WASHINGTON — Bob Kerrey has a new gig.
The former Nebraska senator will head the new nonprofit arm of the San Francisco-based for-profit Minerva Project, which bills itself as a new approach to higher education.
Kerrey flew to San Francisco on Monday for the unveiling of the Minerva Institute for Research and Scholarship. The Minerva Project will begin holding classes in 2015 and says it will provide an Ivy League education while reducing the price tag.
Kerrey is still mapping out exactly what the new job will entail.
“If Minerva is successful, it will have a very, very positive impact on higher education in America in lots of ways,” he told The World-Herald. “The objective is to create a truly outstanding, high-quality university at a much lower cost than what is currently being done.”
He said he met Minerva's CEO, Ben Nelson — no relation to the former Nebraska senator — a couple of years ago, was impressed with his plans and joined Minerva's advisory board.
Finding ways to reduce the cost of higher education was a priority for him during the 10 years he ran the New School in New York — efforts that earned him admirers as well as critics.
Kerrey said he doesn't think his new job will affect his role as president emeritus of the New School. That position pays between $400,000 and $600,000 a year.
The Minerva job will take up about a fifth of his time and can be done largely from New York, he said.
Kerrey, a Democrat, made an unsuccessful bid last year to reclaim his old job of representing Nebraska in the Senate, losing to Republican Deb Fischer, a rancher from Valentine.
Following the loss, Kerrey announced he would be splitting his time between New York and Nebraska, where he still owns businesses, because his wife's sister had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to be close to her.
Kerrey said Monday that he still has the house in the Memorial Park neighborhood in Omaha that he bought last year — it's still under renovation — and that his sister-in-law is doing well.
He is still figuring out what else he wants to put on his plate, but in the meantime he has rejoined the board of Tenet Health and is working on a book that will include some material from his most recent campaign.
He said he has put down about 50,000 words, unedited.
“A lot of it will be about the need to change Congress,” Kerrey said.
He has been watching the debate over former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense. Hagel endorsed Kerrey's Senate bid.
Kerrey suggested that critics of Hagel are trolling for anything they can throw at him.
“Next thing you know, we'll probably be hearing they saw him wearing white socks with a suit, he doesn't know how to render a right hand salute, I don't know,” Kerrey said. “You look at him on paper and you look at him personally, and he's perfect for the job. My expectation is he'll get confirmed.”
One of the latest suggestions from Hagel critics is that he doesn't have the temperament for a role as high profile and sensitive as defense secretary — a suggestion Kerrey rejected.
“He's a pussycat,” he said.
Senators will certainly grill Hagel about his views on everything from Middle East policy to defense budget cuts, but Kerrey said he hopes the process doesn't deteriorate into unnamed former aides complaining that Hagel once raised his voice at them.
“There's a lot of generals that wouldn't make the grade then,” Kerrey said.
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