Ibrahim Pillen Carter BOR 8.13

Student Regent Batool Ibrahim and Regent Jim Pillen watch President Ted Carter speak during the Board of Regents meeting on Aug. 13, 2021, at Varner Hall in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The University of Nebraska Board of Regents approved presidential personnel recommendations and affirmed a graduation commitment to returning and transfer students at its meeting Friday.

Regents approved Trev Alberts, director of intercollegiate athletics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as a vice chancellor at UNL, retroactively effective July 19, 2021. Alberts had this position when he was at the University of Nebraska Omaha as well.

The board also approved Christopher Marks to take over as interim dean of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts from Chuck O’Connor, effective Jan. 4, 2022.

Two policies — an Undergraduate Transfer Student Graduation Guarantee and an Undergraduate Returning Student Degree Completion Guarantee — were also approved by regents. These mirror NU’s general four-year graduation guarantee regents amended in June and reaffirm a commitment to returning and transfer students.

“The fact that we’re making efforts to try to bring [transfer and returning students] back to the university and get them educated so that they can transform their lives and the lives of their families I think is extraordinarily important,” Regent Tim Clare said. “So I am very enthusiastically in favor of this.”

Cathy Pettid, an assistant vice chancellor and dean of students at UNO, gave a presentation on the “State of Student Mental Health in 2021,” including impacts due to COVID-19.

Citing survey results from the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment from fall 2020, Pettid said approximately 24% of students nationally had thought about suicide in the past year. Of those surveyed, 9% of students had engaged in self-injurious behavior in the past 12 months and 19% of students either planned or attempted suicide in their lifetime.

UNL Student Regent Batool Ibrahim asked what role students, student leaders, chancellors and vice chancellors should have in addressing mental health. Pettid said it requires destigmatizing getting help. Chancellors specifically must talk about and normalize the issue while acknowledging and funding efforts to improve mental health.

“My goal is that we talk about mental health the same way we talk about hay fever,” Pettid said.

Amid a national burnout of counselors, Pettid also said continued training, enhanced digital platforms, embedded case managers to address more complex mental health needs and sustainable funding models will all be able to help with this increase in demand.

Regents also approved a resolution put forward by Clare and Regent Rob Schafer to thank the Nebraska Legislature’s Appropriations Committee for listening to testimony from Carter earlier this week on how NU can use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. These proposals were made in consultation between Carter and the NU chancellors.

Students were expected to resume protests encouraging the university system to completely divest, or remove all investments, from fossil fuels at this meeting, but only one student — Abbie Ridder, who has worked with Sustain UNL and protested for divestment before — showed up to testify.

Many students protested earlier this year following board approval for investment decisions to be made based on environmental, social and governance criteria, in addition to monetary factors.

“Let me be clear when I say this: we want full divestment,” Ridder said. “This is what your students want and what we have demanded for almost two years now.”

Fourteen speakers testified during public comment against COVID-19 policies, including mask mandates, vaccine and testing requirements and the Safer Community app. 

Many questioned NU’s mask requirements, why unvaccinated individuals are required to test weekly, the length of mandates and whether the university is truly following the science. Some also drew direct links between COVID-19 responses and the reported drop in student mental health.

One woman wore a yellow Star of David with the words “second class citizen,” symbolic of similar stars worn in Nazi Germany 80 years ago. She said she had to show a medical mask exemption everywhere she went for nine months in the Omaha area, making her feel as though she was wearing the star. 

While she’s glad the mandate in Omaha has been dropped, she said she “got a taste of what it’s like to be treated like dirt and a second class citizen and refused entrance into buildings because I can’t wear a mask.”

“I’m strongly opposed to medical apartheid,” the woman said. “Discrimination against any class of people is always wrong.”

The Board of Regents will meet for its next scheduled meeting on Dec. 3 in Varner Hall, 3835 Holdrege St.