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Nationally Recognized Leader in Higher Education Excellence and Former UT Martin Administrator to be appointed Interim Chancellor

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Robert M. Smith
Robert M. Smith

MARTIN, Tenn. — Robert M. Smith, who led award-winning innovations in enrollment management, improving retention and graduation rates, and strengthening academic quality during more than nine years as president of Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, has been selected to serve as interim chancellor at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Smith, former dean of the UT Martin College of Arts and Sciences and co-creator and former executive director of the UT Martin-affiliated WestStar Leadership Program, becomes interim chancellor on June 1. Current UT Martin Chancellor Tom Rakes announced earlier this month he would step down as chancellor on May 31 and return to teaching as a professor in the College of Education, Health, and Behavioral Sciences.

UT President Joe DiPietro will formally announce Smith’s appointment and introduce him to the UT Martin community in a visit to the campus on Friday, May 1.

“We are fortunate to have a leader and higher education expert of Dr. Smith’s caliber and one with such significant ties to UT Martin returning to guide the university through this transition,” DiPietro said. “His transformative leadership at Slippery Rock University has been recognized by some of the nation’s most prestigious higher education associations, and I look forward to working with Dr. Smith and the UT Martin faculty, students and administration during this interim period.”

DiPietro praised Rakes, chancellor at UT Martin since 2007, for accomplishments during his service ranging from reaching an enrollment record of 8,469, to completion of more than $100 million in capital and maintenance projects, to further expansion of UT Martin’s satellite centers toward better serving students in surrounding counties.

“Including his five years as UT Martin provost, Chancellor Rakes has presided over a time of significant growth and progress, and I am glad he will continue to serve the students of UT Martin by returning to the classroom,” DiPietro said.

Smith, Slippery Rock University president emeritus, was provost there from 1999 to 2002, interim president from 2002 to 2004, then president until 2012. Under his guidance, the university achieved increases of 22 percent in enrollment, 16 percent in retention, and 24 percent in graduation rates.

The culture change Smith led at Slippery Rock University became a model for analytical, data-driven decision-making for which he was commended in 2012 by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. His work as co-chair of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s revisions of performance funding earned praise from the Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation focused solely on increasing Americans’ success in higher education.

In 2011, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (AACRAO) gave Smith its inaugural Strategic Enrollment Management Leadership Award.

Since 2012, Smith has been of counsel and a member of the Education Leadership Council for Witt/Kieffer Executive Search firm, which specializes in higher education and healthcare. In 2014, he also began consulting as an associate with the AASCU-Penson Center for Professional Development, a resource of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Smith’s consulting for the AASCU-Penson Center has specialized in enrollment management; board and executive development; performance funding strategies; entrepreneurial ventures; and strategic planning.

“I look forward to being back on the UT Martin campus, in West Tennessee, and to reconnecting with old colleagues and making new friends on campus and in the community,” said Smith, who was just presented the UT Martin Chancellor’s Award for University Service in November.

Smith has been a frequent speaker and panelist on institutional performance, performance metrics, and incentive funding models. He has been a facilitator for AACRAO Presidential Seminars on Strategic Enrollment Management, and he has been senior faculty member in four executive development programs including the National Association of College and University Business Officers’ Collegiate Management Business Institute and for 16 years with the Tennessee Government Institute.

While Smith was a dean at UT Martin from 1987 to 1999, he also co-established and served as executive director of the WestStar Leadership Program from 1989 to 1999. He was director of the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Humanities from 1996 to 1999, and prior to that was an associate dean at Wichita State University in Kansas.

Smith is a native of Kansas and an alumnus of Wichita State, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communication. He also earned a master’s degree in communication from Ohio University and a doctoral degree in communication theory from Temple University. He was a tenured faculty member at UT Martin and Wichita State.


Gina Stafford
(865) 974-0741

Elizabeth Davis
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Category: Headlines