Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Omaha World-Herald. July 29, 2021.

Editorial: NU regents must stick with their proper role and not intrude on faculty authority

Nebraskans have benefited greatly over the past two decades from conscientious service by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. The regents’ constructive approach, in concert with the university administration and faculty, has helped the NU system make major strides forward in terms of stronger academic ambition and achievement, increased national and international recognition of top-flight programs, progress on capital construction needs, and coordinated strategic planning.

The regents have worked well with each the NU presidents this century — Dennis Smith, J.B. Milliken, Hank Bounds and Ted Carter. Maintaining a positive working relationship among the system’s top leaders is vital. The regents this century have moved NU past the divisive parochial quarreling between Omaha and Lincoln seen in the ’90s. And when controversies have arisen, the regents resolved matters through constructive negotiation and trust-building. That was the case early this century regarding stem cell research.

The regents have pursued their proper role, setting overall strategic vision and overseeing top-level management and budget duties. They have properly respected the role of NU administration and faculty, including their prerogative to decide matters regarding curriculum.

NU regents will put this progress at risk if they approve the proposal from Regent Jim Pillen to forbid the teaching of critical race theory on NU campuses. Pillen will introduce the proposal at the board’s Aug. 13 meeting.

Approval of the resolution would break with the regents’ tradition of leaving curricular matters to administration and faculty — a separation of powers that the Higher Learning Commission, the organization through which NU is accredited, describes as fundamental to sound university governance. Management of a university system is the responsibility of administration, and faculty are “to oversee academic matters.”

Pillen is running for governor, and his focus on critical race theory — spurred by his rivalry with candidate Charles Herbster — risks warping the role of the regents in the way it has already warped the 2022 Nebraska governor’s race. The contest for the Republican nomination so far is focusing on hot-button issues pegged to inflammatory claims on social media and cable TV. That’s woefully shortsighted. The election needs to be about the future — about how Nebraska can best position itself to maximize economic opportunity, keep communities strong and send the message that the state is a welcoming place for all.

Carter, along with the chancellors of at UNL, UNO and UNK, have issued what they termed a “unified statement in defense of freedom of expression” opposing Pillen’s proposal. “As we have shared with Regent Pillen,” they wrote, “we have significant concerns about the resolution and how it would be interpreted by the faculty, staff and students we hope to recruit and retain.”

These university leaders are underscoring a key point for NU and the academic community overall: In higher education, it’s crucial to encourage a free market of ideas rather than imposing politicized regulation. For sound management of a university system, regents should stick to their proper role instead of interfering, as non-specialists, in the particulars of curriculum.

Experience in some other states provides a warning that NU regents should heed. Regents in those states have irresponsibly allowed political issues to intrude into university decision-making. That political focus has spurred a harmful pattern, pulling university management in those states into a series of painful controversies. The resulting discord diverted universities from their central mission, undermined relations between regents and administrators, and sowed cynicism among the public.

NU regents can help Nebraska avoid such terrible harm by rejecting the Pillen resolution.

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Lincoln Journal Star. July 28, 2021.

Editorial: Conference shifts may spell issues for Huskers

Texas and Oklahoma notified the Big 12 Monday that they will not be renewing their grants of media rights to the conference after 2025, the first formal step in the two athletic powerhouses’ move to the Southeastern Conference.

That move, which has already imperiled the Big 12, is almost certain to accelerate the ongoing transformation of college football and other revenue producing sports from “amateur” to professional -- a change that could very well negatively impact Nebraska athletics for decades to come.

Eleven years ago, Nebraska avoided the instability that could lead to the disappearance of the Big 12 when, under the guidance of then UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman and Athletics Director Tom Osborne, it left its longtime conference for the stability and, importantly, big dollars of the Big Ten.

Subsequent chancellors and ADs wisely ignored media pundits and equally misguided fans who have pushed for a return to the Big 12 -- a move would have been disastrous.

Being firmly and loyally positioned in the Big Ten should ensure that Nebraska is in a league that will become one of the mega-conferences of 16 to 24 teams that will likely emerge from the realignment shakeup.

But the change toward a largely unregulated, much more professional business model could very well hurt Nebraska, the little state school that has often punched well above its weight.

With just 1.9 million people, Nebraska is the second smallest state to have a school in a Power Five conference, just 100,000 more than West Virginia.

That small population base, along with NCAA scholarship limits, has impacted Nebraska for decades, forcing the recruitment of athletes from around the country to complement the few locals -- the reverse of powerhouse schools in larger states and recruiting hotbeds.

With the increasingly powerless NCAA announcing it is stepping back from some regulations and enforcement, Nebraska’s size and location is likely to work against it being able to compete economically and, subsequently on the fields and courts. Aggressively getting ahead of the new name, image, likeness payment programs for athletes is of critical importance for NU with the rapid changes in motion.

The changes won’t happen overnight. Texas’ and Oklahoma’s media rights grant to the Big 12 doesn’t expire until 2025. So it’s unlikely that any moves by any schools to new conferences won’t happen until 2022-23, at the earliest.

But changes that will forever alter college sports as they have been known are coming. That, in the long run, might not bode well for Nebraska.

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North Platte Telegraph. Aug. 1, 2021.

Editorial: Council should take next step on beef plant

North Platte City Council members Tuesday will finally be asked to officially lend the city’s aid to the Sustainable Beef LLC meatpacking project.

It won’t be the vote to sell the former sewer lagoon for the plant site and provide tax increment financing. Not yet.

But a city commitment will be made if council members grant a forgivable $1 million Quality Growth Fund loan toward our ranching neighbors’ planning costs.

We call on the council to take that step.

Let’s be clear, however, about what that last sentence does not mean.

— It doesn’t mean The Telegraph will automatically support every major economic development proposal someone puts out there.

If we don’t believe a given project is best for North Platte, or if we believe that certain aspects of a project are ill-advised, rest assured we will say so in this space.

— It also doesn’t mean we will automatically support every detail of the final plan Sustainable Beef presents to the city or to state or federal regulatory agencies.

We don’t believe in “done deals” that must be accepted hastily and uncritically. Even now, though, neither applies to Sustainable Beef’s yearlong project that has some distance to go.

Any plan, even if it appears in the balance to be a good one for our community, can and should be open to modification to benefit the most and inconvenience the fewest.

If Sustainable Beef’s formal plan should be found wanting in controlling odors or safely treating and disposing of wastewater and the waste products of meatpacking, city officials must be ready to insist on necessary changes.

If they don’t, that task falls to the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy, which also would involve interested federal agencies.

Remember this: The NDEE also will take public input. That agency, not the city, ultimately will decide whether this beef plant gets built or not.

All that said, we’ve seen no convincing reason to oppose what would be North Platte’s biggest economic game-changer since Walmart built its distribution center here two decades ago.

QGF came into being in 2001 because community leaders realized they needed more incentives besides TIF (which Walmart did receive) to lure more major employers to town.

North Platte is a railroad town and always will be. But we simply cannot leave our economic health to whether Bailey Yard is hiring or laying people off.

It’s imperative to develop more major employers the size of the Walmart DC and Great Plains Health. Sustainable Beef would be another, both directly and through related businesses likely to accompany it.

If we pride ourselves in our cattle heritage and support our cattle growers, it would be the height of hypocrisy to literally turn up our noses at the prospect of their building a meatpacking plant in our midst.

Residents who fear being overwhelmed by odor and stink nonetheless have legitimate concerns. One cannot live 60 miles from a “Big Four” plant in Lexington and not realize that.

This plant’s organizers propose to use the most up-to-date technology to combat odors. City leaders must use their good judgment in weighing whether it’ll eliminate them or at least reduce them to tolerable levels.

Remember, also, that building next to the city wastewater plant is part of the anti-stink strategy. Winds typically blow from the north-northwest half the year, away from the bulk of North Platte.

None of the active or retired lagoons has come close to being breached by floodwaters. Neither have the few industries between the would-be beef-plant site and the South Platte River.

This plant would go inside the retired lagoon’s existing berm. Its base must be raised substantially to build the plant, but that still leaves several feet of flood protection. It’s unreasonable to think Sustainable Beef wouldn’t enhance the berm even more.

Who might take those 875 jobs? Well, they’ll be open to anyone already around here, too. And $50,000 a year is good money, last we looked.

We don’t have Sustainable Beef’s final plan. But the QGF loan would help finish it.

Nebraska is “the beef state.” North Platte is the gateway to “God’s Cow Country.” And the potential of a $1 billion annual economic impact cannot be ignored in making North Platte a healthy regional economic center once more.

Let’s help our neighbors and grant the QGF loan.

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Grand Island Independent. July 25, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t be a holdout; get vaccinated

The message was clear last week when the Central District Health Department gave an update on the coronavirus to a joint meeting of the Grand Island City Council and Hall County Board of Commissioners.

The pandemic is not over and the number of cases in the district’s three-county area is rising.

As of Monday, 9,696 cases, or 12% of the district population, has been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

CDHD Director Teresa Anderson said that there have been so many mild cases that were never diagnosed, so the number is probably higher.

We don’t know exactly how many people have had the virus and recovered. But we do know that 153 residents of Hall, Merrick and Hamilton counties who have died since the pandemic began can be directly linked to the coronavirus.

Still, only 37% of the district’s residents who are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 have gotten their shots.

The percentage is much higher — 70% — for people age 65 and older, who are most likely to die if they become infected. Our senior citizens have gotten the message. They understand the threat that COVID-19 poses specifically to them and they acted as soon as they could to get vaccinated.

But younger people, even though their lives have been disrupted by the pandemic with needing to wear face masks, practice social distancing and avoid crowds, have not seen the need to get vaccinated.

When they were young children, their parents had them vaccinated against such deadly diseases as polio and measles. Their parents knew from experience how big a threat those diseases were before the vaccines were developed. But now, when they need to follow their parents’ example and get themselves and their children vaccinated against another deadly disease, they’re opting out.

This does not make sense.

We know the coronavirus is deadly.

There is clear evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States are effective. The small percentage of vaccinated people who do contract the virus have mild cases. Almost everyone who is being hospitalized now or even dying because of the virus is unvaccinated.

“I think part of the reason we’re seeing younger folks become positive and be hospitalized is because they’re simply choosing not to be vaccinated,” CDHD’s Anderson said last week.

In addition to health clinics and local pharmacies, the COVID-19 vaccine is provided at no cost to patients at the Central District Health Department from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, with Thursday clinics running until 8 p.m. You must be 12 years old or older to receive the vaccine and those 12 to 18 years old must be accompanied by an adult.

“Right now, with less than 40% of our district vaccinated, the threat of numbers continuing to climb is very real,” Anderson said. “Over 140 million Americans are fully vaccinated. If you have been holding off or are hesitant, now is the time to protect yourself.”

Those who are eligible and have not yet been vaccinated should seek vaccinations as soon as possible. For more information call 308-385-5175 or visit the CDHD website, cdhd.ne.gov.

Don’t hold out any longer. Get vaccinated.

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