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UNLV president named finalist for UNT’s top job

Neal Smatresk, an Arlington native and current president at UNLV, has been named sole finalist for the University of North Texas presidency post.

The UNT System Board of Regents approved a recommendation from Chancellor Lee Jackson to name Smatresk sole finalist on Wednesday.

“Being part of UNT as it grows in reputation to one of our nation’s top universities in research, scholarship and the arts is an incredible opportunity,” Smatresk said in a statement.

The board action begins a minimum 21-day period that is required by Texas law before regents can appoint Smatresk president of the Denton campus, which is the UNT System’s flagship university and has about 36,000 students.

If confirmed by regents in December, the 62-year-old Arlington native would become UNT’s 16th president.

“I look forward to being part of the university family and working with everyone to make UNT the best it can be,” Smatresk said in the news release.

Smatresk has been president at the University of Nevada,Las Vegas since 2009.

“Dr. Smatresk has an impressive and distinguished record as president of UNLV and we are pleased that he is ready to lead UNT at a time when it is expanding in both excellence and size,” UNT System Board of Regents Chairman G. Brint Ryan said in a news release.

Smatresk will fill a post being vacated by UNT President V. Lane Rawlins, who announced his retirement in March. He told the Star-Telegram that he wants to retire on or before Dec. 31 so he can focus on his family.

Rawlins, 75, said he will continue serving the Denton university as an active president emeritus.

Smatresk’s appointment comes 11 months after the controversial firing of Dr. Scott Ransom at the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth. Earlier this year, Dr. Michael Williams was named president of 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 was lured out of retirement to help the university raise its profile as it works to gain top-tier research status.

UNT’s move to name a new president at the Denton campus follows the recent hiring of a new president at the University of Texas at Arlington. Vistasp Karbhari became UTA’s eighth president in the summer.

Smatresk is credited with emphasizing student access and success, research and innovation at UNLV. During his tenure, UNLV completed a $537 million fundraising campaign that included UNLV’s largest active scholarship program.

Smatresk also led the college as it established an Academic Success Center to help students graduate on time.

Smatresk, a biologist, began his career as a faculty member at UTA, where he served as chair of biology 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.

Paul Paulus, a professor of psychology at UTA, said Smatresk was a dynamic dean while at UTA. Paulus served as an associate dean during Smatresk’s tenure as dean of science at UTA.

“I think it is phenomenal for UNT,” Paulus said. “He’s going to be a real asset to that university.”

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.