Former UNT president plans to stay in Denton

02/05/2014 5:59 PM

02/05/2014 6:21 PM

V. Lane Rawlins just retired as University of North Texas president, but he’s not leaving the Mean Green.

“You will see me at the concerts,” Rawlins said. “You will see me at the ballgames.”

Rawlins, 76, was succeeded by Neal Smatresk, formerly president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who took over on Monday.

When Rawlins joined UNT in May 2010, he planned to be an interim leader for about a year, he said. But he became absorbed in the work, and when he was asked to stay, he did. Rawlins said he wanted to help raise the university’s profile.

“We said, ‘We want to be the best undergraduate university in the State of Texas.’ ”

Rawlins also wanted UNT to offer superior graduate programs and work toward becoming a high-performing, nationally competitive research institution.

“My view of what the University of North Texas can be is that the sky is the limit,” Rawlins said.

When he arrived, the university had made local headlines with the abrupt departure of President Gretchen Bataille. Named UNT’s first female president in 2006, she was well-liked by students and was respected, according to news reports at the time. Her departure left the campus concerned.

Colleagues describe Rawlins as professional, honest and frank — characteristics that helped build confidence when he arrived, UNT Provost Warren Buggren said.

“People, above all, trust him,” Buggren said. “It doesn’t mean that we always agree with him.”

UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson said Rawlins’ experience in higher education helped the university get better data, improved its planning and elevated fundraising efforts.

The community likes Rawlins, Jackson said.

“He conveyed a sense of optimism that is contagious,” he said.

Promoting the UNT brand was another priority for Rawlins, who said he still meets people who don’t know that Denton is home to the University of North Texas, the flagship campus in the UNT System.

“Talk about being under the radar,” Rawlins said.

Getting more attention was the goal when UNT unveiled the slogan “Green Light to Greatness,” on billboards across the Metroplex, including Interstates 35 and 30.

Rawlins also perfected a UNT sales pitch that includes the university’s known academic strengths and notes where future growth will occur.

“We could be as big in music as we want to be,” Rawlins said. UNT’s strong music education program attracts students from across the country, and alumni have won Grammy Awards.

The university also continues to add more academic programs in fields including science, technology, engineering and math.

UNT was founded in 1890. The system includes UNT Dallas and the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth.

The Denton campus hit an enrollment record last fall with more than 36,000 students. The university reported 33,712 students for this spring semester.

Rawlins said he reminds people that UNT is also a Division I school, so it competes athletically at the highest level. He stressed that students looking for the full college experience will find it at UNT.

“If we are going to be successful, we need to get people to understand who we are so we can become better,” Rawlins said.

Rawlins announced plans to retire last May as the UNT System underwent other leadership changes.

New presidents were named last year at UNT Dallas and the UNT Health Science Center.

Rawlins said he and his wife, Mary Jo, bought a home in Denton. He plans to stay involved in UNT projects and possibly teach a course.

“For me, it has been an interesting chapter in my life that I was not expecting to have,” he said.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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