‘I’ve never been more optimistic about our future’: Chris Kabourek formally installed as interim president

LINCOLN – The University of Nebraska is “full steam ahead” with its bold vision to grow and compete with the nation’s best in academics, research, athletics and student recruiting, interim President Chris Kabourek reported to the Board of Regents today.

Kabourek, who assumed the role on Jan. 1, was formally installed as interim president during today’s board meeting. The David City native and first-generation college student is an alum and 27-year veteran of the University of Nebraska.

“In my 27 years here, I have never been more optimistic about our future,” he told the board following his installation. “Yes, we are going to have to roll up our sleeves and work harder, set the bar higher, and make tougher choices – but we have a great board, a great team and incredible faculty, staff and students who I know will take us to an even higher level.

“And that’s what gets me excited to come to work every day.”

Kabourek highlighted a number of recent accomplishments in which the university will elevate its impact and competitiveness by working as a unified “Team Nebraska,” including:

  • A newly unified research reporting model under which Nebraska’s two statewide research institutions, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Nebraska Medical Center, will report their federal research expenditures together along with the Office of the President. The change immediately vaults Nebraska from approximately 122nd in the nation to about 64th.
  • A new Presidential Scholars Program that will provide full cost of attendance scholarships, plus stipends, to Nebraska students who score a perfect 36 on the ACT. The university’s goal is to raise private funds to cover students who score a 33 or above, making Nebraska more competitive for its homegrown talent.
  • A goal to connect more strongly with all Nebraska students, not just the top ACT scorers, to make sure they and their families know the university wants them to stay in the state to go to college, start their careers and grow their families.
  • Progress on major statewide projects that will impact Nebraskans well into the future, including the Douglas A. Kristensen Rural Health Education Complex at UNK, renovation of the 100-year-old Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Project Health at UNMC and ambitious goals for growth at the Peter Kiewit Institute on the UNO campus.

With an elevated research and academic profile, the University of Nebraska will be more competitive in the Big Ten and will be in a stronger position to achieve its goal to regain admission into the Association of American Universities, a coalition of the nation’s leading research institutions. Currently, all 18 members of the growing Big Ten are AAU members except Nebraska.

“In my first 40 days on the job, I can’t tell you how many Nebraskans have told me how excited they are to see the board and university be bold and public about our vision to compete,” Kabourek said. “One thing I know about Nebraskans is we’re competitors. And I think Nebraskans have been yearning to hear more of that competitive fire from their university.”

Kabourek noted that the university’s plan to elevate its competitiveness in the context of a rapidly changing and challenging higher education environment will require “bigger and bolder” thinking around structures, priorities and the best uses of limited resources. The University of Nebraska’s current structure was established in the 1960s, raising questions about whether a 50-year-old structure is still serving Nebraska effectively or whether silos are limiting the university’s ability to compete to its full potential.

Kabourek acknowledged conversations around structural change will be particularly uncomfortable. But – as stated in previous President Ted Carter’s final memo to the board before he left Nebraska – structural change will be necessary in order for the university to find resources to not only balance its budget but also reinvest in priorities and growth.

“Disruption is uncomfortable. But if we’re comfortable, we’re not making progress,” Kabourek said. “And every day that we don’t make progress is a day we risk falling behind.”

Kabourek thanked the board for its trust and leadership and credited regents for issuing a plan that puts Nebraska on offense in the face of the current challenges facing higher education instead of simply waiting for change to happen.

“I am an absolute believer that we need to take our destiny into our own hands rather than let change happen to us,” he said, challenging all members of the university community to answer the regents’ call to reject the status quo and set uncommonly high expectations.

“Now let’s go get stuff done.”