Walter "Ted" Carter Jr. didn't have much time between finding out he was the priority candidate for the University of Nebraska's next president and talking publicly about it, he told the audience at the Fremont Golf Club Monday afternoon.
"Less than a week from that phone call, we started our tour of Nebraska," he said. "And we're finishing up right where I want to be: with all of you."
Carter spoke and held a Q&A over NU issues in Fremont Monday as part of his statewide tour, which hits cities like Kearney, North Platte and Norfolk.
The event was attended by members of the Fremont community, including State Sen. Lynne Walz and Fremont City Councilmember Linda McClain.
Hank Bounds announced last March that he would be stepping down as president of the university system. Since then, Susan Fritz has served as interim president.
Carter was introduced by NU Regent Jim Pillen, who said the university hired a search firm and constructed a 23-member committee made up of students, faculty members and administrators to find the next president.
"We had vigorous, intense debate about many candidates, until one candidate came to the party. And that was Ted Carter," Pillen said.
Pillen added that Carter was given 23 affirmative votes during a secret ballot held by the committee.
"We're thrilled that Ted and Lynda Carter are here and he's considering becoming our next president of the University of Nebraska," he said.
Carter told the audience that he and Linda, his wife of 27 years, were thrilled to have gotten the opportunity to travel across the state.
"It's really been a chance to meet the people in Nebraska," he said. "And just as I had personally hoped that people in Nebraska are incredible, we have been welcomed so warmly everywhere we’ve been."
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Carter was born in Burrillville, Rhode Island, and attended the United States Naval Academy, where he studied oceanography and physics.
Carter entered academia in 2013, when he took the position as president of the Naval War College in Rhode Island. The next year, he served as superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy until last July.
During his time at the academy, Carter said he created two additional academic disciplines, one in cyber-operations and the other in nuclear engineering.
The academy's class of 2019 saw the school's highest graduation rate at 90% and brought one of the most diverse classes to graduation.
"I don't think I could imagine doing anything better than what we had a chance to do," Carter said.
Although Carter had planned to take a job at a software company after retiring, he was told about the open position at NU.
"I was a little reluctant, I admit, because I just didn't see myself fitting into this very large and complex state university system," he said. "But when they sent me the nine pillars of leadership that the Board of Regents had formed and that the search committee had built, when I read them, I felt like all of them were talking to me."
Carter took questions from the audience after his talk about important matters that NU was facing, such as funding from the state, academic expression and graduation rates, which he said was a problem.
"We have to change the conversation about college not being about getting somebody in the front door and getting them out the end in four, five, six years as a product," he said. "They've got to be the customer, and we have to be able to attract them like that."
Carter also spoke about issues like student retention after graduation. He said he was critical of the state's new slogan, "Honestly, it's not for everyone."
"Nebraska is a great place to be, and it is for everyone," he said. "And the University of Nebraska system should be a place where everyone wants to be."