KEARNEY — Ted Carter said he grew up in a small town in Rhode Island, and that he feels right at home in Kearney.
“I wanted to come to Kearney first,” Carter told a room filled with 200 students, faculty and staff Friday at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. It was his first public appearance in what will be a 30-day vetting process that will take him to every corner of Nebraska and may conclude with his appointment as the eighth president of the University of Nebraska system.
The immediate past superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, Carter also met Friday with UNK faculty and the Faculty Senate. He and his wife, Lynda, were scheduled earlier today (Saturday) for a 9 a.m. meet-and-greet with community and business leaders at Cunningham’s on the Lake, 610 Talmadge St. Today’s event is open to the public.
“It’s important to go out and listen to the people of Nebraska,” said Carter, who labeled himself a change agent and said being a good listener is his best tool to give everyone a voice and opportunity to contribute to change.
A 38-year U.S. Navy veteran who grew up in a family of educators and married one, he said the NU system and its campuses at Kearney, Omaha and Lincoln cannot succeed unless they attract students and help them succeed. Nebraska’s shrinking pool of college-age students is a challenge, he said, but he believes NU can attract students nationally and internationally.
Carter invited questions from the students, faculty and staff.
Asked about his philosophy on diversity, he said his military experiences taught him about leading crews of varied backgrounds and demographics. “In the Navy, we found we could bring diverse groups to our door, but how do we get them to succeed?”
The answer was to give opportunities for inclusion and leadership to every group.
At the Naval Academy, the enrollment was 40 percent diverse, and the 2019 graduation rate was 90 percent. Carter said UNK’s student diversity is impressive, but UNK should work toward diversity of faculty and staff.
Asked about technology’s role, he said today’s students represent the first generation that has known nothing but high-speed internet, so they expect their university will be as technologically advanced as they are, but the university must prepare them for the explosion of technology that’s ahead.
Campuses that aren’t on the cutting edge will be irrelevant, he said.
While it changes the world, technology also is harming young people. He said cyberbullying and other abuses are taking a toll on mental and emotional health.
Carter said he led a two-year naval study of the causes of suicide and how to prevent it.
“Mental health is a real issue, and everyone needs to have an understanding,” he said. “Three elements must be present for suicide: a sense of isolation, a loss of self-worth and the means to harm yourself.”
Jim Pillen, the NU regent from Columbus who led the 23-member presidential search committee, said after reviewing candidates, the committee polled itself and Carter was the unanimous choice to become NU’s priority candidate to replace Hank Bounds.
Pillen thanked UNK’s search committee members: Kearney businessman Tom Henning, associate professor Dawn Mollenkopf and Dean of Student Affairs Gilbert Hinga. Nicole Kent, student body president and student regent, also was on the search committee.
Pillen, who is the regents vice chair, said he is pleased with the outcome of the NU president search.
“To even be considered to lead the U.S. Naval Academy you have to be the best of the best, and to be selected to actually lead it, you need to be several notches above that,” Pillen said.