Bounds: University plays major role in national security
McCOOK, Neb. — Although the University of Nebraska is known for football, it’s also home to one of the best-kept secrets in the state, especially for the U.S. Department of Defense.
The National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska is on the forefront of finding ways to combat weapons of mass destruction, including researching ways ISIS uses and recruits on social media and finding ways to control infectious diseases like Ebola, according to Hank Bounds, NU president.
NSRI is the only university-affiliated research center in the country with a focus specifically on combating weapons of mass destruction and was recently renewed with a five-year, $92 million contract with the U.S. Air Force, for research into nuclear detection and forensics and detection of chemical and biological weapons.
It’s a big deal to the government, the state and to the university and one that few people realize, Bounds said in his stop in McCook on Monday, as part of his state-wide tour of the university’s 500-mile wide campuses and facilities.
With the university celebrating 150 years this year, the university system is just as important now as it was then, Bounds said, with global as well as local impacts.
The university is not an entity unto itself, Bounds maintained, but involved with state concerns as well, from groundbreaking research into agriculture production, such as entomology issues affecting wheat. It also produces most of the medical professionals and teachers in the state.
The importance of higher education to the state goes far as it does deep, he said, believing that nothing changes a person’s trajectory more than college. It’s something he knows firsthand: growing up poor in Mississippi and now the president of a university, “speaks to the transformative power of education,” he said.
That’s why the recent nine percent cut in state funds to the university, about $60 million, is more than a little disconcerting to Bounds, who also met with Dist. 44 State Senator Dan Hughes during his swing through western Nebraska. State government spends a lot of money on a lot of things, he said, but there’s a practical return on every dollar invested in the university in the form of graduating students living and working in Nebraska. Academic programs were protected despite three cuts from the state within 18 months, Bounds said, although this may not be the case if state funds are reduced further as indicated by the state legislature this past session.
The impacts of additional cuts could affect the state in many ways, he said, such as limiting extension offices, that provide services to farmers and ranchers and pulling back on satellite campuses that train nurses and other medical staff.
It’s important for the state to fund the university at an appropriate level, he said, as “it’s not a good but necessary investment.”
Still, whatever the state legislature decides, Bounds said the university will manage with whatever resources are provided, although as far as academic programs go, “everything will be on that table” if it comes to cutting programs.
Tuition rates at the university have remained the same the past two years, he said, although there was a three percent increase this year. Still, UNL rates are only 50 percent than those at other Big 10 colleges, Bounds said, and 30 percent at UNO and UNK compared nationally.
Bound’s trek across Nebraska started at the eastern end of the state with Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, across and down to university campuses in Lincoln and Kearney and across the western part of Nebraska up to the panhandle to research stations, an ag school, extension offices and health science training schools.
It’s a long drive but Bounds said he enjoyed it. “I love driving across the state, I think it’s beautiful,” he said.