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2007.10.12 > For Immediate Release
contact: Wendy Townley - University Relations
phone: 402.554.2762 - email:

KU Chancellor Praises Christensen's Efforts at Installation Ceremony

Below are the remarks delivered by University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway during the installation ceremony for UNO Chancellor John Christensen Oct. 9, 2007.

“Investiture of John Christensen, UNO Chancellor”

I am honored to be asked to speak at John Christensen’s investiture as the 14th Chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

I share with John the honor of being a UNO graduate, although my UNO undergraduate degree, in 1963, came when the university was known as OU, Omaha University.

Just for the record, John’s Ph.D. comes from a university to the South, the University of Kansas, known by virtually all Jayhawks as KU.

So far as I know, Omaha University, which was sometimes called The Municipal University of Omaha, was never called MUO.  I cite all of these alphabetics to show you what a tough job the chancellor’s position can be.  We have to keep a lot of things straight.  Before I became chancellor at KU, I was chancellor of the University of Kentucky, known as UK.  I worried for all of my first year at Kansas that I would slip and refer to KU as UK.  So just remember these are tough jobs.

When I attended Omaha University in 1962-63, it was a bustling place, known as a university that delivered a very good education.  It was a student centered university, and I am pleased to note that it still is.  In my chosen field, the literary profession, it was a terrific place to learn.

I still have my heavily marked anthology of British Romantic poetry, from which Ralph Wardle, the legendary Chairman of the English Department, taught students to love Wordsworth.

J. Stanley Crickett taught me, and scores of “boot strapping” army officers to relish English history.  I began to affect a British accent like his.  My parents, life-long Nebraskans who actually had shucked corn by hand, born and bred in Antelope County, were startled to hear me refer to my course assignments as a “sheddyule.”  They were afraid I was on my way to being a dilettante.

In those days we were all commuters.  There may have been dormitories, but if so I never saw any or knew where they were.  We commuted because we worked, and we worked because we needed the money.  I worked as a telephone solicitor, one of those noxious people who call at dinner time.  I sold fiberglass awnings to those home owners west of 72nd Street because in those neighborhoods in 1963, there was a shortage of trees tall enough to shade houses from the afternoon sun.

Today, in an era of Omaha’s mid-city revitalization, when the race horses are gone to make way for the A K-Sarben Village, as students talk about wanting a metropolitan university educational experience, it is easy to see how much change has occurred, and why progress has come.

Omaha has understood, for over 100 years, the economic necessity of having a vibrant university in Nebraska’s largest city.  Knowing that UNO graduates add 1.6 billion dollars and 4,000 jobs annually to the regional economy, it becomes clear why UNO is important to the city.

We need to keep that regional economy, and the university’s place in it, in perspective.  Omaha needs a strong university today because the competition is global.

I note that Dr. Christensen has spent a year as a visiting professor at Beijing Normal University, and I have read from UNO’s alumni magazine of the university’s involvement with Afghanistan.  The international reach of all universities is going to be challenged as we go forward in the 21st Century.  The challenge to the university can be simply stated.  The only great universities of the 21st Century will be international universities, and we must stay focused on the international dimension of our curriculum.  It is the only way we can prepare a competitive work force for the next century.  Our students deserve our best efforts to make them competitive and globally successful.

Simply put, the university must be a center of knowledge for a knowledge based economy.  The traditional tension between teaching and research at public universities will diminish in the 21st Century because all universities will be expected to contribute to the nation’s ability to innovate, add new discoveries to the storehouse of information available to us, and render us competitive in a world where China and India will always have access to more human capital than the United States.  If economist Jeffrey Sachs is correct, that an end to world poverty by 2015 can be achieved by meeting the millennium development goals of the United Nations, there will be created more opportunity for global cooperation and economic partnership than has ever been possible before.

It is a time when universities have to think about what it takes to create a great university, not just a good university.  Being good will not be good enough for the 21st Century. 

You have chosen a new chancellor who is wise and committed to this task.  I believe he will be an excellent leader.  In the interests of sharing a vision for the future, I suggest ten characteristics of a great university, which will help UNO be a beacon for Omaha and the future.

A great university welcomes all peoples, respecting their differences, while teaching tolerance for each human being; a great American university demonstrates the value of a diverse and democratic way of life.

A great university creates new knowledge of the world and its peoples, its capacity for research a manifestation of its belief that the discovery of new knowledge ensures a better future.

A great university believes in the sanctity of the relationship between student and teacher, the sharing of knowledge in this communion resulting in the best possible hope for human progress.

A great university recognizes its obligation to contribute to an educated workforce for the society that supports it, particularly responding to labor shortages as they occur in that society.

A great university serves society.  It helps to ensure food, shelter, and health care for all people.  It supports a self-sustaining natural environment, the perpetuation of public education, an affordable health care system, and economic well-being.

A great university is an international university, one whose programs have an impact on the entire world because its faculty think beyond local and national borders, and its students understand a world where ideas and capital flow easily across geographical borders.

A great university recognizes the wisdom of investing in the human development of the work force, so that each employee is able to pursue personal and professional goals without institutional obstacles. A great university has no glass ceiling.

A great university recognizes the physical legacy that it passes to the generation who will work and study there in the future and therefore maintains, preserves, and enhances its buildings and physical setting.

A great university recognizes its responsibility to conserve the public and private monies that enable it to educate, research and serve.  The public trust that accompanies those funds demands that they be allocated so as to achieve maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

A great university is one that has identified its priorities and planned with sufficient intelligence to ensure that those priorities receive the resources necessary for their accomplishment.

It is a wonderful time to become a chancellor of an American university.  The future beckons.  I welcome John Christensen to the promise of the task, and I urge you to support him as he goes forth to climb the mountain that you offer him.  He will need your help, but rest assured that he and UNO are worthy of your trust.


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