Rodney D. Bennett was named as the priority candidate to become the 21st chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the university announced Monday morning.
NU President Ted Carter named Bennett, a 30-year veteran of higher education and former president of the University of Southern Mississippi, to the position following a six-month search.
"Put simply, Dr. Bennett is exactly the right leader at exactly the right time for our flagship university," Carter said in an email to UNL faculty, students, and staff on Monday. "He has a deep appreciation for the role and mission of public land-grant universities, and he understands well the challenges that all of us in higher education are facing — and the opportunities for universities like ours to lead the way forward."
Bennett served as the leader of Southern Miss for nearly 10 years and was the first African-American president of a predominantly white university campus in Mississippi's history.
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He'll also be the first African-American leader at UNL.
A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Bennett attended Middle Tennessee State University and Tennessee State University. He later served as the vice president for student affairs at the University of Georgia before joining Southern Miss in 2013.
At the public research university based in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Bennett oversaw 14,000 students.
The selection of a leader comes after Chancellor Ronnie Green announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2022-23 school year.
Green, who was previously the vice chancellor and vice president of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was selected over three external candidates by former NU president Hank Bounds in 2016.
His tenure at the top of UNL will last a little more than seven years before he steps down.
Following Green's announcement, Carter convened a search committee and hired AGB Search, an arm of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, to conduct "a rigorous national search" to find Green's replacement.
According to the copy of NU's contract with the firm based in Washington, D.C., the university agreed to pay the firm $95,000 to conduct the search, as well as a $5,000 "client service and support fee" as well as reimburse roughly $15,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.
That money came from state appropriations and tuition revenue.
The team leading the search for UNL's next leader included: Roderick McDavis, a former president of Ohio University; Sally Mason, president emerita of the University of Iowa; Garry Owens, founding dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Texas Tech University; and Kimberly Templeton, a principal at AGB Search.
Like searches for other top university leaders in recent years, the hunt for UNL's next chancellor was largely conducted outside of the public view.
While a 16-member Chancellor Search Advisory Committee led by Tiffany Heng-Moss, dean of UNL's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, solicited input from university stakeholders, no finalists for the job have been announced.
As the "priority candidate" under Nebraska statute, Bennett will be subject to a 30-day vetting period before his hiring can be finalized.
UNL's next chancellor will find a range of challenges meeting him when he takes over on July 1.
The state's largest university campus has seen enrollment declines in each of the past three years, resulting in the lowest number of students at UNL since 2008.
That has put financial pressure on UNL and required campus leaders to look for ways to trim the campus budget by closing open positions and moving certain programs from state-aided funding to other sources.
Bennett will also be responsible for managing several ongoing facility projects across UNL's campus, including a planned renovation of Memorial Stadium, and will oversee a growing research portfolio.
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