UNT’s new president, V. Lane Rawlins, may have left his family’s Idaho potato farm for a career in higher education, but the farm has never left him.
Growing up, Rawlins learned to work hard and to measure success not by how long he worked but by how much he got done. And every season, he saw his family’s labor bear fruit. It made him realize early on that the more work and care that went into tending the fields and crops, the greater the harvest was.
Those farm-fueled maxims shaped Rawlins into a transformative leader. A savvy higher education veteran with four decades of experience, Rawlins has a proven track record for making good universities great and a collaborative management style that has swayed legislators, faculty, staff and students alike.
The former president of the University of Memphis and Washington State University says he was motivated by UNT’s energy, momentum and diversity as a growing research university to come out of retirement and serve as president for the 2010-11 year. Rawlins, who retired from WSU in 2007 after seven years as president, follows Interim President Phil Diebel, who served this spring after Gretchen M. Bataille stepped down in February.
“President Rawlins not only has the experience to help UNT strengthen its research profile and maintain its academic excellence, he is driven by a passion for public universities,” UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson says. “His pragmatic and collaborative leadership style will be invaluable for UNT.”
Rawlins sees UNT as a university that excels at giving students of all backgrounds the best education possible, which he regards as a public university’s fundamental mission. Rawlins, who was the first in his family to attend college, has spent most of his academic career working for public universities after earning his Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley and his B.S. in economics from Brigham Young University.
He says it’s his way of giving back after the opportunities he received to pursue higher education.
“Public institutions provide perhaps the last frontier for generations of young people seeking growth and progress, and they are absolutely critical to the success of our society,” says Rawlins, who is a noted labor economist.
Rawlins will lead UNT during a pivotal year. With a new strategic plan for research, UNT will work toward reaching key benchmarks to become a major research university. Rawlins brings experience from leading WSU during the time when it substantially grew its research funding and was recognized as a top-tier research university.
But as he has done throughout his career, Rawlins says he will work to maintain a connection between world-class research and top-quality education at the highest levels.
“We’ll change a lot of things with our research, but the most important thing we’ll change is students’ minds,” he says. “Because when professors are thinking on the edge, it changes the way students think.”
Rawlins also will join Jackson in representing UNT during Texas’ next legislative session, which starts in January.
Rawlins says his main priority will be to ensure that the university stays on track by developing strategies and resources to keep UNT moving in the right direction.
“I’m excited about the path UNT is on,” he says. “It’s a great place that is in transition to something even better.”