It would be difficult to name Alfred F. Hurley’s greatest contribution to the University of North Texas because the influences of his character, leadership and vision were felt in so many ways.
Hurley, the 12th president of the university and its first chancellor, died Saturday at age 84 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
As word of his passing spread, friends, alumni and associates offered tributes.
“Al was a visionary,” former UNT Regent Burle Pettit said. “I believe he had an idea of where the university should go.”
When Pettit, a student at the university in the 1950s returned to UNT in the 1990s, he said nearly every positive change could be attributed to Hurley. Even today, Pettit said, every aspect of UNT has some mark of Hurley’s tenure.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Irish immigrant parents, Hurley was the oldest of four children and the first in his family to graduate from high school. He would go on to complete his doctorate at Princeton University.
Before his time at UNT, Hurley had a long career in the U.S. Air Force, rising from the rank of private to retire as a brigadier general in 1980. While in the Air Force, he served as a professor of history at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Hurley joined UNT in 1980 as the vice president for administrative affairs and became the school’s 12th president in February of 1982. In 2000, the office of the president and chancellor split, with Hurley becoming the university’s first chancellor. He retired from the university in 2002.
During Hurley’s tenure, the university changed its name from North Texas State University to the University of North Texas in 1988. That same year, he created the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, TAMS, and admitted its first class of students. As president, Hurley rebranded the university into a school on track to become a top-tier research institution — enrollment increased by 44 percent, the endowment increased by nearly $44 million and the UNT system was created.
Hurley also facilitated growth in athletics, playing a role in moving the school from NCAA Division 1AA to Division 1A, and built an academic base to attract athletic talent, said Rick Villarreal, current UNT athletic director.
Chancellor Lee Jackson, who succeeded Hurley, said that Hurley’s efforts laid the groundwork for what the modern university looks like, and Fred Pole, a former UNT administrator, praised Hurley’s dedication and work ethic.
“He was a person who was completely dedicated to whatever the mission was, and, of course, the mission at the University of North Texas was to create and lead the best university that he could possibly do, and he did through determination and hard work,” Pole said.
As part of his mission, Hurley never lost touch with students and faculty. History professor Gus Seligmann recalled that Hurley often served as a guest lecturer in classes and seminars.
“He took university business — not just administrating it, but the business of what we do — very seriously. And that was, I think, from my perspective, maybe his greatest strength.”
Hurley will be buried Friday at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. The family is planning a memorial service in the Dallas area, and plans call for UNT to honor Hurley with a time of quiet reflection at Goolsby Chapel.
We offer our condolences to his wife, Johanna, and the couple’s children and grandchildren. Dr. Alfred Hurley set a great example for others in every aspect of his life and career, and we have no doubt that his achievements will be celebrated and his memory will be honored for decades to come.