Interim president testifies on tenure, DEI, scholarship bills

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Interim president testifies on tenure, DEI, scholarship bills

D. B. and Paula Varner Hall

Chris Kabourek, interim president, testified before the Legislature’s Education Committee this week on three key bills impacting the University of Nebraska:

LB1064, which would eliminate tenure at Nebraska’s public higher education institutions.

In testifying in opposition to the bill, Kabourek said that while he wants to have rigorous annual review and post-tenure review processes to ensure all faculty and staff are held to high performance standards, eliminating tenure would hamstring the university’s ability to recruit and retain top talent.

“Put simply, eliminating tenure would tie both our hands behind our backs at the very time our university is setting high aspirations to compete with the best of the best,” he told the committee. “Tenure is a crucial benefit for faculty who have put in years of work to earn it.”

Kabourek noted that no other Big Ten university, nor any institution in the prestigious Association of American Universities that Nebraska aims to rejoin, is without tenure.

“Nebraska can’t afford to become a club of one.”

LB1330, which would prohibit Nebraska’s public higher education institutions from requiring certain programs, taking certain actions, or spending state funds related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

The University of Nebraska opposes the bill on the grounds that constitutional authority to govern the university is vested in the Board of Regents.

Kabourek said that as president, his job is to listen to the voices of all students, faculty, staff and Nebraskans and work with the Board to determine the university’s path forward.

“I think all Nebraskans are aligned around the idea that every single young person should be able to chase their dreams here,” he said.

LB1388, which would match private fundraising with state funds for scholarships for the state’s top ACT scorers.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Eliot Bostar of Lincoln, aims to help reverse Nebraska’s brain drain and entice more top students to stay in Nebraska for college.

In testifying in support of the bill, Kabourek noted that it aligns with the University of Nebraska’s new Presidential Scholars Program, announced last week in partnership with Gov. Jim Pillen. The program will provide full cost of attendance scholarships, plus stipends, to Nebraska students who score a perfect 36 on the ACT.

The university’s goal is to raise private funds to expand the scholarship to students who score a 33 and above.

Kabourek said he’s received an incredibly positive response from students and families since the new scholarship was announced. Currently the university loses 80 percent of students who score a 36.

“I want to see us flip that ratio on its head and get 80 percent of Nebraska’s 5-star students to stay right here in our great state,” he said. “To do that, we absolutely have to get more competitive on scholarships. Nebraska’s best and brightest have their choice of where to go to school, and we need to send a strong message that we want them here and we are not satisfied to be outcompeted for our own kids.”

Following bill hearings, legislative committees decide whether to advance, amend and advance, or not advance a bill. Bills that advance to the full Legislature must pass three rounds of debate before they are sent to the governor’s desk for consideration.

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