Greater Nebraska lost a great friend with resignation

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The chairman of the university board said his fellow regents were “despondent” over University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds’ decision to step down, and tried to persuade him to stay.

But Bounds’ decision “to put family first” seems to be entirely in character with the man we met during his first visit to Southwest Nebraska as president, in early 2015.

For those who remember when the agricultural school in Curtis was threatened with extinction, Bounds’ support was reassuring.

He lauded the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture’s ability to train students for waiting jobs with a minimum of debt.

He noted that too many students yield to the temptation to borrow more in student loans than necessary, creating an “anchor” that kept them from becoming entrepreneurs.

Many of us could relate to Bounds’ background, growing up on a farm in rural Mississippi and serving in the Army National Guard to finance degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi and a doctorate from the University of Mississippi.

NCTA has lost a great friend in Lincoln.

The same can be said for the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

“Given the budget challenges of the past two years, I can’t imagine where we would be but for Hank Bounds,” said UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen. “His legacy will be his laser focus on true workforce development across the state and the need to develop and retain high-quality, high-demand and high-paying jobs for Nebraskans.”

Kristensen noted Bounds was often seen on campus and was an advocate for rural Nebraska.

“I know of no other president who’s been as committed to our students and to Kearney as Hank.”

Under Bounds, students enrollment reached a record-high of 53,000 in 2017 and the university experienced record graduation rates.

Bounds’ “Commit to Complete” initiative aimed at helping students graduate on time to join the workforce as soon as possible with as little debt as possible.

But if students were left in better financial condition over Bounds’ tenure, the same couldn’t be said for the university itself.

As the state’s largest employer, however, the University of Nebraska is especially vulnerable to a weak economy and lower tax revenues, and Bounds could probably see the writing on the wall.

"While rewarding, this job has also been personally demanding," Bounds said. "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."

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