Leavenworth St. Exclusive: Heineman was denied an interview for Nebraska President job

Hawks Championship Center 01The University of Nebraska Board of Regents, lead by Regent Howard Hawks, announced on Monday their four finalists for the open position for President of the University of Nebraska. That list of four finalists did NOT include outgoing Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, who had applied for the job.

Nebraska Regents signed non-disclosure agreements and cannot comment on the search process.

However, Leavenworth Street has learned that the search committee did not even interview Heineman for the position.

The longest serving Governor of the state is interested and they won’t even give him the courtesy of an interview?

Why not?
Well, start it with the guy leading the search committee, Howard Hawks.

Hawks, a past supporter of Heineman, has butted heads with the Governor on expansion of various social services — an issue important to Hawks. That Heineman hasn’t said “Sir, Yes Sir!” to Hawks never sat well with the founder of the Tenaska energy company. As one insider put it,

“The Governor has never been one to do something just for the sake of doing it — he wants to make sure it makes sense in the big picture. Howard didn’t like that — he’s a gazillionaire who’s used to people just doing what he says.”

So when Heineman expressed interest in the gig, Hawks, we are told, made it no secret to Omaha elites that he did not think Heineman was right for the job. And boosting the search committee with the likes of Susie Buffett only helped Hawks to give Heineman the stiff arm.

Hawks and Buffett knew that if Heineman made it to the final round he would be hard to stop. So they did everything in their power to keep him from moving forward. So for Heineman that meant not even getting to the interview.

Now Hawks, Susie Buffett and the committee will likely lean on what Hawks said were the main qualifications (apparently) for the job:

“…a strong preference will be given to candidates with credentials sufficient for appointment as a tenured university professor, including an earned Ph.D. or other relevant terminal degree, teaching experience and a personal record of research and scholarship.”

Interestingly enough, this “strong preference” was issued two weeks after Heineman announced he was interested in the job.

Oh sure, because if you’re looking for a new CEO for a biscuit company, your strong preference is going to be for a four star chef. Right?

Maybe not so much.

But wait Sweeper! It’s a school! Shouldn’t we want teachers?!

Well, if you are hiring a teacher, yes.
And if your job is to be in charge of teachers – such as the University Chancellor — that’s not a bad call.

But when you are in charge of the entire system, maybe your focus should be on someone who has been in charge of a giant system. Which involves lots of fundraising. And has to work with the state government.

Maybe, just maybe, those qualities are more important than them having teaching experience.
Heck, a giant part of the gig is keeping up with all the new facilities and campuses.
Why not demand building and real estate experience?

And by the way, it is not as if Heineman got an online degree from DeVry.
He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. And we will throw in that he is graduate of the Army Ranger training program.

Does that mean he qualified to run a University? No, not in and of itself. But we don’t see how having a PhD in Political Science would make you more qualified to run the giant administrative conglomerate that is the the University of Nebraska.

Now maybe your argument is you don’t like how Heineman has served as Governor. We suppose that’s an argument — and with the whole prison controversy, again Heineman’s opponents will lean on that.

But should all of that mean Heineman doesn’t even get an interview?

Well, Hawks inferred he didn’t like politics involved in the process.
What he clearly meant was that he doesn’t like politics OUTSIDE of HIS process.


  1. Usually you don’t interview until after you have the short list. If Heineman is complaining about that, it just goes to show he knows far too little about academia.

    You might not want a four star chef to run your biscuit company. But you might want someone with a background in the food industry. University systems are not like real estate companies; the culture is different, the goals are different, the people you deal with are different. Pols stepping into presidents’ jobs do not have a great record. There was Billy Bolger in U Mass, an unqualified disaster even before he took the fifth. Mitch Daniels, a very smart guy, has not had an easy time at Indiana. And so on.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Billy Bulger was a state Senator, experienced in patrongage, never a Governor experienced in running a state government, before running UMass.
    And Daniels is at Purdue.

  3. Tonic & Tonic says:

    I’m sure Miltenberger will do a great job as Chief of Staff for Governor Ricketts.

    Matt, if you’re reading this, congratulations!

  4. anon says:

    It also helps if the administrator has a decent record at administrating. Heineman has been an absolute disaster in a number of fields — most notably the prisons and mental health institutions.

  5. Calling Billy Bulger a state senator is like calling Warren Buffett an investor.

    The fact remains. Heineman has never taught at a higher ed institution; never done research at a higher ed institution. He has no experience in one beyond being an undergraduate in a very atypical college. And his overall administrative experience is limited and somewhat mixed in quality. In fact, many of the criticisms of Obama could equally be levelled at Heinemann. He was great at getting elected, but not so good at running things.

  6. Anonymous says:

    For once I agree with GH. And will almost always defer to him on matters of Chemistry and the University because that is where his knowledge and experience lie. So I hope he understands that the way he feels about this ignorant post from SS is the same way the rest of us feel when he opines as an “expert” in fields outside his sphere of competence.

    Heineman’s insertion of himself in the selection process was totally self-serving and scared high quality candidates away from applying. Good job screwing the University system, Dave!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm, think Street Sweeper is out of a job when the new gov takes over? She/he was counting on a cushy new job at the university too!

  8. Mert the Avenger says:

    If he didn’t even get an interview, then this is a political move. There is no reason not to give him an interview and at least have ears open to what he has to say. The fact that no such interview happened leaves me to believe that street sweeper is probably right on with this insider information. It is also probably why Heinemann made it such a public thing that he wanted the job. He knew he might get snubbed from an interview and making it public would lessen that chance. Guess it didn’t work.

  9. Lil Mac says:

    Appearances do count, somewhat.

    If Hawks and Buffett are bragging about how they want to give DH the finger, that’s foolishly impolitic of them. We expect more decorum from such people. But other than that, RWP is right.

    It simply doesn’t matter whether Heineman has a BA in basket weaving or ten PhDs. It doesn’t matter if Dave is fit or unfit to run Ft. Bragg or a university on the moon. What matters is that Heineman isn’t in charge of the hiring process for the job he thinks he deserves.

    Dave should have puckered up and kissed Hawks where it counts. But Dave didn’t see it that way.

    Like Lee Terry, Heineman felt he did a good job and so he felt entitled to something more. Anyone who feels themselves so entitled that they take their next or current gig for granted, and yet they aren’t the ones doing the hiring, display hubris. And you know how that ends up in classical lit.

  10. I never said the post was ignorant. I just happen to disagree.

    And the fact I happen to read a couple of newspapers and maybe an occasional book certainly makes me better informed than #12 and his ilk.

  11. If Heineman were interviewed publicly, the other, actually qualified candidates would likely withdraw.

    And if they interviewed a group of semi-finalists without releasing their names, it was illegal. See AG decision, May 11, 2004.

    Quoting. Google it for the link.

    “Bruning rejected the university’s argument that meetings in Kansas City, Mo., on April 21 and 22 between the 18-member search committee and seven candidates were too informal to be considered “interviews” in the legal sense of the word. (The eighth candidate was interviewed in Omaha, Neb.) “Interview” is not defined in the state open records law, so Bruning used the definition in Webster’s New World Dictionary : “a meeting of people, face-to-face, as for evaluating or questioning a job applicant.”
    Because candidates were interviewed by three groups of six committee members, the university further argued that a quorum was never present. Bruning didn’t accept that point either. The entire committee participated in the meetings, he said, and issues relating to quorum pertain to open meetings, not open records statutes.
    University of Nebraska’s chief counsel, Richard Wood, told the World-Herald that the university’s practice of meeting informally with candidates before publically announcing a group of finalists will come to an end.
    “We are going to have to do business in accordance with this opinion,” Wood told the newspaper for a May 7 article.”It will be an issue every time we have a search committee. It would be an issue any time a personnel officer does a preliminary interview before sending a list of candidates for final consideration for a job opening.””

  12. Westside says:

    I notice that Gov elect Ricketts and Congressman elect Ashford are both are products of District 66, Westside High School.

    Are they the only Westside graduates in public office?

  13. GH,
    That is certainly interesting.
    Here is what I have read:

    In the OWH:
    (Hawks) wouldn’t comment on Heineman or say whether he was interviewed. Hawks said all candidates were treated equally and fairly.

    In the LJS:
    Two of the finalists told the search committee during private interviews that they were first generation college graduates. Others voiced experience in fostering diversity on campus, or experience in agriculture or as a member of an university faculty.

    So when asked if Heineman was interviewed, Hawks could have simply said, “None were interviewed”. But he did not.
    And another finalist had a “private interview”.

    So, it would seem, the committee was able to have a private interview with Heineman.
    We have been told that they did not.


  14. It wouldn’t be the first time the Board of Regents decided it was above the law. Don’t know that Jon Bruning is going to want to bother with this, in his last 2 months, but it might be worth running past the new AG.

  15. Anonymous says:

    It’s probably for the best for NU, Heineman and the state. I don’t know about the interpersonal dynamics between Hawks and Heineman. But, like it or not, it’s hard to get taken seriously as a University President if you don’t have a degree that has a “D” at the end of it. If NU’s aspirations are to be viewed as being in the same league academically with Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan it needs a leader with academic bona fides. Florida State is now the subject of derision for hiring a politician as its President, and he has a degree that ends in “D.” Heineman, to whom I give fairly high marks as a Governor, had his reputation dented at the end with the Corrections issues. Like it or not, it’s all part of the Executive Branch. Heineman is no dummy. If he’d wanted an advanced degree he certainly is smart enough that he could have done it. When it comes to legislative battles over funding, the dynamics of Heineman and members of the Unicameral would not have been forgotten. Heineman also made a bad tactical blunder when he announced his candidacy as if he were seeking elective office. It doesn’t work that way. I wish Governor Dave the best. I’m sure that he’ll sit on many corporate boards, do some consulting and work on his golf game.

  16. Ricky says:

    Whenever rich Republican guys use their money to influence elections or prop up a football coach or take one down or donate to a candidate or a cause one should be wary.
    Mr Hawks has football practice fields named after him and baseball stadiums at the state school, and stuff at the zoo and all over the place. Hawks has unlimited resources and is not adverse to using them to achieve his goals. All of this should be in the public arena so we know which rich guy is trying to control everything.
    But once in awhile I agree with Mr Hawks. I agreed with him when he did not support the recall of Mayor Suttle. And I agree with him denying Dave Heineman any shot at the NU presidency. Everybody and their brother knew the Governor was not qualified to lead the University of Nebraska. When this was first announced I and a lot of others thought it was a done deal because of the palms Heineman has greased along the way, but the stream of bad news for the Heineman administration made it easy for the Regents to tell him to take a hike.
    Heineman would be even worse for the University of Nebraska than BO Pelini. And by the way it is my belief that Hawks was the guy that bought out Pederson and Callahan at NU to install his boy Osborne. That has turned out not too good. And Hawks is the guy that thinks its okay for Pelini to tell the Husker fans to F;; Off and understands why BO would hit a ref with his hat and otherwise act like a nincompoop.
    But Hawks is right this time. He ran unopposed for re-election to the Board, obviously at age 75 or more he might have stepped down, but he wanted to pick the new NU pres.

    ricky from omaha

  17. TexasAnnie says:

    Surely y’all haven’t forgotten Heineman’s greatest blunder: vetoing funding for on-site medical staff at the BSDC, which ushered in those horrific killings of Nebraska’s TRULY MOST VULNERABLE CITIZENS! Heineman believed it would be satisfactory to just “call an ambulance” if those medically-fragile persons needed saving… (Yes, NRL, they were more vulnerable than unborn babes in abortion clinic waiting rooms!!!)

    But then, come to think of it, Heineman was VERY GENEROUS at university spending. Thus one might expect he would be given the gig! And it’s not a done-deal YET.

  18. Anon says:

    This post and the Governor’s behavior throughout the process exude a sense of entitlement more typical of the left. It’s unseemly.

  19. Macdaddy says:

    I don’t think Heineman deserved an interview. First off, he shouldn’t have announced to the world that he was going to apply for the job. That was rightly seen as inappropriately trying to game the process. Secondly, it seems like in the last year or so that he’s not been in charge of anything. There are too many big problems that he just never seems to know anything about. They just happened. Not being proactive is a recipe for disaster in a university system. Heineman is not a proactive kind of guy.

  20. Curious says:

    SS, I’m not sure if you are naïve or jealous about Hawks’ positioning on this one. The former seems highly unlikely. He didn’t become Chairman of one of the largest privately held companies in the country without knowing how to dodge a few land mines. Hey, I like Gov. Heineman. I do. Fact is, Sally Ganem is more qualified to be President than he is.

    You come across as desperate and whiny in this one. If Hawks had used his influence to try and make sure Heineman WAS the next President, would you still be complaining about Hawks’ ability to steer the outcome? Methinks not.

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