Throughout my last four years as a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the university system has had multiple presidents, the football team has had three different head coaches and even Herbie Husker has undergone an extensive makeover.
I’ve also had multiple cross country and track head coaches, academic advisors and journalism school deans in that time.
But, through it all, one key figure has been there guiding the university through a pandemic, a racial justice reckoning and declining enrollment across higher education, and I’m not talking about Lil’ Red.
Chancellor Ronnie Green has led the university since 2016, and I am overall grateful for his leadership, given his measured approaches to major campus challenges for the last four years.
Green announced his retirement in December 2022, and the next chancellor has big shoes to fill, but I am confident the university will find a worthy successor.
The pandemic response was a defining moment in Green’s chancellorship, and it provided a test for higher education leadership that did not come with a study guide. Chancellors across the country made unprecedented decisions to match the unprecedented circumstances, and I can understand why many would choose to be as cautious as possible.
However, I appreciated Green’s approach to the pandemic, which allowed for a slightly more normal college experience in 2020 and 2021. While UNL joined pretty much every other educational institution and moved entirely online in Spring 2020, Green made an announcement in April planning for in-person fall classes, and the university mostly followed through with that plan.
This was a bold decision at the time – and one I’m not even sure I agreed with initially – but I believe it turned out to be the right call, as was Nebraska’s vote for the Big Ten to play football in Fall 2020.
Initially, Green and University of Nebraska President Ted Carter were in the minority of their Big Ten peers, but other schools eventually came around. I admire Green’s willingness to take a stand and go against popular opinion.
While Green’s view — in favor of playing football in 2020 — received some criticism, he received more explicit backlash from Nebraska Republicans for the university’s anti-racism policy, unveiled in 2021.
Green received a substantial rebuke from then-Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and two Nebraska state senators even wrote a letter calling for Green’s resignation.
I have mixed feelings about critical race theory, but I believe the university’s commitment to racial justice is worth pursuing.
Throughout the process, Green stood up for the university and did not compromise under the pressure of some of the state’s most powerful politicians. I may not agree with the solutions the university comes up with, but, at the very least, racial injustice is worth addressing.
I would much rather the university have the academic freedom to make decisions independent of politicians than have them dictated by those in state offices, which is why I am glad the anti-racism policy is still being enacted today.
I was also impressed with how Chancellor Green handled the recent round of budget cuts, and his leadership and transparency through the process are admirable.
However, if I had one piece of advice, it would be to ensure Love Library stays open later, instead of closing at 10 p.m.
There are surely other issues and complexities within university administration that I have no idea about as a journalism student, and I do not claim to have enough knowledge to thoroughly examine Green’s time as chancellor.
Yet, I also believe that a chancellor’s ultimate purpose is to serve university students well, even if it is rather indirect. As a student for the last eight semesters with Ronnie Green as chancellor, I can say that if a proposed cut to the library’s hours for next year is my biggest gripe — one which will not even end up impacting me directly — I had a pretty good four years of university leadership.
I just wish my complaints about Husker football over the last four years were equally minute.
Brian Beach is a senior journalism major. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.