Walter “Ted” Carter was on vacation in Jamaica with his wife, Lynda, this summer, celebrating the recent end of a storied 38-year career in the U.S. Navy. Then a call came asking him if he was familiar with Nebraska.
That’s how Carter found his latest calling in life, to apply for the open position of president of the University of Nebraska. Since then, he has become the top and only candidate for the job.
Carter was at Northeast Community College in Norfolk on Monday afternoon to share stories about himself and his vision for the university and state. In attendance were prominent Northeast Nebraska educators, including Dr. Leah Barrett, the incoming president of Northeast, interim Northeast president Mary Honke and Wayne State College president Marysz Rames, as well as state Sen. Jim Scheer.
Carter’s most recent position was superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. In his tenure there, Carter focused on improving mental health resources and academics and diversifying the school by increasing the number of women, first-generation citizens and multilingual students.
“We used to say when I was at the academy, it’s a great school to be from,” Carter said. “I wanted them to say, ‘This is a great school to be at.’ We were very successful at changing the culture at the Naval Academy.”
Carter ultimately chose to apply for the job because of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents’ vision, a system of nine pillars for success for the university.
“Each and every word of it spoke to me,” Carter said. “I felt like it was a call to me. I felt like this was something I could be a part of.”
Nebraska Board of Regents vice chairman Jim Pillen said Carter was a natural choice for the position.
“Everything was totally different when Ted Carter came in the room,” Pillen said. “When he came, the search committee saw everything differently. All 23 members voted for Ted Carter.”
One of Carter’s goals as president will be to help make Nebraska a leader in modern and innovative agriculture and help fight the effects of climate change.
In the coming decades, Carter said, hundreds of millions of people will be displaced from their homes by rising seas and more than 10 billion people will need to be fed.
“There’s going to be a need for change in food production, in both quality and quantity and a need for clean water as the population moves across the globe,” Carter said. “The importance of agriculture and education in agriculture is going to be more important than ever. And I want to be a part of that.”
Carter said that not only has he seen the effects of climate change in his travels across the world, but Nebraskans have felt it, too, in the form of extreme weather in recent years.
“The environment is changing, and we have to accept that,” Carter said. “And we have to be ready for it. And Nebraska can play a role on the world stage.”
Carter and Pillen said the university system would operate under a “One Nebraska” system. Carter said the different campuses should not have to compete for the same students to the detriment of the others.
“We wish to retain the richness of each campus’ mission, but we don’t compete for students,” Pillen said. “We’ll work as one Nebraska.”
Carter also spoke about his long naval career, during which he learned how to become an instructor for aircraft carrier pilots as a part of the Navy’s famed Top Gun program; he completed Nuclear Power School to learn nuclear engineering and later commanded his own ships and a flotilla as an admiral during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He said that early on in his naval career, he was instilled with a passion for teaching, learning and the importance of higher education.
“Education is basically in my DNA,” Carter said.
One of the most challenging tasks he was given in the Navy was command of the USS Carl Vinson, a large nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a crew of 6,000.
He was given command of the ship during an overhaul period. The ship was given massive upgrades, as well as a new supply of fuel for its nuclear reactors, which took about four years.
Carter said he had to not only oversee the refueling and overhaul in a timely and cost-effective manner, he still had to lead the ship’s crew, as well as 15,000 contractors overhauling the ship. The overhaul, only the third one ever done by the Navy at the time, was at that point the only one completed on time and under budget.
Carter eventually became a vice admiral, commanding a flotilla of about 20 ships led by the USS Enterprise in the Middle East near the Strait of Hormuz during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, before being named superintendent of the Naval Academy in 2014.