The 30-day vetting period for Ted Carter as priority candidate for president of the University of Nebraska ends Sunday, giving members of the Board of Regents the green light to finalize their choice.
Regents will wait until the board’s regularly scheduled Dec. 5 meeting to formally hire Carter, giving members time to review impressions of their top pick from Nebraskans of all walks of life.
Faculty representatives of two campuses -- the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska at Omaha -- won’t be among those offering an opinion on the former superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy becoming the eighth president of NU, however.
In a joint statement Thursday, the UNL and UNO chapters of the American Association of University Professors criticized the way regents conducted the search that led to Carter as one violating “long-standing principles of shared governance.”
At the urging of regents in 2016, the Legislature carved a broad exemption from the state’s public records statutes to allow NU to name a single finalist for the positions of president and chancellor, rather than name a list of four finalists.
The AAUP chapters objected to the search process as it ramped up this summer, both for the waning transparency, as well as the lack of faculty members who were appointed to participate in the search process. The chapters raised their concerns once more this week.
“With only one candidate presented to the campuses and to the public, instead of the traditional four, it is impossible to reach a conclusive position regarding the acceptability of Vice Admiral Carter’s candidacy,” the statement reads.
Previous searches for top administrators, including former NU President Hank Bounds and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, gave students, faculty, staff and all Nebraskans an opportunity to weigh and compare the qualifications of four finalists.
“Without the ability to compare one candidate to another, meaningful feedback on whether the priority candidate is the best candidate for the position is impossible,” the statement reads. “We can merely endorse the search committee’s choice or not.”
Julia Schleck, an executive committee member of the UNL chapter of the AAUP, said the search process used by regents this year nullified the opinion of faculty throughout.
Only two faculty members were appointed to serve on the 23-person committee. One of those faculty served in a leadership position as elected by their peers, while the other was appointed to the committee by regents.
“It’s unclear to us whether a negative opinion would have any impact at all,” Schleck said of the search process, “and it’s unclear if our opinions are relevant. It seems like the decision has already been made.”
Regent Jim Pillen, of Columbus, who served as chair of the search committee, disputed the notion that the choice had already been made, saying the opportunity for feedback will extend until the board meets in two weeks.
“I think it’s every individual regent’s responsibility to vote based on their experience with the candidate and their engagement with all the constituents,” Pillen said Thursday.
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Pillen added Nebraskans have had an “unprecedented” opportunity to give input and meet and interact with the finalist for the NU presidency.
Regents hosted 40 listening sessions for university stakeholders before Carter was named, and Carter attended 35 public forums during a two-week trek back and forth across the state earlier this month, attracting more than 2,500 attendees.
“The board is committed to hearing every constituent’s concerns, positive and negative,” Pillen said. “The process isn’t over.”
But Schleck said the change to state law, whether intentional or not, has chilled faculty and others from offering an opinion. The university’s prospective top leader gained unanimous support from the search committee and regents, so what incentive is there to provide feedback, she asked.
“If faculty express real reservations about the candidate, they incur the potential displeasure of the administration and the Board of Regents without getting anything out of it,” Schleck said.
In a phone interview Thursday, Carter said he would have participated in the four-finalist process. He added he understands the concerns raised by the AAUP and, if confirmed by regents, planned to work with faculty in a shared governance setting.
“I am a very open, team-building personality,” he said. “That’s how I lead.”
Carter said an anonymous letter from someone claiming to be on the Faculty Senate Executive Committee at the Naval Academy circulating among faculty across NU this week was an attempt to unfairly malign his reputation as regents near a decision.
The unsigned letter, provided to the Journal Star, claims statements of support from faculty members at the Naval Academy included in his biography on the NU website are “something of a whitewash” of Carter’s record.
And it disputes Carter’s claims that he made himself available to faculty. It says he ran the academy “as a top-down hierarchical operation” rather than as the more democratic, shared-governance model, and was unengaged in the academic mission of the institution.
The letter writer feared retribution if they spoke publicly, but added they never had any negative personal interactions with Carter. The writer accuses him of leaving the Naval Academy “arguably a lesser, weaker institution than when he assumed command” and of accomplishing little during his tenure.
Carter responded on Thursday saying the letter was “full of exaggerations, smears, and in some places, is patently false.”
As superintendent, Carter said he “had very good relationships with the faculty,” meeting monthly with the faculty senate president and others, attending brown bag lunches with academic faculty and leading tenure and promotion ceremonies.
He said if hired he would work to learn how he could empower faculty here: “I get the uniqueness of system president. It’s much more complicated and I have great respect for that.”
But he said it was too early to commit to shared governance proposals put forward by the UNL and UNO chapters of the AAUP in their joint statement.
Those proposals include changing state policy to allow appointment of faculty regents; appointing faculty senate presidents or their designee to search committees for all senior administration positions; and adopting changes to Board of Regents’ bylaws clarifying policies and procedures for faculty suspensions.