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UNT president announces retirement

Profile image for By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer
By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer

University of North Texas President Lane Rawlins will retire at the end of the year or as soon as a successor can be named. He made the announcement Tuesday in a letter to faculty, staff and students.

“I’ve been thinking about this,” Rawlins said. “I’ve been trying to find the right time.”

He said he likes what’s happening in the state Legislature and feels UNT is on course with its strategic plan.

Chancellor Lee Jackson said he wasn’t surprised when Rawlins approached him about retiring earlier this year because the two have had discussions about this every year.

“We were lucky that his original interim assignment turned into three years of increasingly successful, satisfying leadership,” Jackson said.

In the letter to the UNT community, Rawlins said it was the right time for him to step down.

“My decision was influenced by knowing that we are in a good position right now,” Rawlins said in the letter. “The budget moves we made this year put us on level ground, and the current legislative session and enrollment forecast promise some increases. The campus leadership is committed, skilled and devoted to UNT, so the university is in good hands.”

Jackson said Rawlins was instrumental in the planning and budgeting for the branding campaign, building new facilities, focusing on research and increasing the standards of students at the university.

“He brought a different type of thoughtful, analytical leadership style that was calming and helped focus,” Jackson said, adding that Rawlins helped UNT establish its priorities.

The UNT Board of Regents met Feb. 15 in executive session to discuss matters related to Rawlins’ contract. During the regularly scheduled meeting, regents voted to give authority to Jackson to finalize an amendment to Rawlins’ contract.

At the time, both Jackson and Rawlins were vague about what the amendment would be.

Jackson said he and Rawlins would be “tweaking” the contract.

The UNT regents in August had renewed Rawlins’ contract for two years.

“One of the reasons I renewed, frankly, was to make sure we were on solid ground,” Rawlins said, referring to the budget and enrollment plans.

The amendment to his contract states that Rawlins’ employment will end no later than Dec. 31 and no earlier than July 1 of this year.

Rawlins said he didn’t want to retire before July because he wants to be at UNT through the end of the semester for commencement ceremonies.

It’s standard to remain at the university until a successor is named if the president isn’t taking another job, Rawlins said, adding that he did the same when he retired as president from Washington State University.

“The best transition doesn’t require interim measures,” Jackson said. “He’s given us quite a bit of time, the rest of the year, to identify and bring forth and agree on a strong president.”

He said he is confident UNT can find a successor before the end of the year. That means UNT will need one or more candidates by the summer, he said.

Rawlins became interim president of UNT in April 2010, replacing Phil Diebel, who briefly served as interim president after the resignation of Gretchen Bataille.

Bataille abruptly resigned in February 2010, saying she was forced out after a series of disagreements with Jackson.

Rawlins served as the president of two other universities — Washington State University and the University of Memphis — before coming to UNT.

When he became interim president, he made it clear he wasn’t interested in pursuing the permanent position, but in January 2011, Rawlins became the university’s 15th president.

He said at the time that he realized there were projects he wanted to start that he didn’t feel he could see through as an interim president.

When Rawlins became interim president, he said he was surprised UNT hadn’t built more partnerships in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where UNT graduates have made an enormous economic contribution.

During his tenure at UNT, Rawlins faced difficult budget situations from the state and led the quiet phase of a capital campaign, which is expected to go public in April.

UNT received several multimillion-dollar gifts during Rawlins’ presidency, including a $22 million gift from Thai businessman and UNT alumnus Charn Uswachoke, a $20 million sponsorship agreement with the technology company Apogee for the naming rights of the new football stadium and an $8 million pledge from Denton businessman Paul Voertman.

In February 2012, Rawlins unveiled a new five-year strategic plan and image, implementing “Four Bold Goals, One Great University.” The plan came with a new tagline for the university: “A Green Light to Greatness.”

The goals include providing the best undergraduate educational experience in Texas, becoming a tier-one research institution, running an effective business and expanding its outreach to the community and across North Texas.

In his announcement letter, Rawlins said, “Our strategic plan and ‘four bold goals,’ set a course for greatness that is ambitious, but within our reach. It seems to be a good time to attract a strong new president.”

Under his leadership, UNT completed Apogee Stadium and the Business Leadership Building. He led the university in building the pedestrian bridge that links the main campus to Apogee Stadium. Three 100-kilowatt wind turbines, which were paid for by a $2 million grant from the State Energy Conservation Office, were also added to the university under Rawlins’ leadership.

Rawlins also started discussions on building a new University Union. The project, with a maximum budget of $128.4 million, was approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in January. Students voted in April 2012 to approve a union fee increase of up to $115 a semester.

Rawlins fought to improve the quality of students attending UNT.

In fall 2011, UNT boasted its largest freshmen class of more than 4,000 students, even after turning away about 35 percent of freshmen students who applied.

At a 2011 regents meeting, Rawlins told regents the quality of students was better and the university should grow at a manageable rate.

In fall 2012, UNT had a 9.2 percent increase of freshmen over 2011, making it the university’s largest freshmen class in history with 4,444 students. It also saw a slight increase in overall enrollment.

Jackson credits Rawlins with helping facilitate UNT’s move from the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA. The school will officially make the switch this summer after spending 12 years in the Sun Belt.

The move to C-USA, which is widely considered to be a higher-level league, will place UNT in a conference with in-state schools Rice, UTEP and UT-San Antonio, in addition to Tulsa, Louisiana Tech and Tulane. Playing those regional schools is expected to heighten the visibility of UNT’s program.

Rawlins also played a key role in the school hiring highly respected consultant Chuck Neinas to study the state of the UNT athletic program in 2010.

Neinas later assisted UNT in its search for a new football coach after Todd Dodge was fired.

UNT settled on former Iowa State head coach Dan McCarney to take over the program and saw him finish with a 9-15 record in his first two seasons, exceeding the Mean Green’s win total of eight from the previous four seasons combined.

After his retirement, Rawlins will hold the title of president emeritus, which he was happy to accept to finish some projects, including working with international contacts and fundraising.

“I want to stay connected and be of service and make sure I don’t get in the way,” Rawlins said.

He holds the title of president emeritus at Washington State University as well.

As part of the president emeritus title, Rawlins has declined taking a salary but will have the option to have an office and part-time assistant, if necessary, for university business. He will also have a $20,000 annual allowance for travel expenses incurred for university business, according to the amendment.

Jackson said the title shows the esteem UNT holds for Rawlins. He will be able to assist his successor, Jackson said.

Chris Foster, chairman of the Staff Council at UNT, said in an e-mail Tuesday that the staff knew the day would eventually come when Rawlins would leave.

“Rawlins has made an indelible mark on UNT and the faculty, staff and students who call this place home,” he said. “He is an inspirational leader and we have enjoyed working with him.”

Andy Rolfes, director of public relations for the Student Government Association, said he was surprised to hear the news Tuesday.

“He’s definitely been pushing the university in the right direction,” Rolfes said.

UNT is working to appoint a 15-member committee that will be led by UNT Regent Brint Ryan and hopes to have it in place by the end of March. Storbeck Pimentel, a national search firm, will assist the committee.

Jackson said also he will be meeting with campus groups to come to a consensus about what direction UNT would like to go with the next president.

Rawlins said he’s had a great time at UNT.

“It’s been a very satisfying thing,” he said.

Rawlins has been impressed by the students, he said, adding that the student body is diverse. He likes UNT’s emphasis on the arts and sciences as well as social sciences.

“Universities don’t change dramatically, in a hurry,” Rawlins said. “I think this one is on the right track and that gives me a lot of satisfaction.”

Staff writer Brett Vito contributed to this report.

RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is .