More than 300 members of the University of Nebraska at Omaha community gave Dr. Jeffrey Gold a standing ovation Thursday and honored him as one of their own.
Gold, 67, stood at the center of an “investiture,” or installment, ceremony as UNO’s chancellor.
As chancellor of UNO, Gold is, in fact, one of UNO’s own, but he took an uncommon path to earn that recognition. He has been chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center since 2014, then had the interim leadership role at UNO added to his duties in 2017. He became permanent chancellor of UNO, on top of leading UNMC, early this year.
When he was named interim chancellor, some wondered if then-NU President Hank Bounds and Gold intended to merge UNMC and UNO. Gold has experience in merging institutions from his years in Ohio higher education.
But merger talk has died out, and Thursday it was all about the Mavericks, the team mascot and brand of UNO.
For his double duty, Gold will make $972,405 in 2019-20. UNO is the second-largest institution in the NU system with an enrollment of about 16,000.
Bounds had said he expected Gold to run UNO until 2022, when a successor would be named and Gold would return to leading only UNMC.
Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, an assistant vice chancellor at UNO, said after the ceremony that Gold has rapidly absorbed what being a Maverick means.
“I think he’s deeply invested in what we’re doing here,” Alvarado said. “There’s not much explaining that has to go on anymore. He’s figured it out.”
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Laura Grams, a former UNO Faculty Senate leader, agreed that Gold is committed to UNO.
“Now we really have gotten to know him well. And so we’ve really seen his dedication,” Grams said. “Our institutional identity has been enhanced.”
The ceremony included comments from former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who is a Nebraskan, a UNO graduate and a former U.S. senator. Hagel said Gold has vision and has moved UNO beyond just an urban university.
“Jeff Gold’s credentials are spectacularly impressive,” Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, said. Hagel concluded his remarks with a “Go, Mavericks!”
The theme of the ceremony was “Access to Exceptional.”
As an undergraduate, Gold studied engineering at Cornell University in New York. But after that, he became a medical doctor and pediatric heart surgeon.
Gold said before the ceremony that his work at the med center and UNO compels him to go to bed at 1:30 a.m. and to rise at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays. His experience as a surgeon, he said, showed him how to exist on four hours of sleep a night.
“Interestingly,” he said, “I’m never tired.”
UNO Student Regent Aya Yousuf told the audience that Gold has been known to respond to student emails about 5 a.m. Gold said before the ceremony that he tries to answer the previous day’s emails before sunrise.
NU spokeswoman Melissa Lee estimated the cost of the investiture at $23,000, including $4,500 for Hagel’s honorarium and travel costs. Other costs included programs, flowers, photography and catering for the post-ceremony reception. The expenses will be paid with a combination of tax funds, tuition money and private support, Lee said.
The ceremony included colorful academic gowns and hats; a prayer from the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, who is president of Creighton University; and a Native American prayer from Steve Tamayo of the Sicangu Lakota.
Attendees included Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, members of the NU Board of Regents, state senators, NU and UNO administrators and faculty members, and other higher education leaders from the metro area.
“We believe — scratch that — we know” Gold is the right person for the job, NU Regents Chairman Tim Clare of Lincoln told the audience.
Gold coupled his comments with his annual State of the Campus speech, which he said would be “mercifully brief.” Gold pledged to view challenges as opportunities, to make other people’s dreams come true and to “remain laser-focused” on UNO’s mission.
Gold’s comments lasted about 25 minutes and the ceremony as a whole a little more than 95 minutes. Then the party moved from Strauss Performing Arts Center to a reception at the Milo Bail Student Center.