LINCOLN — Campuses in the University of Nebraska system have talked about collaboration for a long time, but sometimes they seemed more interested in competing with one another.

Now it appears that they genuinely are committed to working together.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska Medical Center celebrated the completion of their joint health center-nursing education building on Tuesday.

The $43.9 million building will save money on utilities and by sharing space and technology.

“We live in an era where collaboration’s become the secret sauce for success,” UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold said in an interview Monday.

The NU system is made up of two institutions in Omaha, one in Lincoln and one in Kearney. They have collaborated in many instances before.

For example, UNL offers engineering courses on the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus. Similarly, UNO offers criminology programs in Lincoln.

But there also have been turf battles. Even with the shared engineering programs, UNO and Omaha business leaders battled UNL about 20 years ago over Omaha’s desire to have its own engineering college.

Ultimately, UNL beefed up engineering offerings in Omaha and UNO was allowed to build the Peter Kiewit Institute for information science, technology and engineering, but not its own engineering college.

An out-of-state consultant in the early 1990s, Patricia Widmayer, said she found UNL to be the most protective of its turf of any system’s flagship campus she had seen.

And Widmayer’s work, along with that of others, led to the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education. The commission serves as a neutral board in approving new college programs and projects.

NU President Hank Bounds has pounded the drum for teamwork since arriving from Mississippi three years ago.

“I absolutely believe we are stronger together, and I couldn’t be prouder that we’re seeing more and more examples” of collaboration, Bounds said in an email Monday.

Besides the new health clinic-nursing building, Bounds a couple of years ago created systemwide budget response teams, blending members from each campus, to find efficiencies and cut costs. NU has said those teams so far have saved NU about $22 million.

And he appointed Gold last year to oversee both UNMC and UNO for at least two years. Gold has collapsed several vice chancellorships at each school into a vice chancellor for business, another for student success and a third for communication, to serve both universities.

Other examples of teamwork over the past three years:

» The National Strategic Research Institute, which recently won a $92 million contract with the military. The NU institute uses professors in the NU system to work on various Defense Department projects, including vaccines and anti-terrorism strategies.

» The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Health Science Education Complex. The complex brings UNK together with UNMC’s colleges of allied health and nursing.

» UNL professors are working with UNMC researchers on surgical robots and bone disorder treatments. NU professors have many other collaborative research projects.

» The Underserved Law Opportunities Program and the Urban Health Opportunities Program help minorities and other UNO students gain entry to UNL and UNMC to eventually practice law and medicine, respectively, in poor areas.

Before at least 150 attendees Tuesday, NU, UNL and UNMC leaders celebrated the new building. Nebraska Medicine, UNMC’s clinical partner, will provide 130 health professionals and staffers to the UNL health center.

“There is state-of-the-art everywhere in this building,” UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green told the audience.

The U-shaped building at 550 N. 19th St. in Lincoln features plenty of green glass and black and white bricks.

The interior has many curving walls to match the exterior.

UNMC Nursing Dean Juliann Sebastian told the audience that the collaboration highlights “the potential of this great university because of the rich opportunities for working together across campuses and across programs and disciplines.”

Bounds appeared to be pleased.

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rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123

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