Speculation begins on Hank Bounds’ successor at NU; Kerrey, Sasse among names floated

Speculation begins on Hank Bounds’ successor at NU; Kerrey, Sasse among names floated
NU President Hank Bounds, center, with UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold, left, and NU Athletic Director Bill Moos before a Husker game in 2017. Gold became interim chancellor at UNO that year and is now permanent chancellor there, too. REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD

Speculation was percolating about who might replace Hank Bounds as the University of Nebraska system’s president, one day after Bounds said he would depart.

Bounds announced Monday that he would step down in the summer and move back to the South with his family.

University presidential searches typically take many months and include advertising, forming a faculty-staff search committee, hiring a search firm for national outreach and interviewing attractive candidates.

The NU Board of Regents will name an interim president.

Here are some names of potential presidents at this early stage: former Nebraska Gov. Bob Kerrey; U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse; Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor of the NU Medical Center and the University of Nebraska at Omaha; Ronnie Green, chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and Doug Kristensen, chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Granted, this exercise is as scientific as filling in the NCAA basketball bracket sheet. Through the years, the Board of Regents has hired for president outsiders, such as Bounds and L. Dennis Smith; insiders, such as Martin Massengale; and people with NU and Nebraska ties, such as J.B. Milliken.

Massengale was the longtime UNL chancellor who was NU’s president from 1990 to 1994. Milliken, an attorney, worked in NU’s central administration in the late 1980s through the late 1990s. He served as NU’s president from 2004 to 2014, then led City University of New York and is now the chancellor of the University of Texas system.

Kerrey said over the phone that he wasn’t interested and that “if they’re gonna get a geezer, they should get Warren Buffett.”

But Kerrey, 75, then said he “would be willing to talk to” the regents if they wished. “I think it’s the most important institution in the state.”

Kerrey was president of The New School in New York from 2001 to 2010. He said he has “off-the-wall” ideas such as “Medicare for All.” That would benefit public higher education by freeing the state of the high cost of Medicaid and taking the pressure off of state and local governments to furnish health insurance to employees, he said.

Sasse released a statement Monday, praising Bounds. Sasse went on, “A lot of states have schools that they’re proud of, but no state is more closely associated with its great university system than Nebraska. … Our future is bright.” Sasse’s spokesman said the statement was adequate for now.

Sasse has experience in higher education administration, having served as president of Midland University in Fremont from 2010 to 2014.

Other people mentioned as potential interim presidents or permanent presidents are Dr. James Linder, who served as NU’s interim president from 2014 to 2015 and is now chief executive officer of Nebraska Medicine; Susan Fritz, executive vice president of the NU system; Mike Boehm, vice chancellor of UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and vice president for agriculture and natural resources in the NU system; and Donde Plowman, executive vice chancellor at UNL.

“It’s all speculation right now,” Regents Chairman Tim Clare of Lincoln said. “I think all that is premature right now.”

On Friday, the board will talk about the path it desires in naming a new president, Clare said. “We haven’t talked about process as a group.”

Chris Kelly, head of UNO’s Faculty Senate, predicted that there would be internal candidates and external ones and that the process would last months. That said, he has received no information that suggests what the regents are going to do, he said.

Grace Ann Mims, UNK Faculty Senate president, said Bounds built a “culture of excellence” and promoted unprecedented collaboration among NU’s institutions. The next president “will need to continue the legacy of President Bounds.”

Paul Landow, a political science professor at UNO, said the university system needs a president who “understands the diverse goals and missions of all the campuses.”

Landow said Bounds made decisions for UNO that involved no consultation with faculty members. “I think a national search will obviously be in order,” he said.

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