The Smatresk Legacy

Courtesy of UNLV Rebel Yell

Courtesy of UNLV Rebel Yell

At his State of the University address in September, UNLV President Neal Smatresk stated his biggest goal for the school: to make it a top research university within 15 years. Now he’s announced that he will leave at the end of the year, returning to his home state as president of the University of North Texas.

Smatresk’s tenure began in 2009, in the heart of the Great Recession. The crisis informed his efforts, but did not entirely define them. He’ll be remembered as:

A budget man. UNLV’s budget fell by $74 million, and Smatresk had to raise student tuition more than 50 percent, eliminate 19 degree programs and reduce 700 faculty positions. But for the first time, UNLV got to keep fees and the tuition raised on its campus.

A fundraiser. He’s credited with raising a record $537 million, including $12.6 million from the Engelstad Family Foundation for UNLV’s largest-ever scholarship program.

A would-be builder. Smatresk championed visions for an on-campus football stadium, a medical school and more student housing.

The highlights are admirable, but the university—which has one of the nation’s lowest six-year graduation rates (43 percent)—still has far to go if it is to achieve Smatresk’s most cherished goals.