His experience as a vice admiral in the U.S. Navy, as well as other major assignments, have prepared Walter “Ted” Carter to be the next president of the University of Nebraska.
Carter and his wife, Lynda, were in North Platte on Monday meeting with residents during a 30-day public review period before the NU Board of Regents votes on his appointment.
“I want to see the faces, not the spaces,” Carter told a group at a breakfast hosted by the North Platte Chamber and Development Corp. “We really wanted to meet the people and have a conversation with them about what’s important.”
He said it was no surprise, but education is at the top of the list.
“Agriculture research and technology and where it’s going and the idea that we don’t lose our core values of what agriculture has always meant to the University of Nebraska system,” Carter said, “and I’ve heard that loud and clear.”
He said he is excited to learn more about the culture.
“I think the priorities are going to continue to be on attracting students,” Carter said. “Whether they’re here in Nebraska — obviously, a high percentage of Nebraskans go to the University of Nebraska system schools — or to find the right mechanisms to attract out-of-state students to come to Nebraska.”
Carter said he talked with the regents about many things higher academia is challenged with across the country.
“Applications at a lot of state universities are starting to go flat or down,” Carter said. “The population of students coming directly out of high school ready to go to a four-year university or college are dropping down.”
Some of the focus, he said, is not only to attract students to the system, but to keep them in those colleges and then show them the path to work in Nebraska.
“There’s about a 15,000-person deficit to go into science, technology, engineering and math skills,” Carter said. “There’s a certain amount of talent here in Nebraska that has found ways to go work somewhere else.”
He said Nebraska has “fantastic” educational programs.
“National reputations at Kearney, at Lincoln, Omaha, at the Med Center and what I saw at Curtis yesterday was eye-opening to me,” Carter said, referring to the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture.
Carter said for high school graduates who might not be ready to go directly into a four-year school, there are other possibilities.
“We may be able to work on a mechanism where we can put those students into (the community colleges),” Carter said, “or at Curtis to give them that two-year path to get an associate’s degree, then have those handshake agreements to get them to those four-year universities.”
Carter said he looks forward to the opportunity of leading the University of Nebraska system.
“First of all, we’re super excited and truly humbled by not only the reception we’ve received by Nebraskans, but by the search committee, Board of Regents and the faith that they have put in myself and my wife, Lynda, to be their priority candidate,” Carter said. “This is now the next calling of our life to come here to Nebraska.”
When he got the call telling him he was the priority candidate, Carter said, his response was emotional.
“I don’t get very emotional,” Carter said. “I’ve been flying off aircraft carriers and doing a lot of crazy stuff for a long time, I kind of keep a straight head.”
But he said this was that big of a deal for him.
“We’ve had an amazing time,” Carter said. “I’m very excited about not only what Nebraska will do for our country, but for our world.”
Carter shared some of his experiences during his stint in the Navy. His first tour of duty was on the U.S.S. Midway.
“Then I had the privilege of going to this program called the Navy Fighter Weapons School in 1985,” Carter said. “So this is the ‘Top Gun’ movie that you’ve heard about.”
He said he was there when the movie began filming there.
“I was actually Tom Cruise’s escort when he first came to the Naval Air Station in San Diego,” Carter said.
Now retired, the vice admiral spent the past five years as superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. He was president of the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island for a year before that.
While participating in a community forum at the West Central Nebraska Research and Extension Center later Monday morning, Carter addressed the group, composed largely of agriculture producers, agribusiness leaders and Extension personnel, regarding the land grant mission.
“This whole university system was founded on the land grant concept. We should never lose that core value throughout any of our campuses,” he said.
He cited the extensive research being conducted across the University of Nebraska system and how that land grant concept can benefit not just the state, but the world.
“Climate change, it’s real, it’s happening,” he said. “Food production and quantity is not just a Nebraska problem, it’s a world problem. By 2050 it is estimated many coastal populations of the world will be displaced by rising sea levels. That’s going to bring populations closer to the centers of their continents, resulting in changes in food patterns and more. The University of Nebraska will be more relevant than ever before.”
Carter said he is excited about learning about this state. Although he and Lynda are widely traveled after 38 years in the Navy, he has never lived here.
“The whole draw for me for coming to Nebraska is knowing how genuine the people are,” he said. “I have a passion for education, learning and storytelling. Where I can be an asset is learning about how you do what you do. You see Lynda and I not just in Lincoln and Omaha, you will see us out west. I don’t sit in a chair very long, very well. Getting out and meeting the people is important. There are a lot of long roads and small airports in this big state.”
Freelance writer Barb Batie contributed to this report.