UNLV president will accept University of North Texas job, if confirmed

UNLV President Neal Smatresk said Wednesday he would accept the position of president for the University of North Texas if his appointment is confirmed by the system’s Board of Regents next month.

And if Smatresk departs the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he would be “leaving an institution that’s on its way up.”

The news comes just six months after he received a new four-year contract with UNLV.

Smatresk was named the sole finalist for the presidential position at the University of North Texas by the system’s Board of Regents.

The board during a special teleconference meeting Wednesday approved the recommendation from the UNT system’s Chancellor Lee Jackson, according to the University of North Texas, located in Denton near the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A telephone connection was only available for members of the board. Members of the public or media had to be physically present.

“The University of North Texas has made it clear that they would like me to take the leadership role there,” Smatresk said in a statement to Nevada’s Board of Regents. “This is a great university, in many ways similar to UNLV, and this position will allow me to combine an opportunity, the skills I have developed, and our family life all in one place.”

The board’s action begins a minimum 21-day period required under Texas law before the UNT System Regents can vote to appoint Smatresk to take the helm at UNT as its next president, according to the university. Kelley Reese, spokeswoman at UNT, said information regarding Smatresk’s base salary and total compensation package won’t be available until the board votes to appoint him as president.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for December.

UNT President V. Lane Rawlins in March announced he would retire at the end of this year, according to UNT.

Smatresk is happy at UNLV, said Kevin Page, chairman of the Nevada Board of Regents, but the new job would take him closer to family in Texas, he said. Smatresk has two children there.

“It’s very disappointing,” Page said of the possibility of Smatresk leaving. “He’s done a fabulous job.”

Smatresk said the issue of family spurred interest in the position.

Smatresk said that he’s been approached by a number of other institutions since arriving at UNLV, but he never returned a call until the right opportunity came around.

“They approached me,” he said. “They were interested in me. I was a known commodity to them.”

The potential new job would also offer an opportunity for growth that could lead to “achieving national prominence,” Smatresk said.

“I think UNT is a great institution with 36,000 students and a growing mission,” he said.

This fall, during his annual State of the University address, Smatresk spoke of his vision to make UNLV a top research university. The school also is in the middle of a project to build a stadium, in partnership with the Las Vegas resort industry.

Smatresk said he expects progress to continue and doesn’t think his vision for the university will change if he departs.

“I don’t see why anyone would change that vision,” he said. “I think the regents want a top-tier university in Las Vegas and will work to attain it.”

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich said he was happy for Smatresk and wished him the best. He said it would be a loss for UNLV to lose him, but the university is in good shape.

“The initiatives and ideas that (Smatresk) started will prosper behind him,” he said. “The university is strong and will stay strong and will do well. I don’t see any change on those good ideas. Good ideas survive a transition in leadership and those are great ideas for UNLV and for this region and for the state.”

Smatresk has designated UNLV Executive Vice President and Provost John White as the acting officer in charge, Klaich said. If Smatresk ultimately leaves UNLV, White would be in charge until the board appoints an interim or acting president.

Klaich and Page would then visit UNLV and talk to students, faculty and staff as well as UNLV Foundation and business leaders to gather their ideas on leadership. The pair would then make a recommendation to the board.

A presidential search is triggered by a vacancy in the president’s office, he said. Smatresk would be the second president within the Nevada System of Higher Education to step down in the last two months.

Early last month, Western Nevada College President Carol Lucey stepped down from her post.

In early June, the Nevada Board of Regents voted to approve a four-year contract for Smatresk. His annual salary is $246,426, with a total compensation package of $447,424, which includes an annual salary supplement of $169,997, an $8,000 car allowance, an $18,000 housing allowance and a $5,000 host account.

The only change to his new contract was an additional $50,000 in “take home” pay annually. Additionally, a one-time contribution of $125,000 in deferred compensation paid by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Foundation, was rolled into a retirement account for Smatresk on July 1.

Smatresk was named president at UNLV in 2009. Before that he served as executive vice president and provost for two years.

Previously, he had served for 22 years at the University of Texas at Arlington in various capacities and also worked at the University of Hawaii at Manoa before coming to UNLV.

Smatresk said there will be a period of ambiguity between now and Dec. 12, but he will continue to communicate with Page and Klaich.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (702) 383-0440, or yamaro@reviewjournal.com.