Las Vegas Sun

July 28, 2014

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Sun editorial:

A new president for UNLV

Regents have large shoes to fill as Neal Smatresk is set to head to the University of North Texas

UNLV President Neal Smatresk’s pending resignation, which was announced last week, is sad news for the university and the community. In four years in the job, Smatresk proved himself to be a talented leader and great asset.

Pending official confirmation next month, Smatresk is returning to his home state to accept the job of president of the University of North Texas.

Smatresk will leave a legacy in Nevada. He came into office at UNLV at a difficult time, taking over a distressed campus that had seen the previous president pushed out of office and was facing significant budget cuts because of the Great Recession.

Yet Smatresk weathered it all well. With a strong academic background and a good mix of administrative experience, Smatresk, who has a good-natured personality, was popular on campus. He seemed tailor-made for the job.

He pushed for building projects, more research and a greater connection with the community. And in the process, he raised millions of dollars and increased scholarships for students.

What made Smatresk stand out was his vision for the university, which during tough economic times was much larger than what many people would have expected or accepted.

Perhaps more than anything, people believed in Smatresk and started to believe in UNLV again. He understood that what was good for UNLV was good for the community and vice versa.

Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Cara Clarke told the Sun’s Paul Takahashi that under Smatresk, “UNLV went from being its own entity, kind of an island, to really being a partner in working with a lot of organizations, a lot of sectors in the community.”

University Regent Cedric Creer said Smatresk was “the right guy at the right time for UNLV.”

The task for the regents now is to find the next right president.

It’s vital to the community that Smatresk’s vision continues. There are plans for an on-campus stadium and residential housing, and there is also the push to create a full medical school in Las Vegas and make UNLV a top-tier research university.

Those things need a champion. Actually, they need several champions, starting with the university president and including the university system and its board of regents. But the president will be the one to lead the charge, and for that, the regents are going to need to find a stellar person because what’s good for UNLV will be good for the state as well.

UNLV has a broad reach given that it is in the state’s population center and one of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation. Las Vegas is an international city, and the university is a vital part of it. UNLV needs a university leader who can help craft it into the top-flight institution it should be.

The regents should make sure there aren’t any impediments from keeping another top-notch candidate from coming to UNLV. The momentum Smatresk started has to be maintained, and the next president needs the support, encouragement and ability to continue pushing the university forward.

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