Two years ago, to celebrate the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s 150th year, Chancellor Ronnie Green asked students, faculty and staff at the state’s flagship campus to imagine the university’s next quarter-century.
Last year, during his State of the University address, Green unveiled the results of a yearlong strategic planning process, setting six goals for UNL to shoot for, including improving the student experience, increasing the impact of research and solving challenges.
At that time, the coronavirus had yet to arrive in Nebraska, and the biggest push for racial justice since the civil rights movement of the 1960s had not yet begun.
“Little did we know the breadth of what was in store,” Green said of the last 12 months in Monday’s State of the University address. “In fact, we never could have imagined 2020.”
Looking back during the hourlong speech delivered remotely, Green thanked the UNL faculty and staff who kept education, research and extension efforts going after the shutdown last spring, and helped plan for the return of students this fall.
Green also heaped praise on students for doing what was needed during a once-in-a-lifetime event.
“This is not the university collegiate experience you signed up for,” he said, “but you, too, have been incredibly resilient and dedicated.”
Despite the pandemic and the challenges it created, UNL experienced success over the last year, Green said.
The university saw a jump in the number of students taking summer courses; experienced a smaller enrollment loss than many other postsecondary institutions across the country; and offered additional classes in the winter break that were popular among students.
It also set a record in research expenditures, ranked among the top 100 nationally in patents obtained and moved forward on infrastructure projects and program initiatives, while also trimming $38 million from its state-aided budget.
Green said while UNL could have spent the year simply treading water, campus leaders and faculty “continued to chart a strategic path forward” for the university.
This year, UNL will fully implement a new incentive-based budget model, in which tuition dollars will follow students to their various academic colleges.
After the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the nationwide demonstrations for racial justice that took place, including in Lincoln, Green also convened what he described as a “long-term journey” toward anti-racism.
The process aims to improve how UNL addresses issues of race, privilege and power on campus, and is charged with developing a method to review bias incidents, among other tasks.
“Making progress to be more inclusive, anti-racist and to achieve racial equity is not the work of a single group or department,” Green said. “It falls to all of us to be committed and engaged.”
Green also highlighted seven “grand challenges,” or areas where UNL wants to focus its research and creative activity. They were selected at the end of a collaborative process conducted in 2020. They are:
* Sustainable water and food security: “We have the opportunity to help transform the agriculture and food systems of tomorrow, integrating innovations based on the ag and food biome, big data, biotechnology, precision agriculture, and food technology and nutrition sciences to promote economically and environmentally sustainable food systems.”
* Early childhood education and development: “UNL has an opportunity to transform the systems which impact children’s development, and help ensure their developmental trajectories, and our futures, are on positive pathways.”
* Climate change mitigation and resilience: “Coordinated efforts at UNL can lead to the development, adoption and application of tools to mitigate risk and the crises that result from drought, extreme weather, and changes in agricultural production and human health.”
* Quantum science and engineering: “Just as UNL has led for decades in physics and quantum science, we have the opportunity to continue to be at the nexus of this new, globally competitive effort to develop potentially transformative quantum-based applications.”
* Anti-racism and racial equality: “Our scholarly work should focus on minimizing the negative consequences of racism on the physical and mental health of individuals and communities. And we can identify ways to inoculate and/or reduce bias and discrimination in individuals across their lifespan within their social environment through our policies, our research and the outworking of our core values.”
* Health equity: “Through interdisciplinary approaches, we can examine underlying factors impacting health equity from the cellular, individual and societal levels, and we can make an impact in the health years lived and well-being of the people of Nebraska and the world.”
* Science and technology literacy: “Scientific advancements raise ethical questions or challenge deeply held beliefs, which can cause individuals and groups to question the credibility of science and be more susceptible to misinformation. Scientists and engineers must address this through education and information that advances scientific and technological literacy.”