Tarleton State University announces new president

Tarleton State University’s new building in south Fort Worth is just the start of a larger plan

Tarleton State cut the ribbon on their new Fort Worth campus today. The university only has one building there so far but hopes to get approval for another this year.
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Tarleton State cut the ribbon on their new Fort Worth campus today. The university only has one building there so far but hopes to get approval for another this year.

After a nationwide search, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents announced Thursday that Tusculum University President James Hurley is set to become Tarleton State University’s new president this fall.

Hurley was named the sole finalist for the role, and will begin his new duties as the university’s 16th president Sept. 1, according to a news release. As required by law, the board may take final action on the hiring after a 21-day comment period.

“I am honored and humbled to be joining an incredible institution with an outstanding legacy of academic excellence and a steeped tradition of student success,” Hurley said in a news release.

Hurley will be tasked with overseeing a growing university with an $185 million annual budget, 1,400 employees and 13,000 students across its campuses and online.

He will succeed F. Dominic Dottavio, who has served as Tarleton State University’s president for 11 years and is stepping down at the end of August. Dottavio won’t be going far though, and after a sabbatical will be a tenured professor in the university’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, in addition to assisting the Division of Institutional Advancement.

A national search was conducted with the help of Wheless Partners, a Birmingham, Alabama, executive search firm, and Tarleton’s Search Advisory Committee. Forums were held with faculty and students in April to gather feedback.

“Dr. James Hurley quickly rose to the top with his extensive experience and obvious passion for higher education,” said Mayor Besty Price, who served on the search committee. “I am confident in Dr. Hurley’s ability to lead dual campuses and continue Tarleton’s tradition of academic excellence.”

Thirty-eight applicants were considered for the position, said Laylan Copelin, vice chancellor of marketing and communications for the Texas A&M University System.

“We had several excellent candidates, but at the end of the day Dr. Hurley stood head and shoulders above the rest,” Elaine Mendoza, chair of the A&M System Board of Regents, said in the news release.

Hurley has worked in education for 23 years and comes to Texas from Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tennessee, where he has served as the university’s president since 2017.

While there, he oversaw Tusculum’s conversion from a college to a university, the development of the university health center and the establishment of the College of Health Sciences, College of Science, Technology and Math, and the Niswonger College of Optometry that will offer doctorates and is expected to enroll its first class of students in the fall of 2020.

Before his role at Tusculum University, Hurley worked at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, where he served as the vice president for enrollment, athletics and public relations, dean of the School of Business and a professor of leadership and education.

A first-generation college student, Hurley earned a doctorate in educational leadership and finance from Morehead (Kentucky) State University, a master’s degree in education from Indiana University and a bachelor’s degree in business education and management from the University of Pikeville in Kentucky — where he previously served as president from 2011 to 2015.

Tarleton State has been expanding its offerings in Fort Worth, where it offers more than 50 degree programs. The university opened its new campus along the Chisholm Trail Parkway in southwest Fort Worth just last week. Classes are scheduled to start in the fall, with 1,721 students.

The university is looking at alternative sources of funding to continue to grow the campus and reach its goal of 9,000 students at the campus by 2030, after lawmakers failed to approve a multi-billion dollar bond revenue package that would have funded capital projects across Texas’ higher education institutions.

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Tessa Weinberg is a state government for the Star-Telegram. Based in Austin, she covers all things policy and politics with a focus on Tarrant County. She previously covered the Missouri legislature where her reporting prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. A California native and graduate of the University of Missouri, she’s made her way across the U.S. and landed in Texas in May 2019.