On Jan. 1, Walter “Ted” Carter became the eighth president of the University of Nebraska. He came to Nebraska from the U.S. Naval Academy his alma mater where, as superintendent, he oversaw record graduation rates, growth in student diversity and successful philanthropic partnerships. Carter previously served as president of the U.S. Naval War College.
Carter and his wife, Lynda, are settling into their new lives as Nebraskans. He recently spoke about his early impressions of the University of Nebraska, his goals for the future and the unexpected challenge of guiding the university community through the COVID-19 pandemic.
You’ve had an opportunity to spend time on the University of Nebraska’s campuses and meet many of the students, faculty and staff. What are your initial observations?
I said on Day 1 that the University of Nebraska presidency was one of the best jobs in American higher education. Today I’m even more convinced of that.
Something special is happening here. I see it in our 51,000 students, the next generation of entrepreneurs, farmers and ranchers, nurses and doctors, teachers, scientists and artists. I see it in our amazing faculty and staff, who are leading the world in feeding a hungry population, fighting infectious disease and keeping our men and women in uniform safe. I see it in the ambitious plans for growth in UNL’s engineering college that will place us in elite company, and in the new STEM education building at UNK that’s going to be a game-changer for rural Nebraska’s workforce.
And I see it in the partnerships that have extended the reach and impact of the university far beyond what any of us could accomplish alone. Our visionary and generous philanthropic partners, of course, are at the top of that list. Donors are making it possible for us to achieve our goal to make Nebraska the best place in the nation to be a baby, for example. They built our flagship campus’ business college and helped stand up world-leading facilities dedicated to care and infectious disease. And they have made the promise of a college education a reality for countless young people the greatest gift of all. To say that we are grateful for our donors is an understatement. They, along with our public partners and many others, have made the University of Nebraska what it is today.
The coronavirus is having a tremendous impact. Speak about the university’s response to the pandemic. What’s it like to be president at a time of so much uncertainty?
We’re thinking 24 hours a day, seven days a week about all those affected by this situation, starting with our students, faculty and staff. The resilience and dedication that I have seen from our community through this period has been inspiring. I’m seeing faculty think creatively about how to continue to deliver the highest-quality education in new and different ways. I’m seeing staff ask every possible question to make sure students are cared for. And, of course, I’m seeing UNMC featured on a daily basis in the national headlines for our leadership in battling infectious disease. I am so proud to call myself a Nebraskan. This is a challenging time for us as for people around the world but I believe our strengths as a student-focused university will see us through.
You’ve been working hard on a five-year strategic plan for the university system. What can you share at this time?
We’ve necessarily hit the pause button on some of our planning given the current circumstances. But my enthusiasm about our future hasn’t changed. I think that when we do roll out our plan, it’s going to get people across the country to sit up and say, “Wow. Did you see what the University of Nebraska is doing?”
UNO was just selected by the Department of Homeland Security after a highly competitive process to lead a national counterterrorism research center. We want to see more of this is the kind of landmark achievement.
I’m blessed to be surrounded by so many people who care deeply about their university and share in the belief that we can be the preeminent higher education system in the country. Even as we navigate these uncertain times, I know I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Together, we are going to chart a strong future for our university.