More on Maurer: Click here to see the UNMC chancellor's lengthy list of accomplishments and what others have to say about his impact.
Former University of Nebraska Medical Center students who haven't been on campus for years are bewildered when they return, Dr. Bob Wigton says.
“The response anymore is, ‘I don't recognize anything.' ”
The buildings have “multiplied incredibly,” he said.
The modern building boom began in earnest under Dr. Hal Maurer, who become UNMC chancellor in December 1998. Maurer, a pediatric cancer doctor and the former dean of UNMC's College of Medicine, has helped bring in more than $400 million over the years to change the face of the campus.
Maurer announced Tuesday that at the end of June he will make a transition into the role of fundraiser for UNMC's planned $370 million cancer center and ambulatory, or nonemergency, center. He made the announcement a day after his 76th birthday.
“UNMC has been put on the map during Dr. Maurer's tenure,” said Omaha philanthropist Ruth Scott. She and her husband, Bill, have contributed to such projects as the College of Medicine and College of Public Health buildings.
“He had a vision that probably nobody thought would come to fruition,” she said, “but it has.”
NU President J.B. Milliken will appoint a search committee to replace Maurer. Officials expect to conduct a national search.
Wigton, associate dean for graduate medical education and an internal medicine professor, remembers what the campus was like when he started there as a student in 1965.
“There were really only two main locations for the educational auditoriums (lecture halls): The two original laboratory buildings that are now called Poynter Hall and Bennett.”
Today, the campus is packed with newer buildings. Look around: The Sorrell Center for Health Science Education. The low-vision center. The geriatric medicine building. The nursing science building. The public health building. The student plaza and tower. Numerous renovations. The eye institute, which is under construction. And those two large buildings on the west end, the Durham Research Center towers. All done under Maurer's watch.
Maurer came to Nebraska in late 1993 after 25 years at the Medical College of Virginia. He had served there as a professor and chairman of its pediatrics department.
He was dean of the UNMC College of Medicine through late 1998. While dean, he raised the academic standards for medical student graduation and augmented the college's M.D./Ph.D. Scholars Program. He also led the negotiations between Clarkson and University Hospitals to form, in 1997, the Nebraska Health System, now known as the Nebraska Medical Center.
Maurer is internationally known for his expertise in rhabdomyosarcoma, a childhood cancer. He was a principal investigator of several National Institutes of Health research grants and served as chairman of the national Intergroup Rhabdomyosarcoma Study Group for 26 years. The group has been credited with raising the cure rate of that type of cancer from 20 percent to 75 percent.
Maurer sees biomedical research as the foundation of a great medical center.
“From biomedical research,” he said, “you fuel education and you build strong clinical programs.
“You look at the great places, Columbia, Harvard, Mayo (Clinic). Fundamentally, it's a research program that excels in certain areas, that attracts the clinical talent that builds a huge enterprise. Can we do it in Nebraska? Sure, we can.”
Research, he said, is “what excites faculty when they come on. They want to be part of this. Initially, it was very hard to recruit (faculty). But now it's less hard.”
A major draw for researchers are the previously mentioned Durham Research Center towers. Maurer helped persuade Chuck Durham, retired chairman and CEO of the HDR Inc. engineering firm, to contribute millions for the towers' construction.
“I can't recruit a top researcher here unless we have top facilities,” Maurer said. “I was very fortunate that I met with Chuck Durham when I became chancellor. ... Once you got Chuck into it and you could say Chuck Durham supported it, then people recognized it was a good product.”
In all, more than $150 million in private support was raised to build the towers, which have a total of more than 200 biomedical research laboratories.
Maurer also reached out to communities across Nebraska and pushed for UNMC to become a “500-mile campus,” as the University of Nebraska system has called itself. Maurer said his entire leadership team would visit a quadrant of the state each year to “update them on what's happening, find out what they wanted (and) what's new in their area, what they would like to see us do, how can we help them.”
In 2009, UNMC established the Northern Division of the UNMC College of Nursing in Norfolk. The first class graduated in May.
UNMC, Maurer said, has become a leader in transplantation and cancer research, particularly research into lymphoma, which is a blood cancer, and pancreatic cancer.
His tenure hasn't been all successes. Maurer said he has been frustrated that he has been unable to get Saddle Creek Road moved to allow for campus expansion. City and state officials have been helpful, he said, but the federal government has been difficult to deal with.
He also was disappointed that he was unable to get a new VA Medical Center built near the UNMC campus after he was asked to help persuade government officials to move a VA upgrade along.
“They would have saved an enormous amount of money,” Maurer said.
Congress has appropriated $56 million for the project's design and planning.
Some in the state have questioned why UNMC needs to raise its national profile by building a cancer center instead of focusing more on turning out medical professionals for Nebraska. Maurer notes that UNMC's annual student numbers have grown from 3,000 to 3,600 and said, “All right. Somebody gets really sick, they'll go somewhere else. That's fine. You want to go to Mayo Clinic (in Minnesota)? You want to go to (Houston's) MD Anderson? Why shouldn't Nebraskans have a place that they can come to and not go disrupt the family and all that? Why not do it here?”
Maurer's wife, Beverly, a full-time volunteer for UNMC who helps with recruiting, fundraising and developing community support, said she is “thrilled for him that there is this opportunity to move on to something else. ... I'm not sure had this cancer project not come along that we would have even been talking about changing roles from chancellor.”
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The Maurer file
Dr. Hal Maurer has served as chancellor since December 1998. Before then, he served as dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Medicine from October 1993 through November 1998.
Among his accomplishments:
» Led the negotiations to link Clarkson and University Hospitals to form the Nebraska Health System in 1997, now known as the Nebraska Medical Center.
» Nearly tripled UNMC's research funding, with its research dollars now about $90 million annually.
» Worked with state officials to ensure tobacco settlement funds going to the State of Nebraska would support biomedical research. UNMC receives about $7 million per year from this funding.
» Formed a new College of Public Health.
» Initiated global health programs in China, India, Russia and Afghanistan with student and faculty exchanges, master's programs, primary care medicine courses, research collaborations and more.
» Established a new College of Nursing division in Norfolk with private and public support.
» Developed these new programs: Regenerative Medicine, Nanomedicine, Drug Delivery, Bioterrorism Preparedness, Emergency Medicine, Heart Failure/Transplantation and Robotic Surgery.
» Obtained funding with the help of U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson and business leaders Walter Scott and Michael Yanney from the secretary of Veterans Affairs for a new $560 million hospital for the Omaha VA.
» Initiated “Destination Midtown,” which subsequently was supported by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and Mutual of Omaha.
» Unveiled plans this year for UNMC's biggest project ever: a new cancer center on the western edge of the campus.
He helped raise more than $400 million for the construction of these facilities:
» Durham Research Centers I and II
» Sorrell Center for Health Sciences Education
» Center for Nursing Sciences
» Lincoln division of College of Nursing transfer to and renovation of Commerce Court
» Home Instead Center for Successful Aging
» New utilities facility
» College of Dentistry renovation
» Weigel Williamson Center for Visual Rehabilitation
» Eye Surgery Center (in progress)
» School of Allied Health Professions renovation in Bennett Hall
» Student plaza and ice skating rink
» College of Public Health
» Transplant production facility
» Truhlsen Eye Institute
» Parking garage
» College of Nursing, Norfolk division
» College of Pharmacy facility (planned)
» Olson Center for Women's Health
» Psychiatry renovation in Poynter Hall
» Comprehensive cancer center (planned)