OMAHA, Neb. — A state lawmaker has proposed a study to look at possibly merging the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Sen. Merv Riepe said the proposal was prompted by University of Nebraska System President Hank Bounds’ decision last month to put Dr. Jeffrey Gold in charge of both Omaha campuses. Gold has been the medical center’s chancellor since 2014, and he is expected to be the university’s chancellor for the next two years.
Riepe proposed the study last week without notifying Bounds or the NU Board of Regents. In response, Bounds emailed faculty, staff and students on the two campuses Thursday saying the study wasn’t brought at the university’s request.
Riepe said he didn’t inform Bounds before submitting the proposal because his deadline to file it was last week, and his staff was under pressure to get it done.
“I didn’t intend to stir the beehive quite as much as I guess I have,” Riepe said. “This is not intended to be a hostile thing.”
Riepe said that this year’s budget shortfall has nothing to do with the proposal, even though the merger would possibly save money.
This year’s billion-dollar state budget shortfall prompted lawmakers to adopt a two-year budget this week that includes about $13 million in cuts for the university system. Riepe said any merger decision should ultimately be made by the Board of Regents.
“Our intent is to try to simply look at this thing,” he said.
In his email, Bounds wrote that Gold’s appointment “opens exciting opportunities for students and faculty collaborations, that we think can find additional fiscal efficiencies.” But he added that, “while it makes sense for our Omaha-based campuses to work more closely together, UNO and UNMC also each have distinct and important missions to serve our state.”