North Texas Daily

UNLV president named sole finalist for UNT position

UNLV president named sole finalist for UNT position

UNLV president named sole finalist for UNT position
November 20
16:46 2013

Joshua Knopp / Senior Staff Writer

The Board of Regents named University of Nevada-Las Vegas president Neal Smatresk the sole finalist to take over for V. Lane Rawlins as UNT’s president.

The university has been searching the nation for a replacement since March, when Rawlins announced he would be stepping down. The board will wait 21 days per Texas law, and then it can confirm Smatresk as the university’s 16th president.

Chancellor Lee Jackson said an array of qualities made Smatresk stand out as the top candidate. Smatresk was president for UNLV as it improved its research program and became as prominent as the University of Nevada-Reno, which Jackson said was the main flagship of the state. He has also watched over what is considered a successful athletic program, and recently guided the university through a $43 million budget cut over five years.

“He’s had to deal with stabilization, transition, improvement,” Jackson said. “UNLV did not used to be as visible in Las Vegas. They are taking on a role of visibility sort of equal to Reno. I think that means the experience is more applicable to what we’re doing here.”

Smatresk was born in Arlington and started working in higher education as a University of Texas-Arlington biology professor, where he eventually became dean of the College of Science.

Administrative assistant for UTA’s biology department Linda Taylor worked with Smatresk while he was at UTA. She said he was very active in research, and that she thought he’d make a good president.

“He was energetic. He was fun to work with,” she said. “He’s very charismatic and people like to rally around him.”

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Gettysburg College, a master’s degree from State University of New York at Buffalo and a Ph. D from the University of Texas at Austin.

Smatresk’s executive experience began in 2004 when he was appointed the vice chancellor of academic affairs at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He joined UNLV in 2009.

Smatresk said his experience with UNLV’s deficit and developing research program prepared him for a new challenge.

“That experience taught me more about making budgets than I ever thought I would know,” he said.

Smatresk identified maintaining the arts and sciences programs and building up the engineering program as his priorities for improving UNT, but he said he needs to gather more information before making any decisions.

“I think for any president coming in the door, listening is the first order of business,” he said.

Rawlins plans to remain with the university in a supporting role but said he is relieved to have a replacement.

“I’m just grateful to have had the opportunity to work with all these wonderful people,” Rawlins said. “I’ll feel better that I’m not going away physically, and I’ll still be able to watch the university grow.”

Smatresk said his familiarity with the area would help with the transition. Smatresk’s daughter, son and newborn grandchild already live in Texas.

“I’m excited,” Smatresk said. “Mostly I’m really thrilled to have the opportunity to come to a great university. Texas has always felt like home to me, so when the recruiters called, I listened.”

Rawlins and Smatresk

UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson, left, walks with Neal Smatresk who was named by the UNT Board of Regents as sole finalist for the UNT presidency. Photo by Gary Payne | University of North Texas Division of University Relations, Communications and Marketing.

Feature photo: President Neal Smatresk speaks at the Judy Bayley theatre in University of on Sept. 13. Smatresk, president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, voted as the sole finalist for University of North Texas presidency board of regents. Photo courtesy of Jesse Barrios | The Rebel Yell.

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