Listen: University of Nebraska President Ted Carter talks university challenges, opportunities and beer

June 26, 2023, 1:42 p.m. ·

University of Nebraska President Ted Carter
Ted Carter serves at the president of the University of Nebraska system. (Photo courtesy University of Nebraska)

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The University of Nebraska system is facing some serious challenges. Most notably, over the next two years the university is facing a $58-Million budget shortfall. William Padmore interviewed system President Ted Carter about his plans to improve the university’s financial outlook and what it's like to run a university in this unique time in history and education. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

William Padmore: In the next two years, the University expects to be $58 million in the hole. And to be proactive, you've announced a range of measures, including a 3.5% increase in tuition, $27 million in spending cuts and a freeze on hiring on all non-faculty staff. But you've also highlighted that you want to spend money on things like university ambassadors and a 3% merit pool for staff raises. You call this playing defense and offense at the same time. Can you explain a little bit more?

Ted Carter: What I meant, basically, by being able to play defense and offense at the same time, if our job was only to balance the budget every year — and we've been dealing with cuts now for well over five years, due to various different environmental conditions that we can't control sometimes — then we really wouldn't be investing in ourselves. So, the offense side is doing positive things that will promote and lift up our university and make us a national player, give us a voice in why higher education matters today. That's another national conversation, that's become pretty difficult.

Padmore: In recent years, we've seen universities across the nation — including the University of Nebraska — become battlegrounds, for political debates in wider cultural battles. How do you balance that with making sure students of all ideologies feel like the university is a safe place to express that?

Carter: First of all, public universities have to be a place for everybody. Everybody should feel welcome. I feel we're setting that culture but I also will say, as the administrative head of the university, our job is not to perpetuate or accentuate some of these cultural wars that are happening out there. A public university is really about the experiential learning for our students. They are our primary customer. I want them to have a voice. I want them to exercise their First Amendment rights. They have all of that available to them, and we don't tell them how to act, we don't tell them what to do. The only thing I say is you cannot use the University logo, or some symbol of the university to promote your political or your cultural belief.

Padmore: The University does exist within a larger cultural frame. Nebraska is a very conservative state and in the legislative session that just passed, they did pass abortion restrictions and then the (restrictions on) transgender surgeries for minors. Do you see policy like that as a challenge for recruitment in traditionally liberal spaces, like universities or not so much?

Carter: You know, I can't answer that right now. What I do know is I don't like to brand universities as a bastion of liberalism. It's a place for all open conversation and open minds' ability to grow think, grow socially, emotionally. I haven't had to deal with issues, like states like Florida and Texas, where they've actually tried to legislate what happens on campuses. So, I think my relationship with the 49 members of the unicameral, the governor, they're trusting us to do the right things for the right reasons. And I'm very appreciative of that. it is not.

Padmore: So that's not a fear for you, then?

Carter: No it is not.

Padmore: Beer! So Volleyball Day, we got beer for that. It feels like another brick in the wall for beer sales in general at Memorial Stadium. What's the news on making beer available?

Carter: Yeah. First of all, I supported that move. We've been talking about it since Volleyball Day in Nebraska was first announced — we had to wait for the regents to vote on it. I would tell Husker fans, Nebraska volleyball fans, everybody that comes in Memorial Stadium, I wouldn't expect to see beer in the stadium as a regular thing anytime soon. We've only done it last year for the Garth Brooks concert. It'll be a different experience this time. I don't expect it to be short lived, just around a concert [Volleyball day is] an all-day event. So, you know, at the end of the day, and I know there are people out there worried about what that fan experience is going to be there, I've been to a number of Husker basketball games this year where we had beer and did not see any bad behavior. I didn't see anything that a family experience wouldn't enjoy just because somebody had a cup of beer you know a couple of rows away from them.