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Former University of Nebraska-Lincoln vice chancellor Prem Paul died Friday morning just days after stepping down from his position leading the university's research and economic development efforts.

He was 68.

"(UNL's) heart aches today," Chancellor Ronnie Green tweeted early Friday morning. "We will forever think BIG b/c of your biggest of Big Red Hearts. #PremThinkBIG."

NU President Hank Bounds also added his thoughts via the social network: "Our hearts are broken. The (NU) family is in mourning and will miss you, Prem."

Paul began at UNL in 2001, helping propel UNL to become one of the fastest-growing research universities in the country over the next eight years, until a recession slowed federal research funding.

Even then, Paul oversaw the launch of several research initiatives at UNL both in the sciences and the humanities while also establishing several institutes and offices known throughout the country, including the Antarctica geological drilling project, the Extreme Light Laboratory, the Ken Morrison Life Sciences Research Center, and the Center for Brain Biology and Behavior, among others.

This year, UNL announced a record-breaking amount of sponsored research funding, which increased 12 percent to $146.9 million.

Former Chancellor Harvey Perlman hired Paul away from Iowa State University, where he was associate vice provost for research, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Veterinary Medicine and assistant director of the Iowa Agricultural Experiment Station.

Perlman said Paul was passionate about his work, and that passion was contagious with faculty, staff, administrators and students.

"He infused the entire university administration with his commitment to excellence, to high ambitions, and to significant accomplishments," Perlman said on Monday. "While his portfolio was research and economic development, his influence was much broader."

Although he pushed for UNL to obtain more research dollars, Paul "worked tirelessly" to promote the sciences as well as the humanities, Perlman noted, "where the payoffs were in different currency."

Bounds, in his second year leading the university system, said anyone who met Paul met someone enthusiastic about his work and life yet humble in his demeanor.

"Prem never missed an opportunity to share the stories of the amazing work of our faculty, staff and students," Bounds said in a statement. "And he did it with true pride and passion. He elevated our research enterprise to new heights and set a tone of excellence that will live on as UNL continues its impressive trajectory.

"Of course, Prem would deflect any credit and instead shine the spotlight on his talented colleagues on the faculty and staff — the ultimate definition of leadership," Bounds added.

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Former NU President J.B. Milliken called Paul "one of the most talented administrators I've worked with in my 30 years in higher education," as well as "one of the kindest, most generous people I've had the good fortune to know."

Together, they worked on many big ideas, Milliken said, including Nebraska Innovation Campus and the Water for Food Institute.

"His enthusiasm was infectious and people believed in his big vision and wanted to be a part of the energy and success he generated," Milliken said in an email. "He was a transformative leader and will be remembered as one of the most important figures in the modern history of UNL as well as a wonderful, caring man."

Paul is a past member of review panels for the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation and was a member of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's xenotransplantation advisory subcommittee, among other positions.

He announced he would be stepping down Monday, citing health concerns.

On Tuesday, as UNL announced the creation of its newest NIH Center for Biomedical Excellence, the Center for Integrated Biomolecular Communication — another achievement Paul helped bring to fruition — Chancellor Green paused to recognize his enthusiastic colleague.

"There is no one — I can assure you — who is more excited about this or enthused about the future of this research and what will happen here than Dr. Paul," Green said.

Paul is survived by his wife, Missi, daughter Neena and son-in-law Steve, son Ryan and granddaughter Ashland. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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