North Texas Daily

Rawlins’ legacy of tough decisions, leadership

Rawlins’ legacy of tough decisions, leadership

Rawlins’ legacy of tough decisions, leadership
January 30
01:10 2014

Joshua Knopp // Senior Staff Writer

System chancellor Lee Jackson said in mid-2010, UNT was trying to be all things to all people.

“UNT’s history is very, very broad,” he said. “I think it was very hard for UNT leaders to choose among their children.”

Outgoing president V. Lane Rawlins was hired into a university whose announced intentions were much bigger than its budget. In turn, he was asked to sort it out with all the authority of a one-year contract, Jackson said.

Rawlins had been clear that he and his wife were happy with their lives in the Northwest and didn’t want to get involved for more than a year, but he missed being around students.

“It was that unresolved anxiety between our hopes and our plans,” Jackson said. “No one was really comfortable or didn’t know how to say what was realistic. We had a lot of talk about large goals and it wasn’t clear which ones were our real goals.”

Solving this problem and the budgeting difficulties it created was Rawlins’ greatest accomplishment, Jackson said. Rawlins quickly established the school’s priorities in the form of the Four Bold Goals, and the school has adapted its budget to match those priorities.

Sticking to it will only get harder, as state funding has dwindled to just 21 percent of UNT’s budget. Over his tenure, Rawlins has personally proposed three tuition increases and oversaw a hiring freeze in 2012.

“The difficult decisions are the decisions people find it difficult to accept,” Rawlins said. “If we don’t pay more tuition, than we can’t keep up. If you’ve got to stop doing something, there are people associated with it.”

Dwindling budgets emphasized the importance of the Four Bold Goals. Rawlins said the most important part of a college is the undergraduate experience, and the school has tried to focus more heavily on that aspect than any other. While other schools focus on undergraduate education, they haven’t done it to the degree UNT has.

Rawlins said he’s seen the undergraduate experience get lost at some universities, and he didn’t want that to happen here.

“The only thing bold about the first goal is it’s first,” he said. “Sometimes in that whole mix of things, the undergraduate education is just taken for granted. I think what makes it bold for us is we didn’t take it for granted.”

Rawlins said the mix of things included research and sports, which many universities hold as high priorities. He said research is a part of exceptional teaching and getting funding.

Recently the athletics program has begun to overshadow education in terms of improving a university’s reputation. Rawlins wouldn’t say this trend was good or bad, but he did say UNT’s unexpectedly successful football season last year put his theory into practice when many alumni attended the bowl game.

“This kind of experience gives people a chance to reconnect with their institution, and we saw a lot of people we hadn’t seen in a long time,” he said. “To them it meant that UNT was moving forward.”

Though Rawlins said they are secondary, research and athletics have also moved forward under his tenure. UNT is still pushing to become a Tier One research school.

Student affairs vice president Elizabeth With said she’s noticed an increase in pride, with more people than ever mentioning their UNT connections since Rawlins came aboard. She said his leadership style and ability to make informed decisions helped keep things cool and focused among administrators.

“The bureaucracy that can sometimes be involved in higher education didn’t matter to him,” she said. “There weren’t knee-jerk decisions, there weren’t decisions made to make the road clearer for anyone else.”

With said that after 18 years at UNT, the differences in the past three are “leaps and bounds” beyond the previous 15.

Provost and vice president for academic affairs Warren Burggren agreed, saying Rawlins had improved teamwork between administrators.

“People are talking to each other. We work together more effectively,” he said. “I’ve not worked in a more collaborative environment than I work right now, and I think I can attribute that directly to his leadership.”

Rawlins will remain in an advisory role to new president Neal Smatresk, who takes over Monday. After wanting to move back to the Northwest after one year, Rawlins and his wife have decided to stay in North Texas and keep working with the students who brought him out of retirement in the first place.

Rawlins said everyone is always learning, but making learning the top priority is what makes students so exciting to be around.

“You go through life and you encounter all kinds of people and they all know everything,” he said. “But just the declaration that you are a student, ‘I want to learn.’ I think that declaration, especially made by young people who can learn so fast, is so exciting. It keeps me young.”

Feature photo:

President V. Lane Rawlins gives one of his last speeches at UNT’s president on Tuesday at the state of the student body address in Stovall Hall. Photo by Kelsey Littlefield / Staff Photographer 

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