L. Dennis Smith, 83, of Monticello, Indiana, former University of Nebraska administrator and educator, died March 29.
Smith served as the University of Nebraska’s system president from 1994 to 2004. He played a key role in the 1998 passage of LB1100, which provided critical support for the university’s deferred maintenance needs. The Campaign Nebraska fundraising event was completed during his tenure, raising $727 million for scholarships, faculty endowed chairs, facilities and other priorities.
He also advanced new public-private partnerships with Nebraska businesses, including the Gallup Leadership Institute at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and the Peter Kiewit Institute at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Competitive research funding across the NU system more than doubled during his tenure.
University leaders remembered Smith as a staunch advocate for research and academic quality, even during periods of fiscal challenge.
“Dennis was a character, intimidating to some, engaging to others, always interesting,” said Harvey Perlman, who was appointed chancellor of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 2001. “No one would doubt he was committed to excellence, both in his own scientific work and in his administration of the university.
“His presidency was in many ways an inflection point that has served Nebraska well.”
A scientist who held a bachelor’s degree in zoology and chemistry, and a doctorate in experimental embryology, Smith published almost 100 research papers during his career. He was a recipient of the 2002 Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility.
“I was saddened to learn of the death of former President Smith,” Chancellor Ronnie Green said. “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.”
After joining the faculty, he served as a highly-regarded scholar in the School of Biological Sciences and was elected a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences in 2012.
“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,” said Ted Carter, president of the NU system. “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.”
Outside of higher education, Smith was an avid golfer and enjoyed music of all kinds. He also had a love/hate relationship with the Chicago Cubs. Smith also enjoyed memberships with the Masonic Lodge and Shriner’s in Lincoln and the Elks Lodge in West Lafayette, Indiana.
He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Suzanne; two children, Lauren K. Payne (husband, Steve) of Jacksonville, North Carolina, and R. Bradley Smith (wife, Janet) of Hilliard, Ohio; four grandchildren; four siblings; and nieces and nephews.
Funeral service is 9:30 a.m. (Central Standard Time) April 2 at Hartzler-Clapper Funeral Home in Brookston, Indiana. Entombment to follow in Tippecanoe Memory Gardens Cemetery in West Lafayette, Illinois.