UNL chancellor upbeat as new school year set to begin

With another school year about to begin at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, it was an opportune time Tuesday for UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman to tout what’s on the university’s short and long-term horizon during a visit to Norfolk.

For example, enrollment this fall looks to be strong because of a large incoming freshman class. On-campus student housing is full and the university will be welcoming 200 Brazilian students, Perlman said. Official enrollment figures will be released later.

Meanwhile, the Nebraska Innovation Campus is a work in progress, representing both a short- and long-term project, Perlman said during a visit to the Daily News. He also spoke to members of the Norfolk Rotary Club.

The short-term aspect is reflected by the fact that a grand opening will take place yet this week for the conference center at Nebraska Innovation Campus, which is the new research and technology park on Lincoln’s old Nebraska State Fairgrounds.

The center will provide multi-functional meeting and collaboration space that includes a 400-seat auditorium, 400-seat banquet room, eight breakout rooms and five catering options. It’s available for non-university groups to make use of, too, Perlman said.

The Innovation Campus is designed as a public-private partnership with a plan to be comprised of over 2.2 million square fee of research, meeting and office space at full capacity, with up to 5,000 people working on the campus.

Perlman said he’s pleased with the progress that already has been made. What has helped accelerate the work was a $25 million appropriate by the Nebraska Legislature two years ago.

“We wouldn’t have made the progress we have had without that moving things along,” he said.

Perlman said he’s pleased that ConAgra, which is based in Omaha, was the first official tenant of the research facilities on the Innovation Campus. Some of ConAgra’s scientists will be moving into research space there this fall, too.

 The company’s presence dovetails well with the fact that the university’s food science department will be based on the campus, too.

The chancellor said the campus also will include what could be described as a “maker’s space” where students will be able to “makes us of this big space to simply go in and make stuff — from welding to 3-D printing.”

Already, a student “maker’s club” on campus represents the largest student organization at UNL, he said.

On other topics:

— The process being conducted by the N.U. Board of Regents to hire a new president to succeed J.B. Milliken, who left earlier this year for a new higher education post in New York is progressing. “J.B. is a hard act to follow. He did a great job for this university,” Perlman said.

— With an eye toward the November elections, the university already has provided information and an orientation to both of Nebraska’s gubernatorial candidates, as well as candidates for the Nebraska Legislature and seats in Congress.

— The university’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources is of major importance to agriculture in Nebraska and is in the process of doing significant new hiring of staff members, which bodes well for the agriculture industry, Perlman said.

— On student debt, it’s pertinent to note that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has the lowest tuition of any Big 10 school. It’s also important to remember that aggregate figures assessing the student debt situation represent both private and public schools. The debt load of students at private schools is generally far greater than public schools.

By Kent Warneke