2021 State of Our University Address

Ronnie D. Green

20th Chancellor of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln

February 15, 2021

Two years ago – at the launch of our N150 celebratory year – I used the words “Can You Imagine?” in describing our 25-year vision for UNL.

A year ago, we celebrated the launch of our bold N2025 strategic plan with its six aims and overall theme of “where every person and every interaction matter.”

It was an exciting and energizing time as we launched in to our 152nd year as Nebraska’s flagship, land-grant, comprehensive research university. But there were storm clouds on the horizon. News reports chronicled the growing threat of a novel coronavirus; the first U.S. case occurred in January and by the time of the State of Our University address last year, the U.S. was already in the very beginnings of a public health emergency. But little did we know the breadth of what was in store. In fact, We Never Could Have Imagined 2020.

I can’t agree more with what Warren said.

What a journey we have had. And I want to pause here to say, “thank you.”

  • Thank you to all of those who have meticulously planned for a safe return in the fall and this spring. You have spent thousands of hours helping to safeguard our UNL community and protect our missions of education, research and creative activity and outreach.
  • Thank you to our faculty and graduate assistants, as well as the Center for Transformative Teaching and instructional designers – who didn’t miss a beat last spring in pivoting to remote instruction. You have balanced a combination of remote and in-person learning since August. You have innovated and been incredibly resilient. And you have continued to put the successful education of our student scholars first – your success is their success. And all the while you have continued to be prolific in furthering the national and international reach of our research and creative activity.
  • Thank you to our student scholars across the spectrum. This is not the university collegiate experience you signed up for. But you too, have been incredibly resilient and dedicated. You’ve done what’s necessary to help protect our community. You’ve continued to move forward toward your degrees, with nearly 5,700 of you earning those Husker degrees this year. To put this in perspective – during the biggest health emergency in the past 100 years – our 3rd largest graduating in class in history emerged successfully.
  • Thank you to those on the frontlines, who haven’t had the option to work remotely. Our facilities team, dining and residence hall staff, health center professionals, student life professionals, IT staff and teams managing ongoing vital research infrastructure and projects.
  • Thank you to many of our faculty and staff who have adapted successfully to delivering on our mission remotely, many with children at home, allowing our operations to continue while protecting the campus community’s safety at the highest level.
  • Thank you to Nebraska Extension, for continuing your focus on how we can support our state-wide campus and, particularly youth activities and outreach that continued work during the calving, planting, county and state fair and harvest seasons.
  • Thank you to everyone who developed and operated the partnership with TestNebraska for our symptom-based and random mitigation testing. To our tremendous partnership with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, and in particular Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird and Director Pat Lopez and her team. And a tremendous thank you to our Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Center, and everyone involved in the herculean task of setting up and running our own saliva-based PCR testing and the Safer Community app. We’re especially grateful to those employees who have redeployed their efforts to serve in Covid-related roles such as contact tracers on our public health team.
  • Thank you to the innovators and the makers, both on our campus and throughout our community who volunteered to help. You saw an opportunity to make a difference and stepped in to help in a myriad of ways, including creating and distributing thousands of PPE gowns, 21,000 face shields and more than 200,000 gallons of hand sanitizer for our campus and across Nebraska and the nation.

I have never been prouder of our institution and its people. We saw the obstacles, we stepped up with unparalleled commitment to deliver on our mission, and we have met the challenge – and then some. We have truly shown our grit, each in our own way, in a time where glory is simply the satisfaction of persevering successfully and gracefully together.

The fact is, at UNL we didn’t just persevere, we have led — in the Big Ten and across higher education.

We did not waver on safely delivering access to education. We have led the Big Ten in our level of in-person education, even as our faculty have been incredibly responsive in working with students who were unable to be on campus. We never “shut down” our world-leading research and creative activity, we kept going. We continued to engage, and support, the people of Nebraska during this pandemic.

We used our ingenuity, creativity and work ethic to flexibly respond.

  • With innovative class offerings, our summer enrollment increased more than 8%. This included a new opportunity for incoming freshmen to get a leg up and take summer courses through our new “Husker Starter Pack.”
  • We expanded our push for access. Within the NU system, we froze tuition and expanded the former Collegebound Nebraska program to the “Nebraska Promise” offering a tuition-free education to any student from Nebraska with a family income less than $60,000.
  • We bucked national, and regional, trends of double-digit declining enrollments. While we had small, expected declines in enrollments of international students, who faced unprecedented challenges this year, we saw more Nebraskans, more national students, more first generation students, and a record number of underrepresented minority students matriculate at UNL.
  • We completed a fall semester that led the Big Ten in in-person educational opportunities, while maintaining our focus on keeping our UNL community safe.
  • We thought outside the box and turned spaces like this one, our Lied Center for Performing Arts, into classrooms.
  • We altered our Fall and Spring calendars to mitigate the risk of extended travel, and that created an opportunity for two 3-week sessions during our “Winterim.” Again, our faculty came forward with over 100 innovative course proposals. And nearly 4,000 students took more than 10,000 credit hours of coursework. We “upped our game” to help our students be successful – and did so like never before.

Pandemic-Immune Momentum

In the last year, we have added tremendous new talent to our institution and seen people ascend to new roles.

  • 116 new faculty with bright futures joined us at NEBRASKA.
  • Elizabeth Spiller joined us as our new Executive Vice Chancellor, arriving just as the impacts of COVID-19 became real in mid-March from her prior appointment as dean of the College of Letters and Science at UC-Davis.
  • Laurie Bellows was named Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, following 3 years of successful interim leadership.
  • Jake Johnson changed roles to become Associate to the Chancellor for Institutional Equity and Compliance.
  • Patrick Winter joined us as the associate vice chancellor of academic affairs and director of Academic Services and Enrollment Management.
  • We welcomed Shari Veil as the new Dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.
  • Hassan Ramzah was named Chief of University Police.
  • And, Dave Varner stepped up to serve as interim Dean of Nebraska Extension following the retirement of nationally recognized leader and dean emeritus Chuck Hibberd.

And while we led in our adaptability during the pandemic, we also continued to have significant scholarship achievements:

  • We continued with strong research expenditures totaling $320M. This is especially significant given pandemic challenges. I’m proud of the exceptional continuity and impact of our research programs in the past year, with growth in key areas.
  • Faculty reaped a number of significant international, national and NU system honors – led by:
    • Ray Hames named to the National Academy of Sciences
    • Craig Allen, Roch Gaussoin, Kristin Olson, Jim Takacs named AAAS Fellows
    • NU System Awardees – Ed Cahoon (ORCA), Jody Koenig Kellas, Walt Stroup (OTICA), College of Law (Inclusive Excellence Collaboration Award), NACEB, ABN (Presidential Medal of Service)
    • A record nine national early career awards to outstanding junior faculty scholars. Congratulations to all of you.
    • Kwame Dawes assumed the helm of the American Life in Poetry column after a handoff from our own Ted Kooser
  • Congratulations to the 37 faculty who were granted tenure in 2020, and the 91 faculty who were promoted in rank. These are both major milestones in the life and careers of our faculty – and reflect your impact and stature in your fields on local, national, and international scales.
  • For the first time in a decade, UNL moved up 2 spots in the US News rankings, to 62nd among public institutions. And, importantly we were the only university in the Big Ten to see our peer assessment score improve in each of the last two years.
  • The NU system ranked 65th in the world for U.S. patents. Of the 44 patents granted last year, UNL researchers were listed on 35 of them – which would have ranked UNL in the top 100 nationally on its own.
  • The 2021 Omnibus Appropriations bill adopted by Congress in December, thanks to Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, included $11.2M in initial funding for planning a proposed new National Center for Food and Agriculture Innovation with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service – an initial step to a P-3 venture investment in partnership with UNL IANR at Nebraska Innovation Campus.
  • A new Nebraska Technology Governance Center was built and formally launched by Nebraska Law, led by Professor Gus Hurwirtz, at a pivotally important time globally in the subject area.

And we keep growing and improving our living and learning infrastructure and footprint. Within the last year, we opened the:

  • Francis Allen Gymnastics Training Facility
  • Nebraska East Union
  • Husker Hub and renovated Canfield Adminstration Building, including the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
  • Gnotobiotic Mouse Facility as a new wing of the Life Sciences Annex
  • Husker Bowling newly renovated headquarters in the Nebraska East Union
  • Hamilton Hall organic chemistry lab renovations
  • Dinsdale Family Learning Commons

Construction is on track for (expected completion):

  • Scott Engineering Center rebuild and expansion (2022)
  • Mabel Lee demolition and rebuild (2022)
  • Nebraska Innovation Campus “Scarlet” Hotel (Aug 2021)
  • Barkley Center renovation and addition (2022)

And soon we will kick-off construction:

  • Kiewit Hall (2023)
  • Architecture Hall renovations (2022)
  • Hamilton Hall lab last phase of renovations (2022)
  • Veterans Tribute on Memorial Mall / Military Science (2022)
  • Miller Hall demolition/East Campus Plaza completion (2021/22)
  • McCollum Hall / Nebraska Law Library renovation (2021/22)
  • GO BIG Athletics Facility/Ed Weir Track Replacement (2023)

Support for our university and its mission has continued to grow as well.

  • The legislature approved $500,000 of new research funding for the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute and $1.3 million for the Nebraska Career Scholarship Program at UNL, to fund new scholarships for high-demand employment fields. I very much want to thank Governor Ricketts and the members of the legislature for their support on these important initiatives.
  • We recently announced the new Kiewit Scholars program, a comprehensive and generous scholarship funded by the employees of Kiewit Corporation to fully support student scholars, ultimately reaching 40 Nebraska Engineering students in the next four years.
  • Rural Prosperity Nebraska was launched, including the greatly expanded Rural Serviceship Program with a goal of sending more than 200 UNL student interns to communities across the state.
  • And even though the world was upside down in many ways, UNL received a total of $205M in philanthropic donations through the University of Nebraska Foundation to support our people and programs. As a reminder – our annual giving day, “Glow Big Red,” is coming up this Wednesday. That is a great opportunity to support UNL and especially student scholarships, so I would encourage all who can to participate.

We also made major progress last year in two important initiatives.

  • The University of Nebraska Board of Regents is now considering a sweeping set of by-laws changes providing greater protection and due process for academic faculty and university administration, including Nebraska Extension educators. Many thanks to the leadership of the Faculty Senate, jointly with Academic Affairs, UNL and NU system leadership, in working diligently and collaboratively over the past two years to develop these needed and timely changes. As a result, we stand to soon have the most comprehensive academic freedom protections codified in our bylaws of any of our peers in higher education.
  • The UNL Collaborative on Sexual Misconduct looked at all aspects of sexual misconduct affecting UNL including prevention, education and intervention; and policies, procedures, and practices. Seventy-five faculty, staff, and students across the institution worked together under the leadership of Professor Sue Swearer to produce a detailed set of recommendations. We have already begun implementing many of the recommendations, and will be undertaking a number of enhancements in the next academic year, including appointment of an ongoing Chancellor’s Collaborative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct, and required training and education of all members of the UNL community.


While we have managed the circumstances associated with COVID-19 highly effectively, the global pandemic has nonetheless come with significant fiscal and financial ramifications. To date, net revenue losses and added costs across the University, after carefully managing and reducing operating costs in all ways possible, have totaled in excess of $120M.

We recognized early on that we would need to effectively plan for major budget reductions, to avoid any increased cost burden for our students. As a result, we had to undertake the difficult process of cutting $38.2 million from our annual state-aided base budget over the next three fiscal years. This required very difficult and challenging decisions in order to protect our core academic programs and mission. I want to thank the leaders across all divisions of UNL who took these hard steps to implement these largest in history reductions in record time. Just a week ago, the last of these reductions were recommended for approval by the Academic Planning Committee – who worked tirelessly together with University administration through the fall to review and study the proposed reductions.

We also saw a large number of faculty retirements in 2020 due to the most recent implementation of the NU voluntary separation incentive program. A total of 59 tenured faculty members moved to emeritus status, representing a total of 1,882 years of service and impact to UNL, across 37 departments. One of my biggest regrets of the pandemic is that we were not able to celebrate physically with them on the occasion of their retirement – something we will come back to at the earliest opportunity in the time ahead.

This year, the Nebraska Legislature will appropriate our FY’22 and FY’23 state funding levels. I want to again thank Governor Ricketts for fully supporting our budget request, which includes a 2% increase for each fiscal year in state base appropriations and additional incremental funding for the Nebraska Career Scholarships. This level of funding will allow us to hold to no increases in tuition for the next two years, while funding modest salary increases for our faculty and staff, after having to forego those salary increases last year in response to the pandemic. The Nebraska Career Scholarships will also support the long term vitality of the state by continuing to attract new talent in high demand career areas. I am hopeful that the Legislature will support and approve this base budget.

Additionally, I am very pleased that NU system President Carter has, as a part of his 5-year strategic plan, prioritized investment in reducing the lower faculty salaries relative to our peers, where we currently lag by 8.4%. Assuming a favorable resolution of the state biennial budget, we will be working to further augment the proposed 1.5 and 3% UNL faculty salary increases in the general budget plan for the next two years.

We also are very pleased that the Legislature is considering a significant long-term capital renewal plan for the University. In total this would provide up to $1.5B in capital renewal funding to the NU system for the next 40 years to support renovation of our extensive capital infrastructure. This is vitally important – and would benefit UNL directly in the years ahead – in critical projects such as the replacement of the home for the Glenn Korff School of Music, renewal of the Neihardt complex for its next purpose, renovation and renewal of Architecture and Andrews Halls and the main galleries of the University of Nebraska State Museum in Morrill Hall.

Federal support has been essential in helping our university protect our campus during the pandemic, and to supporting our students and their families. We are exceptionally grateful for the $15.3 million in funding from the CARES Act last summer and an additional $23.9 million now from the omnibus appropriations bill. We are closely following the proposals for the next federal stimulus package now under discussion in Congress to hopefully assist further in reducing our pandemic losses.

This past year, we also continued to do the work necessary to finally transition to an Incentive-Based Budget Model, adding important N2025 target refinements in student success, experiential learning and student tuition remissions components. This year, we will work collectively with campus primary and support units to operationalize and translate the affirmed model into our General Operating Budget for FY22. During the next 4 months, we will be actively meeting with campus leaders and faculty on the new model and its operations to allow full transparency and understanding by our campus community stakeholders, facilitated by Ken Bloom, faculty associate to the chancellor for the budget model implementation.

This initiative will encourage a growth mindset, optimize for efficiencies, and incentivize new investments and opportunities, importantly allowing for linkages to our N2025 goals. It is a long-term commitment for our university that will take time and dedication from all of us to be successful. I am eager for us to take our first step of a full year of implementation of the IBB on July 1, 2021. I appreciate the hard work from the IBB Steering Team, Office of Business and Finance, and the Vice Chancellors who led the effort, as well as the wide participation from across campus who provided input to bring us to this starting point.

Husker Athletics

Perhaps nowhere on campus have we seen a more challenging financial impact from COVID-19 than with Husker Athletics. The loss of last year’s spring season, combined with the loss of game-day revenue for athletic events this academic year have been a difficult blow. I appreciate the hard work and commitment of Athletic Director Bill Moos and his leadership team for making the difficult decisions that have helped the department navigate such a challenging landscape of collegiate athletics.

And I want to congratulate our student athletes, coaches, and staffs for their focus and determination. Our NCAA graduation rate of 94% was record setting and second to only Northwestern in terms of academic success at the top of the Big Ten Conference. Competing in the midst of a pandemic has required even higher levels of commitment, discipline, and navigation of intense testing and safety protocols. I am so glad you have had the opportunity to compete, as much as possible, in the sports you love. And I want to give a special shout out to the 11 Husker teams competing in the expanded field of B10 sports this winter and spring. GO BIG RED!

One cannot underestimate the totality of the positive impact being a member of the Big Ten has brought to UNL. We didn’t just join a premier athletic conference in 2011; we became part of the unparalleled Big Ten Academic Alliance. From increased research impacts and partnerships to leveraging of information technology, library services, alumni programs, and faculty and staff leadership development – to significant increases in students from across the nation coming to NEBRASKA, it has been a powerful game changer for us and we are very proud to be a fully committed member of the Big Ten Conference.

Anti-Racism / Racial Equity

Another challenge faced last year was yet the latest chapter in our centuries-old struggle with racism and racial equity in our nation. The killing of George Floyd was a tipping point for a deeply divided America.

No matter how much we may want to believe or proclaim that we are unbiased, biases exist and can impact the way we see and treat others. Following an initial statement last summer, I heard from many leaders and groups on campus. Common among the communications was a sense of frustration that UNL had racially-based challenges in 2014, 2015, and 2018 – and yet “here we were again.” I knew this time had to be different. While the university has made significant and growing efforts on inclusive excellence, we needed to chart a path to where UNL could be defined as anti-racist and and be a place where racial equity could be fully achieved. The answer wasn’t a task force or commission, we needed to commit to a long-term journey. Six co-leaders were named to help lead and advise me in this journey, along with Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Marco Barker, and I am incredibly grateful to Lory Dance, Kwame Dawes, Anna Shavers, Kara Mitchell Viesca, Sergio Wals, and Colette Yellow Robe for their passion, insight, decision and wise counsel.

They have worked diligently over the fall and into this year to define the initial stages of our journey, which we will chronicle on our website. As I have come to learn and appreciate, this will be very hard and challenging work and a long-term process.

In addition to our Anti-Racism and Racial Equity journey, we have identified several steps to strengthen our commitment to inclusive excellence.

  • Developing a clearer and more transparent process for addressing climate issues that may impede an individual’s participation in our UNL community based on their identity.
  • Examining how our current curriculum addresses diversity with a keen focus on race, privilege, and power.
  • As suggested by those who participated in our CEO Action sessions, initiating a culture of self-reflection and learning through a Chancellor’s reading program focused on race and identity each academic semester, beginning with the upcoming fall 2021 term.
  • Committing to studying and addressing systemic issues and institutional policies, including the development of a process to review handling of bias incidents led by Professors Sue Swearer and Catherine Wilson, the honorific naming of buildings and structures on our campus, establishing a Native American and Indigenous Advisory Board and a University Land Acknowledgment statement, as well as our approaches to community policing and UNLPD relationships as committed to by University Police Chief Hassan Ramzah.
  • Holding our University leadership team at the Chancellor’s Cabinet and Academic Leadership Council level accountable for developing anti-racist and inclusive excellence strategies.

Making progress to be more inclusive, anti-racist, and to achieve racial equity is not the work of a single group or department, it falls to all of us to be committed and engaged.

Even as we continue to navigate through the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic and other challenges, we have continued to chart a strategic path forward for our university, one that reflects the vitality of our institution and the future that we can create.

Checking in on N2025

Last year, I co-opted the State of Our University address to launch our N2025 5-year Strategic Plan. And while so much of our focus this past year has been overcoming the hurdles arising from a convergence of crises, we have also made significant advances in our first year of the N2025 implementation.

Following my remarks, you will see a video with brief remarks from our university academic leadership team highlighting the progress across our academic divisions this past year. In that, you will be able to see some of how we are advancing on our six aims of N2025.

A few things worthy of highlighting are:

  • Our six-year graduation rate increased to 69.3% from 67.9%; part of a 10-year trend and our largest one-year increase in recent memory.
  • We experienced a 7.7% increase in enrollment of under-represented minority students in our first-time freshman class, bringing the total to 19.9%.
  • I am pleased to announce that Kathleen Lodl, associate dean of Nebraska Extension, will be assuming a new leadership role advancing the N2025 aim around engagement, including our quest to become a Carnegie Community Engagement designated campus – with the goal of achieving that designation in 2023.
  • Our Office of Global Strategies has worked over the past year to develop and implement a comprehensive road map for the University’s global engagement focused on the goal of every student having a global experience in their UNL portfolio. Their 5-year plan rightly and declaratively doubles down on the need for and commitment to strategic global partnerships at the current time and in to the future.
  • As part of the N2025 implementation plan, colleges and divisions will annually report their progress against the N2025 aims and targets.

A key tenet to advancing our interdisciplinary endeavors called for in two of the N2025 aims is to identify GRAND CHALLENGES that leverage our university’s existing strengths and seek to solve big, overarching issues that are important to Nebraska and the world.

We have discussed the need to focus our research and creative activity into areas of GRAND CHALLENGES since 2016. This past year, the Office of Research and Economic Development undertook an exhaustive effort to set criteria, explore ideas and to develop and finalize themes. Nearly 500 faculty and staff engaged in this incredibly collaborative and interdisplinary process.

Today, I am very pleased that we are formally announcing seven GRAND CHALLENGE areas of focus for our research and scholarship efforts.

Four of these Grand Challenges build on well-established areas of global leadership for our university.

Sustainable water and food security.

Nebraska is already a world leader in the intersection of water and food production, with much of that research centered in IANR and the Daughterty Water for Food Global Institute. As the world grapples with feeding 10 billion people by 2050 – from rural areas to densely populated megacities – the intersection of food, water, soil health and climate is paramount. Agriculture is the largest use of freshwater in the world. With our leading research and researchers, UNL is uniquely positioned to harmonize interconnected food, energy and water systems while advancing environmental health and resiliency leading to a safe and abundant food supply for all. We have the opportunity to help transform the agriculture and food systems of tomorrow, integrating innovations based on the ag and food biome, big data, biotechnology, precision agriculture, and food technology and nutrition sciences to promote economically and environmentally sustainable food systems.

Early childhood education and development.

A Lakota proverb says, “The ones that matter most are the children.” Children’s early experiences – from birth to age eight – and the environments in which they learn and grow build the foundation for future life outcomes. Today, the future of millions of children is severely compromised because of adverse conditions such as poverty, significant resource and opportunity inequities, and a host of conditions and inept systems that damage their development. UNL has an opportunity to transform the systems which impact children’s development, and help ensure their developmental trajectories, and our futures, are on positive pathways.

Climate change, mitigation and resilience.

To better prepare for and mitigate climate change and its impacts, UNL has an opportunity to tap the breadth of our expertise and collaborative interdisciplinary culture. There is an urgency to addressing climate change and variability, extreme weather events, and natural disasters. UNL has the opportunity to develop solutions that foster climate resilience at local, national and global levels through integrated research, teaching and engagement. Coordinated efforts at UNL can lead to the development, adoption and application of tools to mitigate risk and the crises that result from drought, extreme weather, and changes in agricultural production and human health.

Quantum science and engineering.

Quantum mechanics has been the foundation of virtually all technological applications that define our modern way of life, including the computer, lasers, telecommunications, and advanced medical imaging. And a new “quantum revolution” is imminent. Just as UNL has led for decades in physics and quantum science, we have the opportunity to continue to be at the nexus of this new, globally competitive effort to develop potentially transformative quantum-based applications. The outcomes have tremendous implications to improve the lives of Nebraskans and people across the globe; the universal impact of this revolution will touch everyone.

Over the last year, we have seen clearly that there are three topics in which we MUST be engaged. These are globally relevant areas where we will seek to build a heightened focus and provide leadership through their prioritization as GRAND CHALLENGES.

Anti-racism and racial equity.

I’ve already spoken on the imperative for UNL to make meaningful progress in this area, and I believe in doing so we have an opportunity to be leaders through our teaching, research, and outreach tri-partite mission.  Race and the application of it as a concept and as a determining force is going to determine our future at all levels and in all areas of our society, from science, to art, to economics, to health, to the social sciences to the environment, to sports and  to religion. As an institution we must encourage and seek to generate scholarship that demonstrates our valuing of the intellectual contributions of the historically marginalized and racially disenfranchised of our university in all areas of scholarship and creative activity, especially those who have built on the long tradition of intellectual contributions, thereby dismantling the systemic manner in which the academy historically has effectively devalued scholarship and intellectual achievement of whole segments of the population.  We understand that our scholarly achievements will be enriched by these contributions, in ways that will have an impact on our state, our nation and the globe.  We also need to identify and reform the processes and structures that lead to racial inequities. Our scholarly work should focus on minimizing the negative consequences of racism on the physical and mental health of individuals and communities. And we can identify ways to inoculate and/or reduce bias and discrimination in individuals across their lifespan within their social environment through our policies, our research and the outworking of our core values.

Health equity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a stark reminder of the disparities in health equity, within Nebraska, within the U.S. and globally. Overall, variations in life expectancy can be seen based on race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, and poverty. It can vary by neighborhood in urban centers and the remoteness of rural areas. Through interdisciplinary approaches we can examine underlying factors impacting health equity from the cellular, individual and societal levels. And we can make an impact in the healthy years lived and wellbeing of the people of Nebraska and the world.

Science and technology literacy for society.

Science, engineering and technology have a profound impact on human and societal health and well-being. Yet, increasingly, scientific advancements raise ethical questions or challenge deeply held beliefs, which can cause individuals and groups to question the credibility of science and be more suspectible to mis-information. Scientists and engineers must address this through education and information that advances scientific and technological literacy.

I am tremendously excited at the work done across the campus to develop and hone these GRAND CHALLENGES. They are necessary work, and distinct opportunities for UNL to have an even greater defining impact for Nebraska and our world. I am eager to move forward aggressively, including with new strategic investments in the coming year ahead as we implement our new IBB-budget model.


As a geneticist, I tend to look at the world through the lens of science. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Bad times have scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.”

Would I want to skip 2020 and these early, tumultuous days of 2021? Some days, many days – yes.

But when I look around at all that we have accomplished, at the innovation that sprang forward and the resiliency we have developed – I’m not sure any other year would have spurred that to such a great extent.

We will never regain the lives lost to COVID-19, or the crushing sorrow that has brought to far too many. We cannot regain the lost lives in the struggles of recurring racism. We cannot dismiss the major economic impacts, and their differential impact on groups of people, from the effects of a global pandemic. And, we cannot overlook the ongoing tensions and struggles of political polarization and threats to democracy in our country.

But as a university, and as a community – I believe with every ounce of my being that we will come through this crucible-like time more than ever as a leader, not a follower. I believe we will come through it more united in purpose and mission. I believe the creative ingenuity unleashed in this moment in time will continue to empower us to scale to greater heights. And I know our passion and dedication will always remain – driven by the critical and foundational role that higher education plays in achieving a better future.

I predict that some of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s greatest days in our 152-year rich history lie immediately ahead of us.

Albert Einstein said, “Adversity introduces a man to himself.” We stared down the challenges we faced this year, and we did not retreat. We’ve seen the character of our people – and it is strong.

There is no place like N-E-B-R-A-S-K-A. That has never been more true than today.

To all of our UNL community, thank you – for the excellence that defines your daily delivery on our mission, and all that you are as true leaders in higher education.

And now, following the tradition we started last year, I am pleased that you have an opportunity to hear about exciting things happening across our campus from the best academic leadership team in higher education. Enjoy.