Chancellor Green reflects on his impact on Dear Old Nebraska U

· 8 min read

Chancellor Green reflects on his impact on Dear Old Nebraska U

Chancellor Ronnie Green gives a high five during commencement on May 4, 2019 in Pinnacle Bank Arena. Green is retiring today after seven years of service as the university's leader.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Chancellor Ronnie Green gives a high five during commencement on May 4, 2019. Green is retiring today after seven years of service as the university's leader.

Editor’s note — Chancellor Ronnie Green wrote this reflection on his legacy for the summer 2023 edition of Nebraska Quarterly, the Nebraska Alumni Association’s magazine. Review the entire publication. Green is retiring today after seven successful years leading Nebraska’s flagship university.

Seven years later, as I hand the reins to No. 21, I can say unequivocally that it has been a distinct calling, privilege, honor and my greatest pleasure to serve the University of Nebraska–Lincoln as its chancellor. Even though the past several years have overflowed with unanticipated challenges, we have together created tremendous new opportunities for Nebraska, and I am immensely proud of all we have accomplished.

We have achieved this monumental success while prioritizing our 154-year commitment to creating lifelong opportunities through accessible higher education that began with our charter on Feb. 15, 1869.

We exist first and foremost to equip our undergraduate, graduate and professional student scholars with a well-rounded, high-quality advanced education and to send them off into the world with strong, nimble minds that are able to critically think, and, who are ready to do big things in making the world a better place.

As I think about May commencement in our iconic Memorial Stadium, I reflect that I have celebrated nearly 40,000 new Nebraska graduates by presenting them with those highly-impactful and valuable degrees. Indeed, we are achieving success in graduation rates never achieved before — with record graduation totals in four of the past six years, including this year. We’ve also seen our four-year graduation rate go up every year, totaling more than 11% since 2016, with the highest career placement rates ever for our graduates.

Chancellor Ronnie Green addresses graduates and the audience during spring commencement in Memorial Stadium on May 20, 2023.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Chancellor Ronnie Green addresses graduates and the audience during spring commencement in Memorial Stadium on May 20, 2023.

And while we have significantly increased our degree completion in these years, we have also nearly doubled the diversity of our student body, with continued increases each year in the diversity of our incoming new student classes.

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. I am living proof that anything is possible for a first-generation student, and I’m proud of our leadership in serving the nearly 25% of our students who are first-generation students. We are also proud of the fact that at UNL, we are the most affordable, highest value, and lowest student debt in the Big Ten Conference.

No university can call itself a flagship, land-grant, Carnegie 1 comprehensive research-intensive institution without world-leading, impactful research and discovery. We have had some big successes in recent months — with our largest research grant ever from the National Science Foundation. And in each of the past 11 years, we’ve set new records in research expenditures, with $341 million in 2022 — an increase of more than 15% since 2016. We are widely recognized as international leaders in agriculture, food and life sciences, high energy physics, material sciences, early childhood, and digital humanities, amongst many other fields.

Our commitment to engagement with our state — UNL touches all 93 counties and Nebraskans of all ages through our nationally-leading and recognized Nebraska Extension and its work through 4-H — is embedded in our land-grant mission and renewed daily. Our nine academic colleges have deep partnerships across our state ranging from teacher education to law clinics, to public policy research to community and regional planning to STEM education, to arts across Nebraska, and more. As I have repeatedly said, UNL is much like the “DNA of Nebraska,” and we have much to be proud of in our continued engagement with the citizens of Nebraska.

Nebraska Innovation Campus recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and is outpacing its 25-year development plan with more than 500,000-square-feet, a world-class conference center, the fully outfitted Nebraska Innovation Studio, more than 70 partners and 500 employees, the new Scarlet Hotel partnered with our Hospitality, Restaurant and Tourism Management program, and a partnership with Invest Nebraska in the Ag Combine which is creating new companies on a regular basis. We are excited about the launching of a new National USDA- Agricultural Research Service Center for Resilient and Regenerative Agriculture coupled with an Ag Tech Innovation Accelerator in the immediate years ahead — nationally concentrating the development of precision agriculture at Nebraska Innovation Campus. And, in a recently-funded, major Economic Development Administration grant with Invest Nebraska — the Heartland Robotics Cluster is being launched with Nebraska Engineering at Innovation Campus.

Husker Athletics, the role model for success as student-athletes, has continued to marvel — continuing to lead nationally in academic success with 349 Academic All Americans, and ranking second in Division 1 graduation success rate amongst all public universities — the highest this past year in our own history. And unlike anywhere else in the NCAA, Husker Athletics supports more than 25% of our undergraduate scholars with direct scholarship support through the Husker Scholars program that we started in 2018. There truly is no place like Nebraska.

Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing

Speaking of our university’s history, I came into this role in 2016 with eyes wide open about the reality that all past chancellors had confronted pressures and faced challenges, and I would no doubt be called to lead through some of my own. Of course, none of us knew with certainty what would come with the COVID-19 pandemic, together with high and increasing levels of political polarization, and racial unrest.

Three years ago, we were faced with the difficult challenge of how to be the people of Nebraska’s public land-grant university on sound financial, public health and safety footing amidst community spread of a novel and mutating virus. After considering all we knew about the pandemic, we made the conscious decision that to deliver on our mission, we needed to be connected and woven together as a community, as much as possible and in as safe a way as possible. Access had to be our driver.

The fact is, we didn’t just persevere, we led — in the Big Ten Conference and across higher education. We did not waver on safely delivering access to education. We led in our level of in-person education, even as our faculty were incredibly responsive in working with students who were unable to be on campus.

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 met the challenge — and then some. Our commitment to delivering on our mission in the future is clear 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 for research and student success. This includes the largest academic facilities project in the 154-year history of the university with the $190 million expansion and facilities transformation for the College of Engineering, including Kiewit Hall, the new Link building and the renovation of Scott Engineering Center. This year we opened Carolyn Pope Edwards Hall and expanded Barkley Center for the College of Education and Human Sciences and an expanded Schmid Law Library for Nebraska Law. It includes Neihardt Hall, the original home of the University Honors Program, as well as Kimball, Bessey, Architecture and Military & Naval Science halls. And it includes the new entrance to campus we’re creating at 11th and R streets — one rich in history — with the relocation of our iconic columns and the construction of the new Westbrook Music Building. And finally, Husker Athletics has added new gymnastics training facilities, a new track and field complex, and this summer will open the Go Big football training facility and student-athlete center on Memorial Mall.

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 a doubt increase our impact on Nebraska.

And lastly, I continue to be amazed at the generosity, commitment, and foresight of our donors and supporters — during the past seven years, contributing more than $1.1 billion in new support of students, endowed faculty, facilities and academic programs — all for their dear old Nebraska U.

I could not possibly be prouder of UNL. Thank you to our entire family of students, faculty, staff and alumni — as together, we truly have done great things.

It has been the honor of a lifetime to be able to give back to our university during these past 13 wonderful years. As my wife Jane and I eagerly commence to our next exciting phase of life with our family and faith, we look forward to being right there supporting our university in every way imaginable as it continues to transform lives.

Always, and forever — GO BIG RED!

Chancellor Ronnie Green and his wife, Jane, enjoy a ride during homecoming on Sept. 30, 2022.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Chancellor Ronnie Green and his wife, Jane, enjoy a ride during homecoming on Sept. 30, 2022.

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