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UNT-Dallas President Hopes To Set His Urban University Apart

Shelley Kofler
UNT Dallas' President Ronald Brown delivered his first inaugural speech Friday.

The second president at the University of North Texas at Dallas says his priorities include keeping tuition low and forging a relationship with employers who will help train students for high-demand jobs.  

President Ronald Brown talked with KERA's Shelley Kofler prior to giving his inaugural speech on Friday.

On the second floor of the modern-looking administration building on the UNT-Dallas campus, President Ronald Brown pauses in front of a floor to ceiling window. He points to the distant Dallas skyline rising above the South Dallas trees and remembers the first of many times he took in this view.

“I looked at that skyline and there were kids studying all along this wall here and I thought 'Wow, what an inspiration,'" Brown said. "You can be part of that marketplace because the economy here is the envy of the entire nation."

Brown says the future of UNT-Dallas is tied to that skyline and city that surrounds it. And that excites him. He says urban universities are “hot” in the field of higher education.

The 61-year-old president is a veteran of big city schools.  He served as provost at Wayne State University in Detroit before becoming UNT-Dallas' second president last July.  He’s also worked at Emory University in Atlanta and Temple University in Philadelphia.

He says the fledgling four-year school he now leads is a campus that will fill a special niche for area employers.   

“What we’re really doing is going into the city," Brown said. "We’re asking the employers what they really need who they need trained and how they want them trained. So there is a very tight collaboration with companies in the community."

In the 14 years since Dallas’ first public university opened in makeshift space, it has built the beginnings of a new permanent campus on 263 acres in South Dallas. This year, 2,200 students are enrolled and Brown expects the student population to more than double to 5,000 in the next 4 years.  

He’s quick to say what UNT-Dallas isn’t: “an ivory tower.”

And what it will become: a “partner to the community.”

“The city’s going to need professionals trained in particular areas, in business areas, in health areas, and we’re going to be the place to do it,” Brown said.

He says the university will fill an unmet need by training students for high-demand jobs through programs not offered at most area universities. It’s already developing programs in sports management, hotel and hospitality management, and supply chain management logistics, which will focus on efficiently moving products from manufacturing sites to customers.

Brown says UNT-Dallas will place an emphasis on keeping tuition affordable and on “experiential learning," or learning through internships and projects where students work with employers. 

Students will still read great literature and get a liberal arts foundation, but there’s an emphasis on practical training as well.

Brown says that’s what will set urban universities like UNT-Dallas apart from others.