Published in print and online on 1/18/17 at The North Texas Daily
Kayla Davis | Staff Writer
As he enters his fourth year in office, UNT president Neal Smatresk faces a changing campus and a politically active student body.
Following a protest calling for the university to become a sanctuary campus, Smatresk said he would not “support designating [UNT] as a sanctuary campus.” He said, though, he will hold a town hall meeting that will allow discussion on the issue.
“For those who are deeply concerned, we want to make sure we are listening and paying attention,” Smatresk said.
Sanctuary campus town hall
Over 1,000 people have already signed a petition to add UNT to the list of sanctuary university campuses, which attempt to protect undocumented immigrant students from being arrested and deported by refusing to help the police.
The meeting, set for Jan. 31, will cover what protections the university already offers, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DOCA and the legal elements that go into how UNT is a law abiding school. Smatresk said the meeting will be held so students who are concerned can all be on the same fact base as to why UNT will not be a sanctuary campus.
“It’s going to be pretty straight forward but it may not diffuse the emotional content of the topic, which I think is significant,” Smatresk said.
Following UNT’s recent tier-one status, President Smatresk said the university has added 100 new doctoral lines, such as teaching fellowships and teaching assistant positions, to bring in more doctoral students. He said it could cost the university about $3 million, but UNT’s academic budget has been growing.
”When I first got here we were shaky budget wise. We’re not anymore; we’re rock solid,” Smatresk said. “We’ve done very well financially.”
Construction and new programs
Smatresk noted the many construction projects happening on campus right now, including more to come. Among them are the new classroom facility UNT was approved for, as well as the decisions that come along with deciding where to put it, the demolition of Fouts Field to build more parking, the new residence hall behind Kerr Hall and a new dining hall that will be “nation leading in its concept and development,” Smatresk said.
Continuing from last year, Sage Hall is still undergoing its revamp to become the Student Success Center, a one-stop shop for students looking to change majors, address career concerns and receive learning support. The program has been a goal for the provost and president for the past two years.
The new College of Visual Arts and Design building is about to break ground and the Science Research building, which has been under renovation since 2015, will open in February.
More changes coming to UNT soon includes the split of the College of Arts and Sciences. The two colleges will be separated to better focus and invest in each college differently.
The College of Public Affairs and Community Service will also be changing. The college will not be splitting up, but instead it will be adding two schools within the college: health and community service. Smatresk said he wants to increase degree plans within these two schools and hopes to expand the health program to include things like nursing and optometry.
“Most of these professions I’m referring to have virtually 100 percent employment and there aren’t enough people in the market and producing more can’t hurt the state, or the region,” Smatresk said.
Other things to look forward to
Big events happening at the university this year will include a concert put on by the Eli Young Band March 25 at 9:45 p.m. The band will play for students at Apogee stadium, with ticket information and more details to come.
Smatresk will also unveil a new project he is trying to get up and running and said it is a big game changer for how we operate as a campus. He hopes to announce his big project by spring break.
“I think it will put us at the forefront of innovative campus’, not just in the state but in the nation,” Smatresk said.
Other projects include a data reservoir, something Smatresk has been working on since before arriving at UNT.
The data project influences many aspects of UNT, from better tracking of the school’s budget, understanding enrollment numbers and course demands to optimizing graduation pathways for current students.
“When I first got here, we didn’t have a single data warehouse,” Smatresk said. “This doesn’t sound very exciting, but data is incredibly important and we’re in the era of big data and higher education is stunningly important.”