University leaders remember L. Dennis Smith

April 02, 2021

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L. Dennis Smith

Leaders from the University of Nebraska system issued statements in honor of NU President Emeritus L. Dennis Smith, who died Monday at the age of 83. Smith, who was system president from 1994 to 2004, died at Indiana University Arnett Hospital in Lafayette, Ind., with family members at his side, according to his obituary.

As president, Smith played a key role in the 1998 passage of LB1100, which provided critical support for deferred maintenance needs at the university. The Campaign Nebraska fundraising effort also was completed during his tenure, raising $727 million for scholarships, faculty endowed chairs, facilities and other needs. Smith advanced new public-private partnerships with Nebraska businesses including the Gallup Leadership Institute at UNL and the Peter Kiewit Institute based at UNO.

University leaders remembered Smith as a staunch advocate for research and academic quality, even during periods of fiscal challenge. A scientist who held a bachelor's degree in zoology and chemistry and a Ph.D. in experimental embryology, Smith published almost 100 research papers during his career and was a recipient of the 2002 Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. Competitive research funding at the University of Nebraska more than doubled during his tenure.

Upon stepping down from the presidency, Smith held a faculty role in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's School of Biological Sciences.

Smith is survived by his wife, Suzanne, two children and numerous siblings, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Following are statements from various University of Nebraska leadership.

University of Nebraska System President Ted Carter:

"Lynda and I are saddened to learn of the passing of former University of Nebraska President L. Dennis Smith. President Smith led our university system through a period of significant growth and change, never taking his focus off students and the needs of our state. He took great pride in the quality of the university and was a passionate advocate for faculty, research and academic freedom. When he stepped down after 10 years in the role, President Smith said he hoped he was leaving the university better than when he began. I can say with confidence that he did. He will be missed, but generations of University of Nebraska students and faculty will benefit from his leadership. Lynda and I are keeping Suzanne and all of President Smith's family and friends in our thoughts."

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD

"The University of Nebraska is stronger because of the leadership of past NU President Dennis Smith, who fostered a culture of excellence that valued research and scholarly study. He championed academic freedoms including the rights of scientists to responsibly pursue new knowledge, helped secure deferred maintenance funds for the campuses, and saw UNMC build The Lied Transplant Center during his tenure. His contributions will be remembered."

University of Nebraska at Kearney Chancellor Doug Kristensen, JD:

"Dr. Smith was responsible for hiring me as UNK chancellor nearly 20 years ago. I enjoyed my relationship with him tremendously, and admired his determination to protect academic freedom, strengthen the commitment to research across the university, and pioneer efforts in public-private partnerships. He renewed and ignited the push for NU research and attention associated with scholarly activity, and deserves to be remembered for a decade of great achievement for Nebraska."

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green, PhD:

"I was saddened to learn of the death of former President Smith. Before he became president of the university system, he was a pre-eminent scientist whose research on cell division laid the foundation for a Nobel Prize in 2003. He carried this spirit of innovation and leadership with him in his role as NU system President. Following that tenure, he joined the faculty at UNL as a highly regarded scholar at UNL's School of Biological Sciences and was elected as a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012 -- further evidence of his lifelong commitment to scholarly research."

University of Nebraska President Emeritus James B. Milliken, current chancellor of the University of Texas system:

"Dennis Smith was an outstanding scientist, confidant administrator, and great friend. He was exactly the right president for the University of Nebraska. His faculty and senior administrative experiences at leading research universities informed his agenda for Nebraska, and the university and state benefited greatly from his presidency."


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Howard E. Gendelman Pharmacology Chair University of NE Medical Center
April 04, 2021 at 10:26 AM

A NU leader with vision and principal. While awards and diplomas were removed from an office wall what remains is a singular letter of vision and unbridled determination for excellence from President Smith. Will always cherish that letter and his words always.