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UHV interim president on sidelines of expansion talks

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
Sept. 2, 2010 at 4:02 a.m.

Don Smith stands at the entrance of his office at the University of Houston-Victoria campus. Smith was named interim president of UHV on Tuesday.

DON SMITHPROFILEPost: UHV interim president. Joined the university in 1987 as dean for academic affairs.

Education: Bachelor of Arts degree from Berea College in Kentucky, a master's degree from Ohio University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, all in English.

Interest: An active runner

Family: He and his wife, Mona, have been married 43 years.

Don Smith slipped back into the role of University of Houston-Victoria interim president with little orientation needed.

"I've been in this office before," he said, relaxing in a chair on the third floor of the UHV Center Building.

The shelves near his desk are emptied of most everything that belonged to its previous occupant, Tim Hudson, former UHV president.

This is Smith's fourth time to take the interim position, a job he accepted following Hudson's abrupt departure to take a university system-level position.

"A number of important initiatives and accomplishments took place on his watch," Smith said, noting Hudson's push for adding freshmen and sophomores and growth of academic programs.

Less than a month ago, Smith received a phone call in his San Antonio home from the University of Houston System asking him to take the interim position, something that surprised, but excited him.

"Always the start of a new semester is a busy time," he said. "Everybody is fully engaged. Everybody is usually experiencing about as much stress as they want to deal with from day-to-day."

Smith, a former English professor and UHV provost, first came to the school in 1987 and served as dean for academic affairs. He then held the interim position in 1989 for six months, then for the 1992-93 academic year and in 2004 for a stint. Later, he served as provost and vice president for academic affairs until his retirement in 2006.

He's a familiar face on campus and in Victoria, something Provost Suzanne LaBrecque believes has helped the abrupt transition from Hudson's leadership.

"The first week with him, he just stepped back into place like he never left, and it's been a smooth transition," she said.

Smith comes in a volatile time for UHV when community leaders and the UH System are at odds about where to continue growing the campus.

Smith believes UHV and the UH System should continue talks, but remains on the sidelines of the discussion.

"My thoughts are that I'm sure that everybody wants what's best for the future of the university; it's just that right now, not everybody agrees on the best way to bring that about," he said.

Two weeks ago, community leaders who are part of the Crossroads Commission on Education recommended new campus buildings be built on 100 undeveloped acres near Loop 463 to provide room for campus growth. The UH System wants new buildings on UHV's 20-acre campus, which is predicted to run out of space for the expected 2,000 face-to-face students by 2020. A subcommittee also recommended for UHV to sever ties with the system and join another state system.

Smith said he hopes to join the commission as it continues to work with UHV and the UH System, but doesn't expect to be a huge push for changes.

"My role as an interim is to keep things on track and moving forward," he said. "It isn't to set new directions or make unnecessary changes. So that will be my focus."

Another big focus for Smith will be UHV's first wave of underclassmen. Recruiting efforts far surpassed the original recruitment goal of 200 underclassmen. More than 300 underclassmen have registered for fall classes as of Aug. 25, a number expected to grow before classes begin Sept. 7.

"I think, simply, we have to concentrate on giving these new students as good an experience at this university and in this community as we possibly can," he said. "We have to focus on recruiting the next class of residential students in Victoria."

The new position will dramatically changed his personal life for the next six months to a year, which is the average amount of time it takes to find a new university president.

Smith still has his home in San Antonio and travels back on the weekends to be with his wife, Mona, of 43 years. Smith, a marathoner who usually logs about 40 miles a week, has also made some changes to his fitness routine.

"This job is going to cut down on my running in the physical sense," he said, calmly. "And increase it in the figurative sense."

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