DENTON — Neal Smatresk, an Arlington native and outgoing UNLV president, will head University of North Texas as the Denton campus seeks greater student access and top tier research status.The University of North Texas System Board of Regents voted unanimously to name Smatresk president of the flagship Denton campus on Thursday morning.Smatresk, 62, will succeed V. Lane Rawlins, who announced in March that he planned to retire. Smatresk begins his presidency on Feb. 3, 2014.Rawlins will continue to lead the college until Smatresk takes the helm.“I see great opportunity,” Smatresk said, explaining that he was drawn to UNT because it’s sits in a growing metropolitan region and has the potential to become a nationally prominent institution.The university was founded in 1890 and has about 36,000 students. It is the flagship campus for the UNT System, which also includes the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth and the University of North Texas at Dallas. The UNT System also includes a College of Law that will welcome its inaugural class next fall.Smatresk said the Denton campus has a solid sense of community.“I love the family feel,” he said. “That’s a hard thing to replicate if you don’t have that already.”“It is an incredible privilege to be selected as the next president of the University of North Texas,” Smatresk stated in a news release issued by the university. “My wife Debbie and I are excited about returning to Texas and becoming members of the UNT community.” Smatresk said he wants UNT to partner in research with existing businesses and emerging economies in several fields of study such as logistics, bioscience, information technology and healthcare. But his vision also includes tying UNT’s strengths in the arts with the digital age.“I think that is a unique opportunity,” he said, noting that the art and movie industries are among the nation’s biggest exports.UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson that appointment is exciting for the campus.“The experience that Dr. Smatresk has in leading a university that is in many ways similar to UNT combined with his knowledge of our region and state are a powerful combination,” Jackson stated in a news release.“UNT is a strong and thriving institution. We hope to build our reputation as an emerging nationally prominent research institution and ensure that the good initiatives launched by past administration continue to flourish. With additional input from our community, we will chart a course for how our great university can best serve Denton and the greater North Texas region,” he said.Smatresk has served as president of the University of Nevada Las Vegas for four years. At UNLV, Smatresk emphasized the importance of student access and success, research and innovation. During his tenure, UNLV completed a $537 million fundraising campaign and opened Brookings Mountain West, which partners with the Brookings Institute.Smatresk, a biologist, began his career as a faculty member at UTA, where he served as chairman of the biology department and dean of science. He has a 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.Even though Smatresk has Tarrant County ties, the appointment will make him a Denton County resident.“We are moving to Denton,” he said.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1