University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds informed the university community today that after nearly four years leading NU through a period of transformational collaboration and momentum, he is stepping away from administration to transition to other educational and consulting work.
Bounds, a Mississippi native who became NU’s seventh president on April 13, 2015, will step down late this summer and return to the South with his family. Bounds said that after more than 20 years in executive roles, he had decided to spend his time differently going forward.
“Growing up, I never dreamed I would even go to college, much less have the opportunity to work with some of the most talented students, faculty and staff in the world,” he said. “To have been entrusted with this role by the Board of Regents is the privilege of a lifetime.
“While rewarding, this job has also been personally demanding. I have done everything I could to serve our students and the people of Nebraska effectively. Now it’s time to recharge and reconnect with my family.”
Praising the Board, chancellors, the NU and campus leadership teams, and the university’s faculty, staff, and 52,000 students, Bounds added: “I will leave knowing that the university is in good hands. When I began this job, I said the University of Nebraska had the power to change the world. With appropriate support from our partners in state government, the University can be even more impactful than ever.”
Board of Regents Chairman Tim Clare of Lincoln thanked Bounds for his leadership through times of opportunity and challenge.
“We could not have asked for a better leader than Hank Bounds. He was a tireless leader who always put the university’s interests first,” Clare said. “Hank was the right person, at the right time, for our university, and we will forever be indebted for his great work.
“Selfishly, we are despondent to see Hank and Susie leave the University, particularly after all the heavy lifting they have done to put NU in a great position. We did everything we could to change their minds, but in the end, we understand and appreciate their decision. As a husband and parent myself, I know how important it is to put family first.”
Regent Jim Pillen of Columbus, vice chairman of the Board, added: “I accepted Hank’s decision with mixed emotions. I’m happy for him and his family, but his departure is a loss for our university and state. Nevertheless, we, the Board, are full steam ahead with the priorities of collaboration, efficiency and effectiveness that Hank has put in place. Thanks to Hank, the future of our university is strong.”
Bounds’ tenure has been marked by a focus on student access and success, growth and collaboration, including:
- Continued growth in enrollment, including a record high in 2017 of nearly 53,000. Campuses have also set records in diversity as the university works to make the promise of higher education available to more students and address Nebraska’s workforce crisis.
- Record-high graduation rates. Bounds completed implementation of an academic transfer curriculum that makes 24 general education requirements transferrable among all NU campuses, state colleges and community colleges, expanding the pathway to graduation for Nebraska students. Additionally, Bounds in 2016 launched the “Commit to Complete” initiative to help students graduate on time so they can enter the workforce sooner and with as little debt as possible.
- A commitment to affordable access highlighted by average annual tuition increases of 3.2 percent. During Bounds’ tenure, average student debt on all undergraduate campuses decreased. Unduplicated headcount enrollment in University of Nebraska Online courses also has grown by 29 percent over the last four-year period, making an NU education available to more students.
- Research records that are expanding the university’s reach and impact in Nebraska and around the world in areas like agriculture, national defense, cancer and infectious disease. Research expenditures reached an all-time high of $489 million in 2017-18.
- Last summer the university, together with USSTRATCOM, announced a $92 million contract renewal with the U.S. Air Force to continue NU’s anti-terrorism work through the system-wide National Strategic Research Institute. Bounds in 2015 also announced a new “Collaboration Initiative” to bring together faculty from across campuses to build research expertise and capacity in priority areas like food for health and systems science.
- Continued focus on public-private partnership and workforce development. Bounds has called for state leaders to work together on a plan to address the 34,000 job openings in high-skill, high-demand, high-wage fields that Nebraska will have in the years ahead. He testified in support of legislation this year that would provide scholarships to students in those areas.
- Greater efficiency and collaboration among the NU campuses, including efficiencies yielded from the Budget Response Team process Bounds launched in 2017 to manage state funding reductions. Through the BRT effort, the university found $22 million in administrative reductions; unified and streamlined operational areas like human resources, purchasing, energy and facilities across the system; and protected to the greatest extent possible affordability and academic quality.
- The 2016 passage of major deferred maintenance legislation that continued the state’s partnership with the university in renewing and replacing NU facilities. Thanks to the state’s investment, the university has begun critical renovation and capital projects across the campuses that will enhance teaching, learning and research space for students and faculty. Projects include upgrades to UNL College of Engineering facilities, renovation of the Strauss Performing Arts Center at UNO, renovation of UNMC’s Wittson Hall and a new STEM building at UNK.
- The completion of key leadership searches across the university, including the appointment of UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, the addition of UNO leadership to Chancellor Jeffrey Gold’s duties, and the appointments of NU’s general counsel, chief financial officer and chief information officer.
- The launch and completion of the “Our Students, Our Future” fundraising effort with the University of Nebraska Foundation, which raised more than $200 million for scholarships and other student-focused initiatives.
Bounds came to the University of Nebraska after serving as Mississippi’s commissioner of higher education. Before that, he was a high school teacher, principal, superintendent and chief state school officer. Bounds grew up on his family’s small farm in rural Mississippi, and his service in the Army National Guard helped him pay for college.
Clare said the Board will meet soon to determine the appropriate path forward for the University of Nebraska.