The University of Nebraska system priority candidate for president has been traveling around the state and stopped by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to share his hope for academic freedom, diversity and inclusion and insight into where the NU system can be.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Walter “Ted” Carter attended four forums across the city of Lincoln in conjunction with his 30-day review period. During the forums, Carter said students should value their time in the NU system and wants to empower the campuses’ leaders.
Students, faculty, staff and members of the UNL community thanked Carter for his service to the country and said their concerns about academic freedom, climate change, student enrollment and equality on campus.
At the forums, Carter spoke on where he believes the NU system can be and how he can build on previous successes to bring the system to a higher standard, he said.
“There’s opportunity here. If we’re not growing in our towns, cities or in academia, we’re about to become stagnant and could become less relevant,” Carter said.
Carter said he wouldn’t “micromanage” the campuses and wouldn’t take the place of a chancellor, who he believes has the authority at each campus. He said his leadership style is to empower others and would use that style to assist chancellors as best he can.
Students should be seen as the customer and not the product, valued more for what they learn than what they can perform in the future, according to Carter. They come to the NU system for an education and then leave with that as the product, he said.
Faculty Senate President Kevin Hanrahan asked Carter how he would ensure academic freedom, and other faculty members expressed similar concerns. Carter said the processes and policies involved need to be looked at and potentially changed. He said he worked with the faculty senate at the Naval Academy and created a handbook so that when an issue arises, faculty and staff know exactly how to handle it.
He said students should have the right to “seek truth and exposition” freely in the classroom and faculty and staff should be able to foster that freedom.
“You are empowered as a teacher, as a faculty member … to seek the truth and be able to speak without any fear of repercussion,” Carter said. “That’s what an academic institution should move on.”
Pat Tetreault, director of the LGBTQA+ Resource Center and the Women’s Center, asked how Carter will uphold protecting transgender students, non-gender conforming students and students who love the same gender in a state that, Tetreault said, is not always welcoming.
Carter said he would ensure the NU system would be a safe space for everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender.
“If we’re going to truly be ‘Nebraska nice’ and we’re going to say ‘Nebraska’s a great place to be,’ we’re going to have to work on how that fits even in our political landscape,” Carter said. “We shouldn’t be exclusive here.”
Carter said diverse environments breed diverse thoughts. He said he is proud of the progress that has been made already on campus, noting that UNL just welcomed its most diverse class in the history of the university, but if an organization is not growing, it becomes stagnant.
Students also pushed climate change to the forefront at the student forum. Many said they were concerned that the NU system has not prioritized the issue, and Carter said that needs to change.
Carter said the floods in Nebraska earlier this year are evidence that climate change is happening and said the NU system is poised to use its resources to prepare solutions for clean water production and increased food output.
“We have to go after this with an idea to how we’re going to solve these problems because we’re not leaving this planet anytime soon,” he said.
The element of “brain drain” also exists, Carter said, where students may study in the NU system but leave and take what they have learned with them to communities outside of Nebraska. Some community members said the loss of talent will not fill new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math jobs, but Carter said the focus should be on making Nebraska a great place to be and not just be from, encouraging students to stay after graduation.
Carter said all universities should take a closer look and give students the tools they need to be successful.
“[Students] have to know that if they go to an institution, that institution is dedicated to not only making them successful but making them successful to go to that next level,” he said. “If we don’t bring in ideas of … the future job market, we may not be setting our students up for success.”
Enrollment across NU campuses has been decreasing, Carter said, with a 1% decrease in 2018 enrollment. He said he will focus on increasing those numbers by sending college students back to high schools to speak on their higher education experiences at the NU system.
By doing so, Carter said high school students will gain more by seeing a student speak, which will increase enrollment by having the high schoolers see the benefits of higher education.
Ivy Harper, founder and director of Land Grant University Reform, said she was concerned about Carter’s salary, which, according to an article by the Lincoln Journal Star, would be between $800,000 and $1.2 million.
Jim Pillen, chairperson of the President Search Advisory Committee, said the question did not fall on Carter and said the Board of Regents would make the decision on what is in the best interest of the state of Nebraska to attract the best global leader for the position.
At each forum, Carter gave background about his life, explaining his time in the Navy, his experience as Superintendent of the Naval Academy, meeting his wife Lynda Carter, playing ice hockey in college and being editor of his school’s magazine.
Carter said he looks forward to joining the NU system and said he was thankful he got to speak with members of the UNL community in regard to his candidacy.
“I absolutely love seeing young people develop,” Carter said. “I love seeing them be successful. I love seeing faculty develop. It’s really the ultimate team sport. It’s daunting but yet exciting.”