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Ready to start learning more

Neal Smatresk was scheduled to begin his duties as the 16th president of the University of North Texas on Monday, and we wish him well as he continues to become familiar with the campus and the community.

Smatresk is no stranger to this area. He made numerous trips back and forth between UNT and his former institution, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, after being named sole finalist for the job in November and later said he was “ready to hit the ground running.”

Plus, the move to Denton is a homecoming of sorts for Smatresk, who spent 22 years at the University of Texas at Arlington, working his way up the administrative ranks.

Smatresk told us he has met with or been in e-mail contact with a number of UNT officials and is ready to start learning more.

“As always for the new person going in, you want to get your arms wrapped around the critical issues, and that is, how is our core business doing? How are we doing with recruitment? How is our quality image? Is our budget sound?” he said. “There are the real nuts-and-bolts issues, and any good president has to have their arms wrapped around them quickly so they know what latitude they have.”

Additionally, Smatresk said, he plans to quickly start working with the provost and the vice president for research to develop a master plan for research, and to begin what he calls a listening exercise, in which he plans to meet with every department and learn what those leaders want to see in the university’s future.

Smatresk conducted a similar listening tour while at UNLV. Bill Boldt, UNLV’s vice president for university advancement, said Smatresk met every faculty and staff member — about 2,000 people — in groups during the year-long tour and that many of the suggested changes he heard were incorporated at the university.

Under Smatresk’s leadership, community partnerships and relationships with key players such as the governor were enhanced, and he helped attract the Brookings Institution to UNLV to form a mutually beneficial partnership, Boldt told us.

“He connected with the community like no president ever has here,” Boldt said. “He will make an amazing impact on Denton. He will embrace the community. He will strengthen the academic profile of the university. He will strengthen current niches and make sure that the university is relevant. He will listen to faculty and staff and find constant ways to improve the university. … You are so lucky to have him.”

As Smatresk adjusts to UNT, he and his wife, Debbie, will be adjusting to temporary housing while they begin to build a home six or seven minutes from campus, Smatresk said. They will be near good company — their son, daughter-in-law and new granddaughter.

“Moving isn’t a lot of fun, but moving to Texas and getting back home is terrific,” he said.

It sounds to us as if UNT’s new president will be starting off on the right foot — we especially like his plan for the listening exercise — and we look forward to hearing more of his ideas.

We encourage the community to show Neal and Debbie Smatresk plenty of the down-home hospitality for which our area is famous, and we hope that this is the start of a long and rewarding relationship.

Welcome to Denton, folks.