SENIOR STAFF WRITER
Chancellor John Christensen sums up his career at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and a ten-year run as chancellor at Omaha’s university by saying he is the luckiest guy in the world. Christensen announced last week that the run was coming to an end, that he would retire next year. Being Chancellor was his “dream job,” as he said in his announcement, but some dreams come to an end, or at least move over in favor of other dreams.
Christensen will retire in June after a decade as chancellor. But Christensen didn’t just spend a decade here, he dedicated nearly 40 years of his life to the UNO campus. Starting out as a master’s student in speech-language pathology, and returning after he earned his Ph.d in Kansas, Christensen worked as a professor and faculty member until being named interim chancellor in 2006.
As a chancellor, it would be no stretch to say that he oversaw an incredibly important time in our university’s history. In the decade he has been in the office, the university has hit new highs in student body diversity and enrollment. The sports program has undergone a tumultuous transition to Division I competition, qualified for the Frozen Four in hockey, added a brand new soccer program that has rapidly improved, installed the NCAA Division I’s only FIFA two-star certified soccer pitch in Caniglia field and constructed a dedicated multi-use arena in Baxter Arena, where President Obama was invited to speak. The Biomechanics Research Building was also constructed during Christensen’s time as chancellor, and a team working at the new facility attracted the university’s largest research grant to date at $10.1 million.
Of course, Christensen would be the first to tell you that he didn’t do it alone.
“This campus has transformed because of the faculty and staff and the community’s support for our kids,” Christensen said in his retirement announcement last week.
Perhaps that’s Christensen’s greatest legacy: no authoritarian great leaps forward, but a steady process of collaboration that has reaped great rewards for the student body and the Omaha community at large. Perhaps that collaborative style of leadership will be greatly missed when a new chancellor is found.
These pages have been mildly critical of the chancellor in the recent past, focusing on problems in communication and representation to the student body, a critique the chancellor’s office seemed to be receptive to. Criticisms notwithstanding, nobody could question Christensen’s commitment to the university, and the accomplishments of that university under his leadership. Will the next chancellor be as committed?
University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds announced his intent to start a nationwide search for Christensen’s successor. But after seeing so much success with a local boy made good, a first-generation UNO alumni, professor and administrator-turned-chancellor, how far do we need to look for his successor?
Nancy Belck, the chancellor who Christensen replaced after her office was revealed to have misappropriated funds and altered financial reporting, did not share Christensen’s ties to the university. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to suggest that someone who has grown up in the city and spent nearly 40 years at the university would be more likely to treat the office of chancellor with dedication and accountability. Bounds doesn’t need to search across the nation for someone who can follow in Christensen’s footsteps as a dedicated, collaborative leader. We have everything we need right here.