UNT president announces retirement

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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DENTON -- The presidential merry-go-round in the University of North Texas System continues to spin, the latest move coming with Tuesday's announcement that UNT President V. Lane Rawlins is stepping down.

Rawlins said he plans to retire on or before Dec. 31 to focus on his family but wants to continue serving the Denton university as an active president emeritus.

He made the announcement less than a week after a finalist was selected for the president of UNT's Dallas campus and two months after the controversial firing of Dr. Scott Ransom at the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth.

Rawlins joined UNT in May 2010 as an interim appointment but was given the title of president in November that year. Rawlins, 75, was lured out of retirement to help the university raise its profile as it works to gain top-tier research status.

Ready to retire

Rawlins said he's ready to step down.

"I've worked through what most people call retirement," Rawlins said.

Rawlins, who had previously been president at Washington State University and the University of Memphis, succeeded Gretchen Bataille, becoming UNT's 15th president. His salary is $410,000 annually.

"You don't always have a chance to approve someone who has already been a university president," UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson said. "We knew we were fortunate in 2010."

Under Rawlins' tenure, UNT expanded buildings and academic programs. He implemented a tuition increase and unveiled a new branding strategy: "A green light to greatness." Enrollment also grew; the school recently announced a record 33,715 students for the spring 2013 session.

Jackson said Rawlins had a "calming effect" on the campus at a time when the school, facing state funding cuts, was exploring more needs-based student aid and expanding research and athletics.

Role in merger study

He was also deeply involved in a study that looked at the pros and cons of merging the Denton school with the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth -- a report that played a part in Ransom's firing.

Discussions of a merger were tabled in November, not long after the study -- co-written by Rawlins and Ransom -- was given to Jackson. An accompanying executive summary did not find much to support a merger, saying "the group could not identify significant short term benefits [approximately 3-5 years after the merger] to the merger. The issue of long-term benefits, however, is much more difficult to assess."

In December, the UNT System regents voted 7-0 to fire Ransom, after they and Jackson cited concerns about Ransom's conduct and leadership style, namely his handling of the merger study.

Rawlins said merger discussions had nothing to do with his decision to retire.

"The merger, in the long run, would be beneficial for the region," Rawlins said, adding that it is a long process that shouldn't drive a wedge between communities.

Jackson said the UNT System will name a 15-member search advisory committee within two weeks to find a replacement for Rawlins.

At the health science center, Dr. Michael Williams, a former UNT regent, was named interim president. A search committee is also being put together for that position. Williams has said he would like his job to become permanent.

Asked whether the merger talks might resurface when two new system presidents arrive, Jackson said, "For the foreseeable future, it's an issue that's been laid on the table indefinitely."

Will stay involved

Rawlins said he plans to remain involved with UNT through a president emeritus appointment that will allow him to work on special projects including fundraising.

He said he and his wife are thinking about living in Denton, where he enjoys the music scene and his wife, Mary Jo, has made dear friends in quilting circles, he said.

"I never dreamed I would stay more than a few months, but UNT is such a special place that I fell in love with the university, its students, faculty and staff," Rawlins said in a statement.

On Thursday, the UNT System announced that Ronald Brown, provost of Wayne State University in Michigan, is the sole finalist for president of UNT at Dallas, the first public university in that city. The UNT Dallas College of Law is scheduled to open in the fall of 2014.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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