UNL chancellor priority candidate meets with Nebraska students

UNL chancellor priority candidate meets with Nebraska students
Rodney Bennett, priority candidate for chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, participated in two student-centered forums on Thursday, June 8, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
June 9th, 2023 | Zach Wendling, Nebraska Examiner

LINCOLN — Students gave nods of approval Thursday to Rodney Bennett, the priority candidate for chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, at a pair of student-focused forums. Rodney Bennett, priority candidate for chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

For more than two hours, Bennett met with undergraduate and graduate students from UNL. He committed to examining the minimum stipend for graduate students, ensuring students have input in major decisions and fostering community among all stakeholders.

Mahima Rasquinha, a graduate student, spoke at both forums and asked Bennett, the former University of Southern Mississippi president, what was next after UNL, including whether Nebraska was a “stepping stone.”

Bennett said he planned early on to work until he was 67, with his plan to work at Nebraska for about 10 years and retire at 67. Bennett is 56; his birthday is Aug. 15.

“I think I’ve seen and heard enough to know that you would be a good fit here at UNL, and that you would be able to help us,” Rasquinha told Bennett.

Possible unionization

Thursday was the fourth day in a week-long series of nearly 20 public forums, all part of a 30-day public review period Bennett is required to complete per state law. Katie Mowat, president of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Graduate Student Assembly, moderates a student forum for Rodney Bennett, priority candidate for UNL chancellor on  Thursday. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Leaders of undergraduate and graduate student governing bodies moderated two respective forums.

University of Nebraska President Ted Carter announced Bennett on May 22 as the priority candidate to succeed UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, who plans to retire at the end of June.

The NU Board of Regents would give final approval.

One graduate student broached the topic of unions on campus, particularly for graduate students. While talks have been going on for a while and there are unions at NU’s Omaha and Kearney campuses, the student said, there has been little progress at UNL.

Bennett said he wants to create a culture where people do not feel that unions are their only option to “get the minimum things that they need to be successful here.” 

However, should graduates form a union, Bennett said he wouldn’t stand in the way.

“I’m very interested in not creating toxic environments and opportunities where it’s just drama-filled and it’s just not even worth it at a certain point,” Bennett said. “If we are unionized, I can work within that union, because I’m always going to do the right thing. And I’m always going to put your interests at the forefront.”

‘You are in charge of your own destiny’

Jerome Okojokwu-idu, a graduate student, asked Bennett if there were any flaws the UNL community should know now before he becomes chancellor.

Bennett pointed to his undergraduate transcripts, which feature multiple failed courses in his first few years at Middle Tennessee State University. Paul Pechous, student body president of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, moderates a student forum for Rodney Bennett, priority candidate for UNL chancellor on Thursday, June 8, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

However, Bennett said he turned those grades around from an 18-year-old kid, which taught him that no matter where people are in life, no matter how bad the scenario looks, it’s not the end.

“You are in charge of your own destiny,” Bennett said. “And at any moment, like that 18-year-old kid that I was almost 40 years ago, you have an opportunity to turn your situation around and do something pretty spectacular that leads and inspires and encourages other people that they too can do it.”

If approved as chancellor, Bennett said there will be difficult decisions ahead, including budgetary decisions where things will have to come off the table.

However, he said students will have a voice along the way. This could include the student body president or other student representatives.

“You all are the fundamental reason I’m here,” Bennett told students. “My work is centered around your success.”

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