The University of North Texas will have a new vice president for research and economic development on campus July 8 — Thomas McCoy of Montana State University.
McCoy brings an aggressive plan to double the university’s research expenditures over the next five years, as well as attract valuable students and faculty.
For the last 15 years, McCoy has been the vice president for research, creativity and technology at MSU and last year, oversaw $112 million in research funding.
“I felt there’s a definite, solid commitment university-wide to enhancing the research portfolio at UNT, and I felt that I could contribute in some important ways,” he said. “I just feel like after doing it here for 15 years, I would like a challenge to take on for the next five years and maybe beyond.”
UNT President Lane Rawlins said McCoy was the university’s top choice for the position. Because of his reputation nationally and in Washington, as well as his forthright attitude during the interview process, everyone Rawlins spoke with had McCoy marked as the top candidate.
“I feel very, very fortunate to get him here,” Rawlins said. “I think both his experience and his can-do attitude, and mostly it’s just that he’s done this. And he’s done it successfully ... he really was the vice president during the process by which they became a tier-one university.”
Research funding at UNT has been growing as the university tries to become a tier-one institution, a goal outlined in several university documents. For fiscal year 2012, the university generated $21.6 million in research funding, compared to $13.4 million in fiscal year 2008.
To continue growing the total dollar amounts of funding, McCoy says he plans to expand the research portfolio within the 15 research clusters UNT identified in 2010, including renewable bio products and complex logistics systems. These clusters draw students and faculty across disciplines to focus on specific research that has widespread interest.
Every one or two years while at MSU, McCoy identified a specific research theme and focused specifically on building a stronger team. Once the team was successful, the return on that investment was used to help build up the next focus, McCoy explained.
Increased funding is just one part of the equation to expand UNT as a research institution, McCoy said. The university must also focus on attracting top students and faculty, like the recent hire of McCoy’s peer, Richard Dixon, who joined the UNT faculty in February. Dixon is a leading specialist in metabolic engineering of plants and previously served as director of the plant biology division at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Okla.
“He’s a major strength,” McCoy said. “I know Rick well. I’m a plant scientist myself, and that’s an area I’m positive that there will be great success.”
Another large draw to join UNT was a push from former MSU President Geoff Gamble, who is now UNT’s vice president for strategy and operations. McCoy recalled Gamble coming back to MSU a few times after working with UNT and talking about the growth and opportunity in Denton.
“In terms of what attracted me to UNT was visiting with our former President Gamble, who has been working down there with President Rawlins,” he said. “There’s commitment to growing the research program, a lot of excitement around it, and he encouraged me to consider it.”
Gamble said he believes McCoy will be a strong asset to the university after seeing him make major funding accomplishments in five years or less at MSU. McCoy joined MSU in 1998, which Gamble said was only slightly more advanced than UNT is currently in terms of research productivity, and by 2005, MSU was generating $100 million in research funding.
“Tom McCoy was the architect of that,” Gamble said.
Also under McCoy’s leadership, the campus was recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching as a top research university, Gamble noted.
“My thinking is Tom will really help UNT take the next step forward,” he said. “And here’s the beauty of it — he understands it takes the whole spectrum of the institution. The most important thing is he believes, and I believe, a strong research agenda makes a much stronger foundation for the students.”
Another goal at UNT will be to expand Discovery Park by developing and increasing collaborations with outside foundations and private sector businesses.
McCoy feels he will fit in well at the university, and UNT’s track record of strong hires made him feel even more confident in his decision to come and implement new research initiatives.
“It made me feel like it’s a good fit; these things have to fit both ways,” he said. “I think the match was made, and I’m going to do everything I can to accomplish those kinds of goals.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.