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UNLV administration:

Popular UNLV President Neal Smatresk named sole finalist for University of North Texas job

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Christopher DeVargas

UNLV President Neal Smatresk speaks to students and faculty during the State of the University address, Thursday Sept. 12, 2013.

Updated Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 | 1:32 p.m.

Neal Smatresk

Head Football coach Bobby Hauck, left, is congratulated by UNLV President Neal Smatresk by the Fremont cannon before a painting ceremony on UNLV campus Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. The UNLV football team beat Reno Saturday 27-22 to break an eight-year losing streak in the rivalry game and gain possession of the Fremont cannon. Launch slideshow »

Neal Smatresk, the well-liked and popular president of UNLV, has been named the sole finalist for the job of president at the University of North Texas, officials announced this afternoon.

This afternoon, the Dallas-area university's Board of Regents approved a recommendation from its presidential search firm and the University of North Texas chancellor to name Smatresk as the only finalist to replace V. Lane Rawlins, who announced his retirement in March.

If confirmed by regents in December, Smatresk, 62, will become UNT's 16th president.

"When confirmed, he will bring a wealth of important higher education experience from a university that is in many ways similar to UNT," UNT Chancellor Lee Jackson said in a statement. "I believe his leadership will capitalize on the momentum at our flagship university."

In a letter to the UNLV campus community sent this afternoon, Smatresk said he hopes to become UNT's president in part because he would be closer to his family in Texas.

"Both of our children and our grandchild are in Texas, and with our son's growing family and our daughter's upcoming marriage, Texas has been pulling on our heartstrings," Smatresk said in the letter. "Serving as UNT's president will allow me to combine an opportunity, the skills I have developed and our family life all in one place."

Nevada's higher education chancellor Dan Klaich called Smatresk an "exuberant leader" and a "great ambassador" for UNLV who loved his job. During his four years at UNLV, Smatresk championed several "game-changing" ideas for UNLV, including an on-campus stadium, medical school, dormitory expansion and Tier-1 research. Smatresk also was at the held of UNLV's largest capital campaign, which raised $537 million.

Smatresk's institutional goals that many hoped would transform UNLV will remain constant during the leadership transition, Klaich said.

"Neal was exactly right about where UNLV needed to go," Klaich said. "The change of leadership would not change that push."

Texas state law precluded regents from naming a new president today. There is a minimum 21-day waiting period before UNT's nine-member Board of Regents can formally appoint Smatresk as president, said Deborah Leliaert, UNT’s vice president for university relations.

UNT, with an enrollment of 36,000 students, is located in Denton, a city of about 113,000, 40 miles north of Dallas. The city's largest private employer is the truck manufacturer Peterbilt Motors.

Smatresk, who is UNLV's ninth president, is a Texas native. He received a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Texas at Austin in 1980 and spent 22 years as a professor, biology department chair and dean of science at University of Texas, Arlington. Before becoming UNLV's president in 2009, Smatresk was the university's executive vice president and provost for two years.

In June, Smatresk received a four-year extension to his contract as UNLV's president, taking his annual compensation package to $447,424.

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