In a significant shift at the University of North Texas in Denton, President Neal Smatresk announced his intention to step down in August 2024, turning the page on a decade of leadership.
His tenure, starting in February 2014, has been marked by growth and innovation, steering UNT through a decade of development that saw it emerge as a leading Tier One research university.
“When I first took on this role, I knew we had the potential to achieve great things, and because of the dedication, passion, and hard work of our faculty and staff, we have flourished in ways that are nothing short of remarkable,” Smatresk wrote to the UNT faculty and staff, the university said.
In a news release today, UNT System Chancellor Michael R. Williams said Smatresk “created a strong foundation and legacy that will empower UNT to achieve great success in the years to come.”
Thanking President Smatresk, Williams recognized Smatresk’s significant contributions and achievements on behalf of UNT “across multiple fronts” over the last 10 years.
“A decade of record-breaking enrollment”
UNT said Smatresk’s leadership was instrumental in achieving milestones that have expanded the public university’s academic and research capabilities—and its influence on the broader community and economy. Under his watch, enrollment surged from 36,000 to nearly 47,000 students in 2023. That growth was mirrored in the university’s academic stature, with more than 85,000 graduates making their mark in the workforce, contributing to the region’s economic fabric and beyond, UNT said in its announcement.
Elevating UNT research profile
One of Smatresk’s notable achievements was elevating UNT’s research profile, UNT said. The university attained and then climbed the ranks within the Carnegie Classification to become a top-tier research institution, rising from 118 to 86 in 2022 and “making UNT the highest-ranked Tier-One institution in the North Texas region,” the university said.
The accomplishment was followed by a substantial increase in research funding, UNT said, reaching a record $86 million in 2023—its “highest ever”—from agencies like the U.S. Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.
Smatresk—himself a biologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and post-doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine—is known for his own contributions to cardiorespiratory physiology, evidenced by over 50 scholarly publications and numerous grants from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health.
Embracing a holistic approach with workforce and impact initiatives
Smatresk’s vision encompasses a holistic approach to education and community engagement, the university noted. Initiatives like the UNT Food Pantry and the First-Generation Success Center have underscored his commitment to student welfare and success, ensuring that financial or social barriers did not impede the educational journey. Establishing the branch campus in Frisco is another feather in his cap, UNT said, bridging the gap between academia and industry and paving the way for a career-ready workforce.
Under his leadership, UNT earned the federal designation of Minority Serving Institution and Hispanic Serving Institution. Nonprofit publication The Texas Tribune also highlighted a legal victory for the university last year: UNT successfully defended its practice of providing in-state tuition rates to undocumented students against a lawsuit attempting to rescind the policy.
Partnerships under the president’s leadership with high-profile entities, including the Dallas Cowboys, the PGA of America, Toyota, JPMorgan Chase, Google, Amazon, and others, also enhanced UNT’s visibility and opened new avenues for collaboration and innovation, UNT said. Such alliances, coupled with creating specialized career centers and funding 100 new doctoral lines, have helped “build UNT’s research output and make UNT’s graduate programs more competitive with top-tier institutions,” according to the university.
Broad university developments
UNT’s engagement in athletics and campus infrastructure also saw progress, including joining the American Athletic Conference last year. UNT has secured 23 championships and made notable postseason appearances since 2014, including winning the NIT championship in 2023. Additionally, the campus has seen extensive enhancements with over 17 significant construction and renovation projects, such as new student facilities, academic buildings, and the state’s largest Advanced Air Mobility Test Center, supported by donors.
Before his tenure at UNT, Neal Smatresk was the president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he significantly contributed to its growth and popularity. He also held a key academic position at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Much of Smatresk’s early career was largely spent in Texas, particularly at the University of Texas at Arlington, where he was a faculty member, chair of biology, and dean of science.
A role “he loves most”
Now Smatresk is preparing to return to his roots in teaching and mentoring. The UNT president, married to wife Debbie and father and grandfather to two children and five grandchildren respectively, is set to retire on Aug. 1, 2024.
“We are thankful for his leadership and unwavering commitment to UNT and our North Texas community,” UNT System Chancellor Williams said.
Smatresk joins UNT Dallas President Bob Mong in recently announced departures from leadership roles in the UNT System. Last month, Mong shared plans to retire this year after nearly 10 years as UNT Dallas President.
Get on the list.
Dallas Innovates, every day.
Sign up to keep your eye on what’s new and next in Dallas-Fort Worth, every day.