Almost a year to the day after he took office as the seventh president of the University of Nebraska system, Hank Bounds marked his formal installation by outlining an ambitious agenda for making NU a national leader.
Before hundreds of guests April 15 at Kimball Recital Hall at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, including family members, friends, members of the Board of Regents and university colleagues, students, community members, Gov. Pete Ricketts and other policymakers, Bounds described to Nebraskans four broad “cornerstones” for success that he said will separate the university from the rest of the higher education world.
The cornerstones are informed by Bounds’ travels across the state over the past year, beginning with a 1,500-mile road trip that included stops in 20 cities during his first week as president; visits to each NU institution and research and extension facility; meetings with numerous students, faculty and staff; and conversations with Nebraskans about their goals for their university.
Bounds became NU president on April 13, 2015. Previously he was commissioner of higher education in his native Mississippi.
“When I interviewed for this job, I said that the University of Nebraska had the potential to be a giant in higher education,” Bounds said during his address, part of a traditional ceremony in the academic world to celebrate a new era of leadership. “I said then, and I am even more convinced now, that we can be one of America’s great universities.
“Being a giant doesn’t mean we can be everything. Nor will becoming a giant be easy, particularly when you consider that we are operating in the most competitive higher education environment of our lifetimes. But if we focus on our priorities, then I believe we have an opportunity to define a new era in the history of the university.”
Bounds’ cornerstones, which he said engage every Nebraskan in some way, are:
NU will be the best place in the nation to be a student. For example, Bounds said NU must ensure affordable access for all Nebraska students, particularly those who have historically been underrepresented in higher education; provide outstanding advising, intrusively so when necessary, so that students stay on the path to graduation and earn their degree and enter the workforce sooner; maintain the “gold standard” of education, providing students with the skills they need to be successful in today’s rapidly changing job market; and ensure the safety and well-being of all students, including increasing diversity and cultivating an environment free of discrimination, harassment and violence.
NU will transform lives through research and innovation. NU has an opportunity to play a global leadership role in areas including the sustainable use of water for agriculture, early childhood education and care, cancer research and care, national security and defense, rural development, engineering and information technology, the arts and humanities and others.
To build its reputation and maximize the impact of its research on Nebraskans and people around the world, Bounds said, the university must invest in talent and facilities, and foster a culture of innovation where risk-taking is encouraged, where the path from the lab to the marketplace is clear, and where interdisciplinary and cross-institution collaboration is the norm.
NU will work hand-in-hand with partners to achieve shared goals. Nebraskans have widely shared goals for excellent education, economic growth and quality of life. Bounds reaffirmed the university’s commitment to working alongside partners at the Capitol, in the business community, in K-12 and other higher education institutions, and in the philanthropic community to advance the state’s priorities.
NU will win with people. Noting that none of his goals will be achievable without the four-university system’s talented faculty and staff, Bounds said NU must work to compensate employees competitively, create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all, and provide employees with the tools they need to do their jobs successfully.
“We live in the heart of the greatest nation the world has ever known, a nation that is great in large part because early leaders recognized the value of education,” Bounds said. “Today other nations are catching up. We have to maintain our competitive advantage, and the University of Nebraska must play a part. The federal government has to invest. The state of Nebraska has to invest. We have to serve our students effectively. We have to hold hands with our partners. And the University of Nebraska must be a giant in the places that our state and nation need us to be.”
Friday’s ceremony, hosted by the NU Board of Regents, also included remarks from Board Chairman Kent Schroeder, who said the university must rise to the challenge of differentiating itself in an environment of rapidly changing demographics, economic factors, technology, increasing competition for talent, and student and parent expectations.
“Our mission to serve the state and its people has perhaps never been more relevant or important,” Schroeder said. “The University of Nebraska … is increasingly called upon to lead the way in sustaining our state’s economic competitiveness, in providing an educated workforce, in ensuring excellent health care and quality of life, and in addressing the most urgent problems facing the world today.”
Rodney Bennett, a friend and former colleague of Bounds who is president of the University of Southern Mississippi, delivered a keynote address. Bennett, the first black president of a predominantly white higher education institution in Mississippi, noted Bounds’ focus on student success and said Bounds “leads with a sense of urgency.”
Additionally, a number of Nebraskans provided greetings to Bounds on behalf of key constituencies of the university, including Ricketts; Jeffrey Gold, chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center; Sam Meisels, founding executive director of NU’s Buffett Early Childhood Institute; Evan Calhoun, student body president at the University of Nebraska at Kearney; Susan Sheridan, George Holmes University Professor of Educational Psychology at UNL; Katrina Brooks, assistant director of the Thompson Learning Community at the University of Nebraska at Omaha; and Matt Blomstedt, Nebraska commissioner of education.