FORT WORTH — This year marked new beginnings on campus, as several North Texas university leaders replaced outgoing presidents, most of whom left in search of the quiet schedules that come with retirement.At least one president was removed amid controversy.The University of North Texas System board kicked off the year with a presidential search after the 2012 firing of Dr. Scott Ransom from his leadership post at the Health Science Center in Fort Worth. Dr. Michael Williams, who served as interim president at the Fort Worth campus, was chosen the new president in the summer.In Arlington, Vistasp Karbhari took the helm at the University of Texas at Arlington in June, after the retirement of James Spaniolo.“Our end goal is being one of the best of the best,” Karbhari said.By the time 2013 drew to an end, UNT System leaders had hired three new presidents.In March, Ronald T. Brown was named president of the UNT Dallas campus. The system’s most recent hire was Neal Smatresk as president of the flagship campus in Denton. Smatresk, 62, will succeed V. Lane Rawlins, who is retiring. Smatresk, outgoing president at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, starts his presidency Feb. 3.“I see incredible opportunity,” Smatresk told the Star-Telegram shortly after being named to the top job.Building a team Team-building and getting to know new surroundings have made up much of the work in the early months of each presidency. “I want to come here and listen to folks,” Smatresk said, echoing other presidents.When named to the top post at the UNT Health Science Center, Williams promised to raise the center’s profile. He said he wanted a renewed focus on primary and preventive care, aging/memory loss disease, DNA research and applied genetics and rural healthcare.Williams also said he would continue efforts to gain support for a proposed M.D. program.During recent months, Williams has been working to understand the campus culture and needs. He wants to focus on his campus team with an eye toward education, patient care, research and discovery.Williams said he wants to expand academic offerings and diversify the campus’ portfolio so research funding isn’t too dependent on government dollars. He wants to create a more “customer-centric way of operating.”The latter reflects a focus on students and patients who seek treatment at the institution’s clinics.Williams said the center is trying to evolve into a values-based organization. Using this model, workers from top to bottom work for common goals as a team, Williams said.“It’s a powerful thing,” he said. “It doesn’t go on very frequently in many businesses and organizations.”Williams said he also started looking at ways to improve the institution. Changes include simple moves, such as placing visitor parking spots closer. Other changes send a message. For example, Williams sought to adjust salaries where appropriate.The center, he said, has moved to “respectful wages.” That means no one is paid below $11 an hour.“It sent a huge signal that we care about everybody,” he said.Strong foundationAt UT Arlington, Karbhari has been on “a journey of discovery,” meeting faculty, students, staff and community members, corporate leaders and leaders of nonprofit organizations.“It’s not surprising, but it is very nice to hear that there is a tremendous amount of respect for what UT Arlington has done,” Karbhari said.Karbhari said Spaniolo’s work to bring Arlington and the university together will help growth. He said the campus has thriving programs, including nursing, engineering and social work.“Those provide a fabulous foundation for us to build on,” he said.Karbhari’s aim is pre-eminence.He wants to continue to focus on student success. He points to the recent partnership between the university and the Arlington school district as an example of that work. The two have agreed to provide the top 20 percent of students access to college through the “Bound for Success” initiative.Karbhari said he wants to attract top educators and researchers to the Arlington campus in the coming months. The idea is to bring in experts who can complement strong academic and research programs that already exist.Reaching out to students is also important to Karbhari, who holds “Pizza with the President” gatherings. “The idea is just have a conversation,” he said.When Karbhari arrived in Arlington after leaving the provost post at University of Alabama-Huntsville, he wasn’t using social media. But that changed in Texas. He now has a Twitter account: @VistaspKarbhari.“When you want to get something out quickly, Twitter is a great way of doing it,” he said.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1