Former Southern Miss president announced as priority candidate for next UNL chancellor

Former Southern Miss president announced as priority candidate for next UNL chancellor
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 11:53 AM CDT|Updated: May. 22, 2023 at 7:25 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The University of Nebraska-Lincoln named Rodney D. Bennettt, the former president of the University of Southern Mississippi for nearly a decade, as the priority candidate for the next chancellor.

Bennettt, a 30-year veteran of higher education with a track record of growing research, student success and impactful partnerships, was the Southern Mississippi’s president from 2013 to 2022 where he led the university’s reclassification from a Carnegie R2 to an R1 university. The designation made Southern Miss one of only 14 R1 institutions in the country that also compete at the NCAA Division I level and maintain accreditation in all four major areas of the arts.

Additionally, Bennett also invested in programs to support student recruitment, retention and outcomes, including for the 30 percent of Southern Miss students who are first-generation. This led to declines among students who earned grades D or lower, or opted for withdrawals in science and history courses, and Southern Miss’ overall six-year graduation rate improved.

“We launched this search with a goal of finding the right leader who could articulate an ambitious vision for Nebraska’s flagship university. Dr. Rodney Bennett is that leader,” Ted Carter, president of the University of Nebraska system said. “At every turn during his impressive career, Dr. Bennett has made his institution stronger than when he arrived. He is a proven and gifted leader, an exceptional relationship-builder, and he knows from personal experience that higher education is nothing less than a transformative force in a student’s life. Rodney recognizes that Nebraska and our world need UNL to be a leading driver of opportunity, discovery and economic growth, and I believe he will chart the path to get us there.”

Bennett earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, a master’s degree in educational administration and a specialist in educational administration from Middle Tennessee State. He earned his Doctor of Education from Tennessee State University.

“The more I learn about the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the more excited I get about the opportunities for this university to help shape the future of higher education,” Bennett said. “As I have heard President Carter say, our industry is at a crucial juncture. The challenges we face are real, but with unapologetically bold leadership, the right teams in place, and an unwavering focus on our foundational priorities of teaching, research and service, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln can set a new standard of excellence among flagship universities. I am humbled by this opportunity, and I look forward to listening to and learning from UNL students, faculty, staff and stakeholders in the weeks ahead.”

As required by state law, Bennett’s candidacy will now undergo a 30-day vetting period, beginning May 22, which will include a series of public sessions during which members of the university community and the news media can meet Bennett and ask questions. The open forum schedule will be announced. Members of the campus community and public are invited to submit feedback about Bennett’s candidacy anytime during the 30-day period.

At the conclusion of the vetting period, if Carter deems appropriate, he will bring Bennett’s candidacy to the Board of Regents at its June 22 meeting for consideration.

If approved by the board, Bennett would become the first person of color to become chancellor of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

The next chancellor succeeds Chancellor Ronnie Green, who is retiring after seven years in the role.