2022 State of Our University Address

UNL Chancellor Ronnie D. Green

September 28, 2022

As Prepared

Good morning and welcome to the 2022 State of Our University discussion.  

It is fitting to give these remarks following a celebration of the commitment and service of our employees. 

At UNL, we do big things.

That starts with our University’s faculty and staff, all 5,844 of you. We would accomplish nothing without your commitment, ingenuity, and servant leadership. You make everything that happens here possible.

We just honored our Service Award recipients. And I want to highlight a few.

  • F. Gregory Hayden, Professor of Economics – 55 years of service
    His research has been devoted to the development of the social fabric matrix, development of a meta-policymaking paradigm and the application of instrumental philosophy to policy analysis.
  • Kathryn Klundt, Office Supervisor, Eastern NE Research & Extension Center – 50 years of service
    Kay seeks out solutions to make things happen. And her adaptability to change and “can do” attitude have been an asset to many people and projects.
  • Gwen Nugent, Research Professor, Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools – 45 years of service
    In recent years, Gwen has been part of teams awarded significant grants to strengthen services for infants and toddlers and to strengthen Nebraska’s K-8 computer science curriculum.

It’s not just the commitment of our people, many of you have won significant awards or been recognized in your fields. 

I only have time to highlight a few, but the video that ran before the event and will run again afterwards celebrates even more achievements. 

  • Julia McQuillan, Willa Cather Professor of Sociology, and
  • Judy Walker, Aaron Douglas Professor of Mathematics, were named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society, founded by our very own Charles Bessey.
  • Matthias Fuchs, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, was named a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences.

And seven Husker faculty, seen here on this slide:

  • Wei Bao, Assistant Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering
  • Katarzyna Glowacka, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry
  • Kathryn Holland, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Women's and Gender Studies
  • Nicole Iverson, Associate Professor of Biological Systems Engineering
  • Jae Sung Park, Assistant Professor of Mechanical & Materials Engineering
  • Ruiguo Yang, Associate Professor of Mechanical & Materials Engineering
  • Joseph Yesselman, Assistant Professor of Chemistry

…earned grants from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program.

You also saw the faces of new leaders or people in new leadership roles in the video, including EVC Kathy Ankerson, Interim VCBF Mary LaGrange, VCDA Trev Alberts, Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts Dean Andy Belser, and Dean of Nebraska Extension Charlie Stoltenow.

I get to stand up every year and expound on the great things happening at our university.  But every noteworthy story has a UNL person or team behind it.

You are the ones I am in awe of and who make this university such a special place.


We are the public flagship Land-Grant comprehensive research university of Nebraska.

And our primary mission is the world-class education of our undergraduate, graduate, and professional students – who come to our campuses from 91 of Nebraska’s 93 counties, all 50 US states, and 127 countries around the world.

We exist to give them a well-rounded higher education and send them off into the world with strong, nimble minds that are ready to do big things!

Our number one metric of success is degree completion.  We are achieving that success in rates never achieved before – with record graduation totals in three of the last four years.  A total of 23,337 graduates, with another record in May of this year.

Our students are also graduating faster. We’ve seen our 4-year grad rate go up every year for seven straight entering classes. It increased 10 percentage points in that time.

And they are earning a coveted Big Ten degree.  The Big Ten is the only power five athletic conference that also has an incredibly cooperative academic alliance.  Our membership in the Big Ten isn’t just about who we play in athletic competitions, or the increasingly healthy major revenues generated through media rights – our membership powers exceptional educational opportunities at UNL.

  • The Big Ten Academic Alliance allows students from member and partner universities the opportunity to gain access to more than 120 million library volumes and more than 100 “less commonly taught languages” through the partnership.
  • Member schools also work together to purchase resources and materials, which leads to millions of dollars in annual savings, and
  • underrepresented students interested in pursuing graduate education can get help through intensive research experiences with faculty mentors and enrichment activities in the Alliance’s Summer Research Opportunities program.

While we’re graduating students in record numbers with high quality and high opportunity degrees, as a leading and committed Land-Grant university, we are focused on ensuring students have affordable access to this incredible education. 

We have the lowest tuition rates in the Big Ten. Our in-state tuition rate is over 10% lower and our non-resident tuition rate is over 15% lower than any of our Big Ten institution peers.

More than 2,800 of our students are aided by Nebraska Promise. And I want to thank President Carter for recently emboldening this initiative to provide tuition-free access to students from families making less than $65,000 per year or who qualify for the Federal Pell Grant.

UNL graduates have markedly less debt than the national average. Our May 2022 graduates averaged a federal student loan debt of $19,071, 33% below the national average of $29,000.

We offer incredible and increasing scholarship opportunities at UNL.  More than 14,000 of our students have a need- or merit-based scholarship.  And many of these scholarships are made possible by the tremendous private philanthropy of our alumni, friends and supporters. We have recently added more terrific opportunities, including:

  • The Kiewit Scholars Program, a full cost of attendance scholarship combined with a rigorous leadership experience for up to 160 Nebraska Engineering students, launched in 2021 with generous support from the Peter Kiewit Foundation and Kiewit Corporation executives.
  • A generous gift from the William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation created the Teacher Scholars Academy, now enabling 75 aspiring teachers on full scholarship to become teaching innovators for the 21st century.
  • An additional $5 million gift from the Johnny Carson Foundation, providing tuition assistance to even more students at the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts.

At UNL, our students gain real-world experiences they wouldn’t get at other universities. While we certainly expect increased enrollment in the immediate years ahead, in general, our size fits our strengths. We’re big enough to offer a world class, Big Ten education. And small enough that students have one-to-one experiences. They get to know their professors. They are surrounded by a community of support.  I often say that UNL is a BIG, small place.

And here, where we believe in the power of every person, our undergraduate students have the value-added experience to support graduate students and faculty in research and creative endeavors. This is an incredible opportunity for our students and truly sets us apart from other universities.

These are just a few of the tremendous educational and research opportunities provided for our students.

And we are constantly innovating to bring new opportunities for academic success for our students. During the height of the pandemic, we added “Winterim” sessions between the fall and spring semesters. It was such a success that we’ve made the Winterim opportunity available the next 3 years with appropriate adjustments to our academic calendar and given students a chance to pick up additional credit hours with innovative online classes.  We have grown to 70 courses planned for the upcoming 2023 Winterim term in January.

We’ve added new degree programs such as Software Engineering in the new School of Computing in Nebraska Engineering to keep pace with fast-changing career opportunities.  And this year, we are implementing a new interdisciplinary Data Science major among the Computing, Mathematics, and Statistics disciplines and faculty.

And perhaps, even more important in today’s incredibly fast-changing world – we prepare students for the jobs not just of today, but tomorrow. For many of our graduates, the jobs they’ll hold during their careers haven’t even been invented yet. 

At UNL we provide an education that grows strong, nimble and flexible minds – so that our students walk out of these doors prepared for a lifetime of doing big things.

As some currently question the value of a university degree, and whether it is worth it – I say, yes, unequivocally. Is college for everyone? Not necessarily. Can someone without a college degree have a successful career?  Absolutely. But there are inescapable tangible benefits for a 4-year or advanced degree:

  • In 2020, the median earnings of those with a bachelor’s degree were 63% higher than the earnings of those who completed high school.
  • College graduates contributed an average of 26% more to a retirement savings fund, even when high school graduates had similar incomes and access to savings plans.
  • Those with college degrees have a better chance at homeownership and a significantly lower rate of unemployment.
  • And they have greater earnings and advancement opportunities over the course of their careers. The rise in income by mid-career is only 25% for those with high school diplomas while bachelor's degree holders in the workforce grow their incomes by 50% at that stage in their career.

To quote the amazing 96-years young Dr. Gwendolyn A. Newkirk, longtime national leader in the field of family and consumer sciences, at the wonderful dedication celebration of the Gwendolyn A. Newkirk Human Sciences Building on east campus last week, “Investment in a college education yields dividends for a lifetime”.

When I welcomed this year’s freshman class at Memorial Stadium, I made them a promise.  I told them – “You will be prepared. Through the grit will come stronger, bigger talents.  You will become more nimble, flexible and adaptable to any challenge – and better prepared throughout your life to step up in any situation….in a fast-paced, ever-changing world, you will leave UNL with the tools needed to succeed.”  And judging from my personal interactions thus far with the class of 2026, it is without a doubt the most capable and engaged of the 7 classes I have had the privilege to welcome to UNL as their chancellor.

World-Class Learning and Discovery Spaces

A key component to student success is inviting and exhilarating learning and discovery spaces. And any conversation on Big Things has to start with the very visible manifestation of the growth of our facilities infrastructure. Any look across our campuses will tell you – new growth is happening all around us!

Since 2019, and at the present time, – we are investing more than $1 billion in expanding and improving our facilities.

You’ve seen the cranes and construction for these projects, but these are ones recently completed or underway:

  • Carolyn Pope Edwards Hall
  • Engineering Research Center/Scott Engineering Center
  • Kiewit Hall
  • Architecture Design Studios and Library
  • Louise Pound Hall renovations that have created a new space for Global Engagement, classroom renovations and allowed for the relocation of several units from the College of Arts and Sciences  
  • Go Big Athletics Training and Student Success Facility
  • Veterans Tribute
  • Scarlet Hotel/HRTM Program
  • Barkley Center
  • Schmid Law Library
  • Hamilton Hall Labs
  • Love Cupola
  • ENREC Feedlot Innovation Center
  • Lied Center for Performing Arts

And last year, the passage of LB384 by the Nebraska Legislature also provided funding, equally partnered with the University to reinvigorate our campuses by addressing long-term deferred maintenance through 2062. The first phase of LB384 is enabling:

  • A new Westbrook music building for the Glenn Korff School of Music
  • Renovations of:
    • Military and Naval Science Hall
    • Kimball Recital Hall
    • Morrill Hall
    • Bessey Hall
    • Neihardt Hall
    • Architecture Hall Link

These projects are absolute game changers for our students and our research and extension programs, resulting in impressive state-of-the-art new places to learn, to engage, and to build community.

They will continue to transform our research, scholarship, and creative activity. 

They will without doubt increase our impact on Nebraska.

And they will continue to ensure that UNL is a place where every person and every interaction matters.


No university can call itself a flagship, Land-Grant, comprehensive research-intensive institution without world-leading, impactful research and discovery. 

UNL is the only Carnegie R-1 research university in the state of Nebraska. Our research has been making an impact for our state and our world since our founding in 1869.

We have had some very big successes this past year. Including a record high $321 million in total research expenditures.

  • With one of our largest research grants ever from the National Science Foundation, Nebraska faculty took over leadership from Princeton University and now coordinate the U.S. physics community at the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest, most powerful particle accelerator, in Switzerland.
  • UNL is a major part of a recent $25 million federal award that will push the boundaries of robotics innovation with a Heartland Robotics Cluster in Nebraska Engineering and at Nebraska Innovation Campus.
  • A $20 million award from the National Science Foundation’s EPSCOR Program is helping a Nebraska team to create a research and education cluster aimed at enhancing the state’s competitiveness in the field of emergent quantum materials and technologies.
  • Our faculty are earning significant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, supporting deeper examinations of the works of Willa Cather; the creation of the American West; the expansion of multi-institutional open access publishing; and pedagogical tools and digitization of historical Nebraska newspapers.
  • An international team led by Kwame and Lorna Dawes, received an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant of $750,000 to expand an online portal for African poetry.
  • Faculty are also producing creative works garnering the world’s attention. Timothy Schaffer's The Perfume Thief was one of two titles selected by Penguin Random House International for the One World One Book program. The Bell Affair, the highly acclaimed new animated film from Husker scholars Professors Dreher, Thomas and Burton had its world premiere in front of a sold-out audience near Washington, D.C. near the actual home of the story, where I was privileged to be able to attend this summer.
  • Our global leadership and stature in agriculture, natural resources and food production continues to grow. Nebraska faculty are co-developing a Global Yield Gap Atlas platform for major crops in 70 countries. In another project, we're leading the development of a “network of networks” that unites some of North America’s most forward-thinking, interdisciplinary collaborations focused on agricultural and climate resilience and food and water security.
  • Our new Biosecurity Lab with NSRI is helping to safeguard our nation's food supply. And the National Drought Mitigation Center, in IANR’s School of Natural Resources, recently kicked off a $1 million defense project to predict unrest around the world with its leaders regularly sought out by media around the world as drought experts.
  • Nebraska engineers continue to lead the way in research that is on track to cut 5% of the world’s digital energy budget, to cut internet congestion, to create the next generation of roadside safety barriers, to extend the life of bridges, to support NSRI efforts in strategic deterrence and even to send surgical robots to space.
  • We are very pleased that plans are moving forward for the development of a proposed $140M USDA-ARS National Regenerative and Resilient Precision Agriculture Laboratory at Nebraska Innovation Campus, with the initial planning for its phase 1 greenhouse complex now underway.  And, I am very grateful for $25 million in support from the Nebraska Legislature to be matched with $25M in private support for a companion technology transfer facility housing scientists from both USDA’s Ag Research Service and IANR, creating new discoveries and technologies to improve American agriculture. We anticipate the timeline for this project to extend to 2027, and it will be a major game changer for Nebraska, our nation, and NIC.

And, not only is our research and discovery continuing to grow in scale and impact, we also are seeing continued advancement of the translation of that research in to economic development. For the fifth year in a row, the University of Nebraska was named in the top 100 institutions in the world in the granting of US Patents – increasing from 77th to 64th in that ranking this year, led by 25 patents from UNL researchers.


We are Nebraska’s Land Grant university – committed to engagement with our state. UNL touches every corner of Nebraska.

  • UNL engages in person with Nebraskans in all 93 counties through our nationally-leading and recognized Nebraska Extension.
  • For example, through a variety of programs, we’re helping rural communities like Lynch, form cooperatives to replace grocery stores, and helping places like Tilden, Plainview and others enhance entrepreneurship and business development.
  • Our College of Architecture partners with Nebraska Development Districts and local leaders in multiple towns annually like David City on community revitalization efforts.
  • In 2021...
    • More than 400 elected and appointed county officials received valuable leadership training through the Nebraska Association of County Officials Institute of Excellence. 
    • Nearly 118,000 childcare providers caring for 160,000 children received interactive and meaningful professional development.
    • More than 350 Nebraskans completed a food safety course through Nebraska Extension in response to a new cottage food safety law.

Our graduates make an impact on this state as well.  We prepare the majority of Nebraska’s teachers and pre-medical professionals, most of its lawyers...and among Nebraska State Senators, UNL is by far the most represented alma mater across leaders from the 49 districts. A degree from UNL is also most common among the CEOs of the 50 largest employers in Nebraska. And 3 of Nebraska’s 5 congressional representatives hold degrees from UNL.

Our graduates stay in Nebraska to build their careers and become part of the fabric of our state. We survey our graduates, and of those who responded in 2021:

  • 81% of students from Nebraska started their careers in Nebraska upon graduation, and
  • 74% of our students who came here from other states said they were staying for jobs in Nebraska.

For us – Land Grant isn’t simply a title or designation, it’s a mission, it’s a way of life. 

Our economic impact is tremendous.  In the most recent economic impact study, for every state appropriated dollar invested in UNL, $11 is returned directly to the economy of the state of Nebraska.

The people of Nebraska think of us as THEIR university. We have been for 153 years and always will be.

N2025 Strategic Plan

Perhaps the biggest and boldest endeavor on our campus right now is our N2025 Strategic Plan.

We are halfway through the 5-year time horizon of N2025, which was designed to be innovative, transformative and to set us apart based on our unique strengths. 

We’ve made good progress in many areas. In a few, we need to step up the pace to meet our goals.

Last spring, during one of the peaks of COVID-19, I participated in discussions with our Deans and Vice Chancellors on our progress toward our N2025 goals. The conversations were revealed so many great things happening across our campuses. I would encourage you to view the videos on our N2025 website to hear about some of the exciting specifics.

Aim 1 of the plan calls on us to “innovate student experiences that prepare graduates to be life-long learners and contributors to the workforce in Nebraska and the world.” 

One of the boldest targets under this aim is that ALL students in the class of 2025 will graduate with an experiential learning opportunity – through a paid internship, apprenticeship, undergraduate research or community and international engagement.  We are working on the mechanisms to transcript designate this across all 9 academic colleges, and there are so many rich examples of what our students are doing.

  • Such as Alisa Holst, a food science major, who interned in North Carolina at Campbell’s Snacks the makers of Goldfish crackers and Snyder’s pretzels.
  • Or the 13 students from the Carson School of Theatre and Film who were able to hone their acting skills at the Globe Theatre in London.
  • Or Luke Woosley, a pre-med biology and psychology double major, who channeled the experience of watching his little brother overcome childhood cancer to being a retreat leader for Lighthouse Family Retreat and the UNL Dance Marathon, to raise funds to help beat childhood cancer.
  • Or Clare Umotoni, a native of Rwanda, who spent her summer in Ord, Nebraska as a Nebraska Rural Prosperity fellow helping with efforts to revitalize their downtown. 
  • And the College of Journalism and Mass Communications has developed an entire Experience Lab dedicated to allow their students to “do from day 1.”

I could go on and on – our students aren’t just learning, they are DOING amazing things experientially.

Another bright spot in Aim 1 is our steady progress on our 4-year graduation rate, which, as I mentioned earlier have steadily increased each of the last seven years and is now 50.3% for the freshman class who entered in the Fall of 2018. We still have work to do hit our goal of 55%, but I’m proud of the progress we’re making.   

As you know, our total enrollment declined again this year to 23,805. And while the disruptions of the pandemic, coupled with declining international new students and record graduating classes have been major factors – we must be relentless in our work to recruit bright young minds to UNL, from across Nebraska, the U.S. and the world.   In that respect, enrollment and recruitment is a priority in all of our jobs in the current time and years ahead.  I look forward to seeing the trend of the last 3 years reversed with increased enrollment to above the 25,000 baseline in the future.

We also have to work harder to reduce our equity gap, and make sure that all students, regardless of background, are equally successful in reaching graduation. While we have seen some progress here, there is much more to do.

Both Aims 2 and 3 focus on increasing the impact of our research, and to foster innovative, interdisciplinary endeavors and solve challenges critical to Nebraska and the world.

As I mentioned earlier, we again hit a record for research expenditures last year of $321 million.  Continuing that year-on-year growth is incredible considering the stiff headwinds the pandemic posed for research activity, with very few R1‘s not seeing a decrease in total research expenditures. Again, we need to grow more quickly to hit the target of $450 million, but I appreciate the dedicated focus of maintaining our momentum over these past two turbulent years. 

Last year, we also hit our goal of at least 5% growth in graduate degrees, with a 10.5% growth in Masters degrees and a 6.1% growth in doctoral and professional degrees. I look forward to us continuing to exceed our goals in this area.

The conversations with our Deans and campus leaders this spring highlighted a number of ways that faculty from different academic colleges are working together on exciting, and transformative research endeavors.

In August, we announced the first of four annual rounds of $10 million in funding for the Grand Challenges research proposals, which included three lead “Catalyst” awards and 10 planning grants. The Catalyst award recipients were:

  • Katie Edwards, associate professor of educational psychology, who will lead a team of researchers and partners to create a center dedicated to preventing sexual violence among indigenous youth.
  • Tomas Helikar, associate professor of biochemistry, who will create a digital twin of the human immune system with his team, ultimately hoping that clinical trials can make use of the digital twin technology as do other industries with complex data.
  • Kees Uiterwall, associate professor of physics and astronomy, who will lead a team to help people understand quantum sciences through the immersive use of augmented reality.

Aim 4 focuses squarely on our mission as a Land Grant university, to broaden Nebraska’s engagement in community, industry and global partnerships. 

Under the great leadership of Kathleen Lodl, associate dean of Nebraska Extension, we are well on our way to the primary target of this aim, to be designated as a Carnegie Community Engagement campus. We will be applying in the 2024 round for this designation and Kathleen has done an excellent job in measuring and pulling together data necessary for ensuring success. 

Under Aim 5, we hope to create a climate at Nebraska that emphasizes, prioritizes and expands inclusive excellence and diversity. 

I am proud that we have the most diverse student body this year in our history, and that we are in year 10 of continuous improvement in this regard.  Again, we need to do more to hit our goals, specifically with underrepresented students, and faculty, of color.

This is not an aim that can be achieved top-down, and so we have taken an integrated approach. Every academic college and administrative unit now has its own plan to address progress in diversity and inclusion.

Addressing this aim begins with data and assessment. The NU system completed a Gallup Climate survey last fall which provided some insights and baseline data. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion is further exploring what we can learn from the survey. 

We have also completed our self-assessment as part of the APLU Aspire iChange cohort, which aspires to build diversity in our STEM programs, and are now building an action plan. 

Our offices of Student Affairs; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; and Institutional Equity and Compliance have developed clear guidance so that any student, faculty or staff member who experiences a climate issue knows where to go for support and response.

We have a Diversity Recruitment Guide and search ambassadors program to aid search committees in the development of diverse candidate pools for the hiring of faculty and staff and now have a template and training module for incorporating inclusive excellence in staff evaluations. 

While we have certainly experienced recent external challenges in our aim to make inclusive excellence a priority, I am inspired by the commitment to and achievement of progress. If we are truly a place where every person and every interaction matters, then we must be diligent in our pursuit of Aim 5.

Our focus in Aim 6 is on our UNL community, and prioritizing participation and professional development for all Nebraska students, faculty and staff.

Again in this area, the Gallup survey conducted by the NU system provided valuable feedback and gives us a good baseline.

We are well on our way to developing a Staff Senate, to provide a mechanism for staff to advise the campus leadership and share feedback and recommendations.  Nominations for the inaugural Senators are now underway, for the launch in January of 2023.

Last spring, I asked our Executive Vice Chancellor Kathy Ankerson to lead a broad-based task force to look at the future of work, primarily for staff. We know that the pandemic led to major changes in how and where work is delivered and how productivity is measured across the nation and locally in Lincoln and Nebraska. The Task Force has completed their work and provided me with recommendations, and we will soon report out how to implement many of those recommendations for our campus.

And as part of our N2025, we placed an additional emphasis on ensuring the responsible stewardship of resources. Efficiently and effectively using our resources is key to continuing to keep our tuition low and affordable. 

Key to doing this is implementation of incentives in our budgeting process – to reward and encourage growth and innovation. We have developed a budget model that layers in an incentive-based allocation following the distribution of state resources.  I’ve met recently with our Deans and campus leaders, and look forward to working with them as we move forward as we implement this year.

And we continue to do to great work to implement our Environment, Sustainability and Resilience Master Plan, and I am very pleased that we will soon roll out a campus-wide enhanced recycling program following a successful pilot.

When we announced the N2025 Strategic Plan in February 2020, we knew we were being bold and audacious.

We should keep in mind – one month after we announced our N2025 Plan a global pandemic forced us to go fully remote. I don’t need to go into a litany of the ways the pandemic changed our world and our community, we have all lived it. The pandemic had a demonstrable impact on our ability to achieve a few of our N2025 targets, and realistically we may need to revisit what is achievable on a few, even from a stretch perspective. In the coming months, we’ll provide the campus with a status update on each target, including whether adjustments are recommended in target levels as well as the full timeline for realization.

Husker Athletics

UNL is blessed to have one of the most premier Athletics programs in the nation.  We are one of very few universities where the Athletics budget is not only completely self-supported but provides funding back to the core academic mission of the university. About 2,000 UNL students, students who are not student-athletes, received academic scholarships last year because of the financial success of Husker Athletics.

Continuing the Huskers’ long tradition of being a national leader in the classroom, Nebraska student-athletes this year scored a 95% NCAA Graduation Success Rate, the highest in UNL history, and amongst the highest in A5 public institutions.  And once again, we lead the nation by a mile in the record number of 348 Academic All Americans.

Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Trev Alberts is doing a tremendous job leading the department through historic changes in the landscape of collegiate athletics, with Name Image and Likeness, direct student educationally related benefits support, Big Ten expansion, and significantly expanded new media rights contracts.  Trev and his leadership team are doing an excellent job of not just managing the change but keeping Nebraska ahead of the curve and in the leading edge of intercollegiate athletics.  And, I am fully confident that in the time ahead Nebraska Athletics will be positioned well for the future with administrative and coaching leadership. 

We’ve seen big news from the Big Ten in recent months – in 2024 we’ll be a conference that geographically spans coast-to-coast. With the trends in college athletics, with many changes still to come, we are incredibly well situated as a full, solid member of the Big Ten conference, a conference that is growing and the national leader in financial strength and the value of the student athlete experience. I wake up every day and am incredibly thankful that we are blessed to be a full, vibrant member of the BIG10.

Lastly, this has been a challenging time for Husker football – for our alumni, for our football athletes and lettermen, for our UNL community, and for all of Husker Nation. While continued transition in leadership is challenging, and may I say frustrating, it is even more so when we all desired so deeply for former Coach Scott Frost and his coaching team to experience success. I appreciate Scott’s dedication and commitment to his alma mater under the incredible pressure of the role, and wish Scott and all of the Frost family only the very best in the future.


So many of the big things we do are made possible through the private philanthropy of alumni, friends, and supporters of UNL. 

Over the last five years, we have raised, largely through the University of Nebraska Foundation, a record $755M in private funding -- and it is making an incredible impact on our institution.

We are incredibly fortunate to have such tremendous generosity from an increasing number of friends and supporters, and I cannot begin to adequately express our gratitude. 

We’ll be talking more about the increasingly important impact of private philanthropy with exciting announcements ahead in what promises to be a monumental 2023 year in our fund-raising efforts.


In closing, I want to answer one of the most frequent questions I am asked on campus.

What is going to happen to the “kissing columns”?

Made of granite cut from a quarry in Colorado, the columns originally stood at the front of Omaha’s Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railway Station.

Two University of Nebraska administrators — George Seymour, a former regent with an interest in campus planning, and Erwin Barbour, then director of the NU State Museum — worked with the Burlington Railroad to have the 18,000-pound, 22-foot-tall columns shipped to campus.

In 1935, the columns were placed in the colonnade in the northeast corner of Memorial Stadium and served as the backdrop for countless gamedays, university events, graduation pictures, impromptu photoshoots — and even marriage proposals, affectionately becoming known as the “kissing columns.”

They stood tall there until they were safely removed to storage when construction began on the Go Big Athletics facility.

I frequently hear people asking the question: Are the columns coming back, and if so, where are they going to go?

Today, I am revealing that those iconic columns will take their place at one of our most historic points on campus.

University Hall was the first and most prominent building on UNL’s campus, and as the campus grew, it was the gateway. 

It sat just north of what is today the corner of 11th and R Streets.  In fact, many of the photos capturing the views from University Hall look down 11th street to the growing city of Lincoln. 

As we build the new Westbrook music building – we will place the columns at the corner of 11th and R Streets, creating a new entrance to our campus from the southwest – one rich in history and brimming with new activity. 

Here’s an idea of what it may look like.

rendering of proposed new entrance to campus

I started off today talking about our people.  You are the ones who do the big things.

I am glad today that we once again combined the State of Our University discussion with our Service Awards and with a picnic to celebrate our community now that we have thankfully emerged from the pandemic. 

Outside of 10 years in government and private industry leadership, I have been a part of higher education throughout my adult life.  Over the course of my career, I have engaged in numerous international and national committees, panels and projects with leaders from countless universities, government partners, and private enterprises around the globe.  And, in these past 7 years, I have intimately viewed the challenges and opportunities facing my fellow Big Ten Chancellors and Presidents, where coincidentally at the end of 2022 with the retirement of my colleague Mitch Daniels at Purdue, I will become the longest serving member of the BIG10 board.  I must say that this somewhat stark reality is giving me great pause and stimulating considerable personal reflection about the persistence of leadership in today’s higher education landscape.

But, with all of that said, there is one remaining, unequivocal truth – stated so well in the words of Harry Pecha, University of Nebraska Class of 1924:

There is No Place Like Nebraska
Dear Old Nebraska U.
Where the girls are the fairest,
The boys are the squarest,
Of any old school that I knew.

There is No Place Like Nebraska
Where they’re all true blue.
We’ll all stick together,
In all kinds of weather.
For Dear Old Nebraska U.