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October 21, 2017

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In replacing Smatresk, regents have certain kind of president in mind


Leila Navidi

UNLV President Neal Smatresk speaks during an announcement of a $15 million donation from the Ted and Doris Lee family to the UNLV business college on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011.

UNLV’s Presidential Search

UNLV President Neal Smatresk said he plans to accept the president’s job at the University of North Texas near Dallas if its board of regents decide to confirm him. That meeting will take place on December 12. The UNT board also might decide Smatresk's salary at that time.

If he is confirmed and hired, Smatresk is expected to tender his formal resignation to the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents in December.

Smatresk is expected to show up for work at UNT by February, which makes it likely Smatresk will leave UNLV by the end of the year or January.

At that time, UNLV’s Executive Vice President and Provost John Valery White will become the acting officer in charge of the university until regents appoint either an interim or acting president.

An interim president typically serves between one and three years, with the goal of eventually becoming permanent. An acting president usually serves between six months and a year, and does not apply to become a permanent president.

Regardless of temporary appointment, regents usually hire an executive consulting firm to conduct a national search for its next president. That means, the 10th UNLV president may be chosen as early as fall 2014.

This might sound familiar.

Nevada is again looking to fill a major vacancy in its education system — the third one this year.

After both the state and Clark County superintendents departed this year, now UNLV President Neal Smatresk has been announced as the sole finalist for president at the University of North Texas. The move leaves the community without a leader going into 2014, a year in which the university hopes to accomplish some major goals that would advance the university and improve the community.

So goal No. 1 for the university’s governing board will be to appoint a well-liked, responsible and capable steward who can keep the university moving forward while the board concurrently conducts a national search for a new president.

At stake are the fate of large-scale initiatives Smatresk helped start, including the establishment of a UNLV medical school, development of a large stadium affiliated with UNLV, the launch of a multimillion-dollar campaign to raise money for the university, a move to introduce more residential living options for students, and a goal to make the university the state’s first top-tier research university.

“He (Smatresk) would be the architect but he won’t be able to see them come to fruition,” said Kevin Page, chairman of the board of the Nevada System of Higher Education, which oversees UNLV.

That job would immediately fall to an interim president, whom the university’s board of regents would appoint once Smatresk officially resigns in December. The board would likely search for a new president and pick one by late 2014.

Meanwhile, donors, businesses, nonprofit foundations, and other community stakeholders will have time to lodge their requests for what type of person the next president should be.

Here’s what they’re saying:

• UNLV should recruit somebody who’s shepherded a university to top-tier research status and has overseen major projects like starting a medical school.

“There are universities around the country who have gone through these types of evolutions, so there’s likely high-caliber expertise out there,” said Cara Clarke, director of communications at the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce.

• “I think we need a great negotiator, somebody who understands Nevada law and can represent us well in a legislative session,” said Lindy Schumacher, a UNLV Foundation trustee.

UNLV’s president has to make the biennial journey to Carson City, where in recent years Smatresk has had to contend with legislators who slashed the university’s budget in lean, recession-era years.

• A charismatic cheerleader. UNLV needs somebody who’s not only a competent administrator who can bring together faculty, staff, students, alumni and donors, but also a loud and passionate booster in the community. That was a role Smatresk played, said Jim Radigan, executive director for the alumni association

“He was one of the biggest cheerleaders for UNLV that I’ve ever run across,” Radigan said.

• Partner with the community. John O’Reilly, chairman of the UNLV Foundation board, said Smatresk did a good job advocating for Las Vegas and created a lot of momentum that any new president would hopefully carry forward. Smatresk sat on various economic development boards and brought groups like the Brookings Institution to UNLV.

So stakeholders are looking for an extrovert with that same ability to network with others.

“During his tenure, UNLV went from being its own entity, kind of an island, to really being a partner in working with a lot of organizations,” Clark said.

• Shake hands and take checks. In order to maintain momentum, UNLV needs to bring on somebody who isn’t afraid to ask for funding, said Don Snyder, executive dean for strategic development at UNLV.

“Capital campaigns are a way of life,” he said.

• Be creative with money because budgets will likely be tight. Page said a new president needs financial acumen.

“The state is not going to back up a Brinks (security) truck and give us a lot of money,” he said. “Funds are going to be scarce for some time.”

Sun education reporter Paul Takahashi contributed reporting.

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