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The Antelope

The Antelope

Kristensen celebrates 20 years as chancellor

Dough Kristensen uses familiarity with rural life as an asset while he works to improve education in central Nebraska. Courtesy of UNK Archives


When Minden native Doug Kristensen is asked what he does for a living, the former speaker of the Nebraska Legislature says he is a “state employee.”  This summer, he celebrated his 20th year UNK’s chancellor.

Before vying for chancellor, Kristensen was a staunch supporter of the university system during his time in the unicameral from 1988 to 2002, when he stepped down after announcing his candidacy. 

As a state senator, he spearheaded funding for a new College of Education during the chancellorship of Gladys Styles Johnston as the Kearney campus adjusted to its fledgling membership in the University of Nebraska system.

Johnston announced her retirement in an email to UNK subscribers on Oct. 3, 2001.

Tim Peoples, The Antelope news editor at the time, wrote the story on her retirement for the Oct. 11, 2001 edition, nestled between news on the Lopers’ homecoming and the onset of the war on terror.

Peoples covered Kristensen as the first public candidate in a Feb. 28, 2002, article titled “Kristensen up for chancellorship” later that school year.

“I have put a resume and a cover letter in and that’s as much as I’ve done,” Kristensen said. “I love the campus. I tried to be its biggest supporter in the legislator.”

Kristensen eventually beat out a field of 61 other applicants, including two vice chancellors from within the University of Nebraska. He resigned his seat in the unicameral before starting his current position in Warner Hall.

The day he first stepped into his office, his closest collaborators knew he was bringing change to UNK.

“He is such a forward-thinking and kind person,” said Beverly Mathiesen, the chancellor’s executive associate and a 50-year veteran of the Kearney campus. “He was very self-sufficient, independent and easy-going. It has been a true joy.”

When Kristensen took the reins, he inherited the fundraising struggles Johnston faced. 

“We had a wide variety of challenges when we came into the university system,” Kristensen reflected this year. “There wasn’t a computer on campus, so there were efforts to raise enough money to computerize campus.” 

Kristensen made it his mission to rebuild the institution’s relationship with the community amid after it became a university. He changed the way the university approached projects, leveraging his people skills and understanding of the Kearney community to win allies like local donors and the University of Nebraska Foundation for financial support.

During his tenure, Kristensen has secured state and donor support for over $344 million in funding for nearly 50 major campus projects ranging from the demolition of Case Hall, Ludden Hall and the Otto C. Olsen Building. This funding applies to addition of the University Village, Cope Fountain, Discovery Hall and the Health Science Education Building.

This emphasis on healthcare became more important to campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. During those uncertain times, he said he missed seeing students on campus more than ever. 

Since emerging from the pandemic, the chancellor looks back fondly on 20 years of building relationships, transforming campus and propelling students forward.

Kristensen said he “won’t be here in 10 years,” but there are still things he wants to do. 

“I think I come as excited now as I came those first few days,” Kristensen said. “There I had the fear that I had no idea what I was doing, and here now my fear is that I’m not doing enough.”

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