Former LDS stake president retires as president of the University of North Texas

By Sonja Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11 2014 11:15 a.m. MST

DENTON, Texas — V. Lane Rawlins, a former bishop and stake president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, retired from his position as the 15th president of the University of North Texas on Jan. 31.

He had been president of the university since 2010, when he accepted the position on an interim basis. He then officially became president in January 2011, according to The Denton Record-Chronicle.

He said his favorite part about being president has been the students.

“Always the students — that’s the reason I’ve been in this business,” he said. “I enjoy interacting with the students and the challenge of trying to provide an environment for them where their education can be transformational for them as it was for me.”

Prior to becoming president of UNT, he was president of Washington State University from 2000-2007 and president of the University of Memphis from 1991-2000, according to the UNT Office of the President.

“I probably was the first Mormon president [of a university] in the Deep South,” he said during a Church News interview. “And that was a challenge, [but] it was an opportunity to give people exposure to the gospel that they wouldn’t have otherwise had. For other people that I knew when I was president down there, many of them told me, ‘Well, you’re the first Mormon I’ve ever known.’ So it’s an opportunity to share, and I think that always strengthens your beliefs — when you’re able to share them.”

During his time as president of the University of Memphis, President Rawlins was also called to be stake president of the Memphis Tennessee North Stake. This provided him with even more opportunities to share the gospel, as the Memphis temple was being built and there were many questions about it, he said.

He said he received permission to invite people from the university, leaders from west Tennessee, people from the local government and various churches to a temple open house session when it was finished.

Having opportunities like the temple open house to teach and share the gospel strengthened his testimony.

“Teaching the gospel is what makes you stronger, always,” he said. “I think it strengthened me by giving me an opportunity to teach.”

Having served in the South Australia Mission from 1958-1960, President Rawlins considers his positions in higher education administration a continuation of his mission.

“I think for me it’s kind of been my mission,” he said. “It’s what I do, … you know, the gospel is all about service. And if you believe what you’re taught, you want to go out and share it. I’ve found that education was to me a great gift and I felt that it was an opportunity for me to share that gift with a lot of people. … I’ve always thought my life was like a mission, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be in positions that help a lot of people, so I’m pretty grateful for that.”

President Rawlins said that UNT’s emphasis on students is what he is most proud of during his time as president.

“I think I’ve been able to focus the institution more strongly on the interests of the students,” he said. “I’ve reminded people that the students are the reason why we’re here, and this is an institution that has really taken to that. We’ve made some strides, we’ve certainly made some commitments to be one of the strongest teaching institutions — if not the strongest — in Texas; that’s a commitment that we have. And I’m very proud of how the institution has taken hold of that.”

He has also been involved with the community of Denton and is on the board of the Joint Economic Development Partnership, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle.

“He’s a real believer in leveraging the resources of community, city and university and did so very effectively,” Denton Mayor Mark Burroughs said in an interview with the Denton Record-Chronicle. “He was so good at pulling out what the true issues were and cutting to the chase. For that reason, even though he was at the university for a relatively short time, his impact was really felt by the city.”

A university honors residence hall will be named after President Rawlins, which is “a real surprise.”

“They don’t do that very often, and I think I’ve been told it was something the students wanted to do, which really moved me and touched me. ... I’m just honored. Nobody deserves that kind of thing, but when it happens, certainly you feel honored by it. Actually what it makes you feel is you want to keep giving as much as you can for the place,” he said.

President Rawlins will continue to serve the university as president emeritus. He might come back and teach one more course as well, he said.

“Our university is a special place, with an honorable and successful history, and I am privileged to have had the opportunity to serve as UNT president since 2010,” President Rawlins said in a letter to the UNT community announcing his retirement March 5, 2013. “Three years ago I never dreamed I would stay more than a few months, but I fell in love with UNT, its students, alumni, faculty and staff, and the broader community. Thank you for welcoming me so warmly, and for working together with me for a brighter future for UNT.”

According to the UNT Office of the President, he received his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in economics and his bachelor of science in economics from Brigham Young University. He and his wife, Mary Jo, are members of the Denton 4th Ward in the Denton Texas Stake.

scarlson@deseretnews.com

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