value. She specifically wanted to remind Pillen of the executive vice chancellor faculty fellows’ developed guidelines for hiring under-represented faculty and reducing bias in the hiring process. 

During the student session hosted by student regent and Association of Students of the University of Nebraska President Emily Johnson, the four students expressed concerns over the state budget funding.

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Emily Johnson, ASUN President, reacts to a student in a listening session for the next University of Nebraska System President in the City Campus Union Auditorium on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

ASUN internal vice president Jared Long said state funding is essential for the NU system to become a global leader. 

“The University of Nebraska, as a system, has such a great potential to really be an impactful force, not only in the region or in the United States but also across the world,” he said.

Long said in order to achieve those goals, the university president should be young, dynamic and full of energy in order to find innovative ways to raise money. Additionally, Long said the next university president should bring prestige to the position to elevate the NU system.

ASUN speaker of the senate Drew Harrahill said he wants the incoming president to focus on keeping NU graduates in Nebraska. Additionally, Harrahill said the next president should not only be a political figure but also a public figure in the eyes of Nebraska.

Multiple faculty-members said they want the next president to advocate for the NU system to not only leaders in government but also to the people of Nebraska. 

Pillen said although the search is collaborative and transparent, it is still confidential. Additionally, he said in the past NU would announce its final four presidential candidates.This time, he said, they will announce only the chosen candidate to protect other candidates from tension with employers or boards. 

After the chosen candidate is announced, Pillen said there will be a 30-day vetting period across the campuses and across the state. He said the Board of Regents will make a final vote at the end of the period.

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