A new leader for a 'new era'
James Spaniolo brings academic, corporate and foundation experience to presidency
Citing "visions, values and voices" as his mantra, James D. Spaniolo took office Feb. 1 as UTA's seventh president.
One of the priorities, says the former Michigan State University dean, is mapping a course for the University's future. He'll begin by engaging in a series of conversations with the stakeholders.
"Everyone who cares about this university will be included," he said. "I want to make sure everyone is heard."
As dean of Michigan State's College of Communication Arts and Sciences from 1996-2003, Spaniolo oversaw an enrollment increase of more than 1,000 students. He helped establish the James H. and Mary B. Quello Center for Telecommunication Management and Law by raising more than $3.5 million. He forged a partnership with a newspaper corporation in Mexico and strengthened alumni outreach.
Prior to accepting the MSU deanship, he was vice president and chief program officer of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the largest media-related private foundation in the United States with more than $1.5 billion in assets. Before that, he was vice president of human resources and assistant to the publisher at the Detroit Free Press, general executive and general counsel of The Miami Herald and associate general counsel of the American Newspaper Publishers Association.
U.T. System Chancellor Mark Yudof says Spaniolo's diverse background, including his fund-raising abilities, helped distinguish him from the other candidates.
"His experiences in politics, journalism, law, philanthropy and in higher education were essential qualities that the board felt were important in his selection," Yudof said. "His service and experience on the Michigan State capital campaign steering committee and his record in fund raising for the institution and his college as dean will be enormously beneficial to U.T. Arlington and to the system."
Spaniolo holds a bachelor's degree from Michigan State, where he was editor of the student newspaper; a master's of public administration from the University of Michigan; and a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. He is a member of the Florida Bar Association and has been admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, the 5th and 11th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
"I am the first to admit that I have not taken a traditional path to become a university president," he said. "But given the environment in which public universities find themselves today, I think it's an advantage to have had a variety of professional experiences outside the academy before becoming a university president."
The U.T. System Board of Regents agreed. The nine-member group unanimously selected the 57-year-old Spaniolo from among three finalists who emerged from a pool of more than 100 applicants.
"We believe that he is the right person to lead UTA into a new era of prominence in Texas and the nation," said board Chairman Charles Miller.
Spaniolo wasn't sure how the board would view him.
"I was pleasantly surprised when I was selected because the other finalists had such strong qualifications," he said. "I had decided that I wanted to be president of UTA and would put forth my best effort to achieve that goal."
With the goal attained, he's now focusing on building an administrative team, boosting research and private support, and talking with those stakeholders about the University's future.
"UTA is a university of quality that aspires to be even better and stronger. I look forward to being part of an institution with such high aspirations," he said. "The students, faculty and staff I've met have been so welcoming and friendly that my wife, Sally, and I feel at home already."
Spaniolo succeeds Interim President Charles Sorber, a former president of U.T. Permian Basin and a U.T. System administrator. Dr. Sorber succeeded President Robert E. Witt, who left UTA in March 2003 to become president of the University of Alabama.
Jim and Sally Spaniolo have been married 33 years. They have a son and a daughter.
— Mark Permenter