A line of faculty, staff, students and community members waited patiently at the Gateway Center Ballroom on Thursday to greet University of North Texas President Lane Rawlins and his wife, Mary Jo.
More than 200 people turned out for a farewell ceremony for the outgoing president, which quickly followed his final Board of Regents meeting as president.
The reception was not a final goodbye, however, as Rawlins was named president emeritus of the university by regents at the meeting. Regents also voted to name the proposed new honors residence hall as V. Lane Rawlins Hall and honored him with a resolution of his accomplishments.
He was briefly recognized after the regents voted to approve the motion containing the three actions, to a round of applause.
“You’ve caught me in a very unusual position,” Rawlins said. “I am speechless.”
The board meeting was the last for Rawlins, whose last day as president will be Jan. 31. He will then transition into the role of president emeritus Feb. 3, an unpaid position that allows him to provide guidance to university officials, help ease the transition to the incoming president and serve as an ambassador for the university.
“It’s been a long time since this institution named a president emeritus, which you can view as symbolic, but I’ll tell you, on an operational level, one that recognizes his continuity, stability, confidence in your direction ... it says something about the future of the institution,” Chancellor Lee Jackson said at the reception. “It was a significant action by the board.”
Board of Regents Chairman Brint Ryan said the board’s decision to make Rawlins president emeritus was easy because he and others feel he has brought stability to the campus and powerful leadership.
“Frankly, when he came to us and wanted to retire, our view was if we can keep him in any capacity at all, we wanted to do that to continue to have him as a resource,” Ryan said. “And as I said earlier in my remarks, we’ve learned a ton from Lane. He’s been a great, great president for the university, and frankly we think he’ll be a tremendous president emeritus as well.”
While he was expecting to be named president emeritus, Rawlins said at the reception he was not expecting the new dormitory to be named after him.
“I was surprised by it, particularly the naming of the residence hall, and I’m very grateful for that,” he said.
During the reception, Student Government Association President Zachary Brown announced another naming in the Rawlinses honor. The Fine Arts Series, which has been a tradition at the university since 1903, will be renamed “The Mary Jo and V. Lane Rawlins Fine Arts Series.”
Provost Warren Burggren, Ryan and representatives for the faculty and staff also spoke at the reception, which came to a close after both Lane Rawlins and Mary Jo Rawlins addressed the large crowd.
Earlier in the day at the regents meeting, it was mostly business as usual as Rawlins gave his final presentation to the board about athletics strategies. It was a last for Rawlins, who previously served as president of Washington State University and the University of Memphis.
“I was also delighted that it was my last regents meeting. I can’t tell you how many I’ve done. It was a very pleasant meeting, but truthfully I won’t miss them,” he said.
Board members said in turn they would miss his guidance and presence, said Regent Gwyn Shea.
“Dr. Rawlins came to us with such a great background of running universities, and he’s the kind of straight-talking person who tells you exactly how it is,” she said. “He has been absolutely marvelous to work with, and he’s done so many meaningful things since he’s been here.”
His accomplishments were elaborated upon by the speakers at the reception, who praised his creation of a new university strategic plan, his guidance as the university joined Conference USA and the creation of a division of community engagement.
When he finally took the podium at the reception, Rawlins noted he was moved by all of the credit and thanked his peers, and in a rare moment, accepted the praise.
“All of you here know that the number of things that have been attributed to me are totally ridiculous,” he said, as the crowd laughed. “But I have decided to take credit for all of it because you blamed me for a lot of stuff over the years.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.