Walter "Ted" Carter, VADM (Ret.), the priority candidate to serve as the University of Nebraska's eighth president, is a graduate of and former instructor at the famed Topgun Naval Fighter Weapons School. (You may have seen the Tom Cruise movie "Top Gun.")
But in real life, Carter said, Topgun isn't about a blaring soundtrack or even bro nicknames like "Iceman."
What Topgun is, at its essence, Carter said, is "The mastery of teaching and learning."
In fact, the experience brought to mind his mother, a longtime, respected English teacher in his rural Rhode Island hometown.
Teaching young fighter pilots, Carter said, taught him about human psychology, about getting the most out of people: "I loved the art of seeing that light bulb coming on when somebody got it."
So, though his transition into academia, at the tail end of a 38-year military career, at first surprised him -- he now insists it's been a perfect fit.
Carter served previously as president of the U.S. Naval War College. As superintendent of his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., he was the first chief executive in the Navy's history to serve five years.
As an admiral, he oversaw the $2 billion restoration of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, "on time and under budget." At the Naval Academy, he said he saw the student as a customer, intentionally improved diversity numbers and shepherded a graduation rate of 90 percent.
Now, he hopes to be chosen as the next president of the NU system. Carter met with the UNMC campus at two public forums last Friday, Nov. 8.
Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., introduced Carter at the forums and spoke about the details of the search process that led to his being chosen as the priority candidate.
Carter addressed several topics at these forums, including:
Diversity: "Why diversity matters is so often lost in the conversation." At the Naval Academy, he declared, "We should be representative of the population of the United States." How to strive toward this representation? It helps, "If someone can see themselves being a representative of who they are."
Mental health: Carter led Task Force RESILIENT, a study in suicide prevention, for the Navy, and said, "We nearly doubled (mental health) resources," at the Naval Academy. "There was no stigma attached," to attending counseling while he was superintendent, he said.
The UNMC-UNO partnership: "I think there will always be a hand-in-glove relationship between the two. But I also recognize they have two completely different missions." Carter said Dr. Gold is uniquely suited to be chancellor of both, and, "I'm comfortable with where it is. But, I don't want to lose the distinct personalities of the two institutions."
Winning popular and political support for NU: "We have some work to do with state legislators. They should be able to go to their constituents and say, 'This is not just giving money to the university. This is a worthy investment.' But, we have to provide them with concrete data to do so."
Inclusivity: Diversity is not enough. You have to ensure those you bring in are in a position to succeed, Carter said. As a student in one of the first classes at the Naval Academy to admit women, "I was somewhat affected by how badly the women were treated. At some point . . . all of them were traumatized. I have never forgotten that."
Today's young people/students: "They are a little bit different. They believe in something bigger than themselves. They believe in education. We should be embracing this generation like no other . . . My sense is they won't ever let you down."
Hopefully, this one chooses to be better.