Changing of guard at UNT shouldn’t interfere with school’s ambitious goals

As the University of North Texas prepares for a change of leadership, the nation’s 24th-largest public higher ed institution will remain focused on a mission of providing the best undergraduate education in the state while continuing to increase its growing research culture.

V. Lane Rawlings, who was appointed president of the Denton campus in 2010, is retiring. He will be replaced, effective Monday, by Neal Smatresk, an Arlington native, former biology chairman and science dean at the University of Texas at Arlington, and immediate past president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

UNT has been around for 124 years and has an enrollment of more than 36,000 (possibly growing to 45,000 by in 2015), but it is not as well-known as some universities its size, Rawlings told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board.

Rawlings launched an updated branding campaign and made a commitment to big-time athletics. The school joined Conference USA in 2013 and in that inaugural season the Mean Green football team won its first bowl game in more than a decade.

While the university has emphasized attracting more distinguished and research-active faculty, Rawlings makes it clear that the college campus is “about students.” UNT’s fall freshman class of 4,500 was 18 percent larger than the 2010 class, with an average SAT score (1108) that was 7 points higher.

With decreased state higher ed funding, and with 73 percent of students receiving some kind of financial aid, one of Smatresk’s biggest challenges will be continuing to raise money for scholarships, faculty and academic programs.