UT System Board names Jennifer Evans-Cowley as sole finalist for president of UT-Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington campus on August 27, 2021. (Shelby Tauber For The Texas Tribune, Shelby Tauber For The Texas Tribune)

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The University of Texas Board of Regents has named Jennifer Evans-Cowley, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of North Texas, as the sole finalist to become the next president of the University of Texas at Arlington.

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The announcement, approved by the board in a special meeting Friday, kicks off a required 21-day period before the board will take a final vote on the finalist, who will become the 10th person to run the 48,000-student university. If approved, Evans-Cowley will be the first female president at the university.

“Dr. Cowley is an accomplished leader in academia, research and industry partnerships, and her experiences align well with UT Arlington’s mission and growth aspirations,” Regents Chair Kevin Eltife said in a statement Friday afternoon. “Throughout her career, she has remained focused on student success, faculty collaborations, and external partnerships—all essential elements needed to advance a top public research university.”

Evans-Cowley, an Arlington native, was named provost at UNT in 2017. Over the past four years, she helped increase the three- and four-year graduation rates and UNT doubled its spending on research, according to a UT system press release. She also helped establish a UNT campus in Frisco.

Jennifer Evans-Cowley is the sole finalist for the next president of the University of Texas at Arlington.

Jennifer Evans-Cowley is the sole finalist to be the next president of the University of Texas at Arlington. Credit: University of North Texas

Prior to her tenure at UNT, Evans-Cowley served as the vice provost for capital planning and regional campuses at The Ohio State University. Before she began working in higher education, Evans-Cowley worked in city government in College Station and Amarillo.

She received a bachelor's and master's degree from Texas A&M University and has a master's of public administration degree from UNT.

I am honored to have the opportunity to return my hometown to play a leadership role in shaping the future at UT Arlington, and I enthusiastically accept this opportunity and responsibility,” Cowley said in a statement. “I am eager to begin working with faculty, staff, students, alumni, the UT System, and the broader metroplex and statewide communities to help UTA achieve its full potential as it serves the people of Texas through education and discovery.”

Earlier this week, the system announced that the current interim president of UT-Arlington, Teik Lim, was named the next president of the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

In a statement, UT Chancellor James Milliken praised Lim for his leadership.

“During Teik’s interim presidency at UTA over almost two years, he very successfully led a large urban university by providing both stability and vision during a time of unprecedented challenge,” Milliken said.

During Lim’s tenure, UT-Arlington achieved the Texas Tier One designation, a coveted distinction based on a university’s research and academic achievements.

Lim was tapped to lead the institution just as the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020. He was named interim president on May 1, 2020. The previous president, Vistasp Karbhari, had announced in early March that he would resign effective at the end of August, after he had come under scrutiny during a system investigation of the university’s online education recruiting and enrollment practices.

According to the Dallas Morning News, the investigation, conducted by an outside consulting firm, revealed an improper relationship between Karbhari and a private vendor that helped run the school’s online nursing program. Investigators found Karbhari took at least two trips with the vendor’s executives and allowed the vendor to implement a process that allowed underqualified students to enroll in the program.

The system released its findings on March 19, 2020, after media outlets requested the document. A few hours after it became public, Kharbari told Milliken he was stepping down immediately.

The UT Board of Regents has been tight-lipped about the hiring process since they resumed the search in July. A search advisory committee was made up of system officials, faculty, staff and student leaders who forwarded their candidate recommendations to board members who make the final decision.

Some faculty members have been pushing UT leaders for more transparency about the selection process, according to UT-Arlington’s student newspaper, The Shorthorn.

“Give us some clue as to what might be going on behind the curtain so that we can have some input,” English professor Cedrick May said during a meeting in September, according to The Shorthorn.

Milliken has said a confidential process would attract the candidates best equipped to lead UT-Arlington.

A spokesperson for the university said there are currently no plans to host a town hall or event with the sole finalist and the broader university community before the state-mandated 21-day notice period concludes.

Disclosure: University of Texas - Arlington and University of North Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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