When the University of Nebraska Board of Regents hears an update on plans for the Peter Kiewit Institute on Friday, it will also hear a last-minute plea from faculty.
The complaints will not come from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where a plan to fold the computer and electronics engineering department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha into the Lincoln campus's electrical engineering program has been well-received.
But at UNO, faculty representatives have passed resolutions opposing the plan and asking for their own engineering college. They view the merger as a dismantling of UNO and a threat to its unity, according to Harrison Means, an associate professor of teacher education and member of the faculty senate.
“UNO is a vibrant, effective educational entity, and we believe the regents should protect it, not promote or authorize predation,” Means said.
The UNL and UNO chancellors are scheduled to share a new updated strategic plan with the board Friday morning. The university denied a request to see the plan ahead of time; the regents' academic affairs committee chairman, Bob Whitehouse, said in an email that the plan would not be made public until the meeting.
Faculty and students planning to attend Friday's meeting will ask the board not only to stop the merger but to support a stand-alone college of engineering at UNO. Students who take engineering at UNO or the Kiewit Institute and in Omaha's engineering programs receive degrees from UNL.
Under the most recent plan for improving the UNL-run, Omaha-based Kiewit Institute, the merged program would be housed in Lincoln to eliminate redundancy. Professors would travel between campuses or using telepresence technology. The plans have brought concern from students and staff at the Kiewit Institute who say the UNO and UNL cultures are very different.
Rigoberto Guevara, president of the UNL faculty senate, said the group “utterly rejects” the idea that UNO should retain the department under its own engineering college.
“The faculty feel they can best serve, best perform and best maintain their international reputation as long as they continue to be UNL faculty,” Guevara said.
The NU Board of Regents' September plan asked the senior vice chancellors of UNO and UNL to share responsibility for the merged operations. The plan also called for the Kiewit Institute's executive director to work alongside the deans of the colleges of engineering and information science and technology in an attempt to correct “dysfunctionalities” in structure and operations cited by a consultant's report last July.
Though funding for the plan hasn't been finalized, it calls for a doubling of annual research dollars and a 33 percent increase in student enrollment in Kiewit Institute programs, to 3,600, in the next five years.
Fifty new faculty members will be hired — 30 in Omaha and 20 in Lincoln — and 35,000 to 40,000 square feet of classroom and office space will be needed to house them.
The UNL College of Engineering would also add a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's degree in engineering for working professionals, both Omaha-based.