LHS grad to lead Texas Tech

1972 graduate says Libby was foundation for him to excel in life

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Libby High School graduate M. Duane Nellis is going back to the Big 12 Conference, and he couldn’t be happier about it.

Nellis, a Ph.D. and 1972 LHS graduate, has been named president of Texas Tech University.  

After a recommendation from Texas Tech University System Chancellor Kent Hance, the System Board of Regents approved Nellis as the 16th president of Texas Tech University on March 22.

Previously, Nellis was the Dean of Arts and Sciences at West Virginia University and later as provost at Kansas State, both Big 12 schools.

“With that kind of background, I’m really excited to be going back to a Big 12 university,” Nellis said.

Nellis, 58, goes to Texas Tech after serving as the president of the University of Idaho since 2009.

“This is a great time to be associated with Texas Tech University,” Nellis said. “This is an institution that is on the move in a very positive way. My wife, Ruthie, and I feel it is a great opportunity to be at this emerging national research university.”

At the University of Idaho, Nellis secured record student enrollments, enhanced the university’s research profile and spearheaded the university’s largest fundraising campaign. 

Nellis’ plans for Texas Tech include increasing enrollment and creating synergy within the university with the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center.

“There is a great tradition here at Tech of being very student-centered, and we’re going to continue to build on that,” Nellis said. “It’s a great part of what it means to be here at Texas Tech, a great campus. We have great faculty, great staff, great infrastructure to support our faculty, staff and students, and a great product with that degree from Texas Tech University.”

As he has progressed through his career, Nellis said he has found his years at Libby and time at Libby High School a good place to start.

“Libby provided for me a great foundation,” Nellis said Monday. “My father worked at Champion International and my mother was a nurse at the hospital. It’s a good place.”

Nellis spoke fondly of his time in Libby, specifically talking about his time as a Logger freshman on the basketball team and fishing with Bill Price.

“I really loved the fishing trips up at Quartz Creek, hiking up to Leigh Lake and in the Cabinets,” Nellis said. “Those were some pretty good days.”

Nellis also recalled playing in the Logger Marching Band where he played the baritone horn.

“I played in the band and then worked at J.C. Penney in Libby my junior and senior years.”

While Nellis’ parents — Marvin and Sophie — are deceased, he still has family in Libby, and those family members saw something great in Nellis long ago.

“He came from such a good family,” said aunt Marcia Fantozzi. “Both his parents had such a work ethic — really fine people. They instilled in Duane the same kind of values. When he went to West Virgina and to Kansas State, we all just kind of said, ‘Wow.’ We are all so very proud of him. His uncle (Al Fantozzi) is very proud. I think he’d be a nice addition to the Libby High School Hall of Fame.”

Nellis supports the Texas Tech strategic initiatives and said that he will work to grow Texas Tech’s reputation as a premier national research university. He said that with the investments Texas Tech has made within the last several years, it is primed to become one of the foremost research universities in Texas.

“We certainly need to continue to look creatively, to be more entrepreneurial, to maximize our resources as we move the institution forward,” Nellis said. “Twenty-first-century universities like Texas Tech are moving in a new direction. Texas Tech needs to be on the cutting edge of that — to be more engaged as an institution, to be more entrepreneurial, to be more globally connected, to be more interdisciplinary, as well as more diverse. I think we have the ingredients here to help move that forward in a very positive way.”

Located in Lubbock, Texas Tech has almost 33,000 students and an overall budget of almost $800 million.  It plays its athletic sports in the Big 12 Conference.

Nellis is the son of Marvin and Sophie Nellis who were longtime Libby residents.  

Nellis completed his undergraduate degree at Montana State University, and his masters and Ph.D. at Oregon State University.

He and Ruthie have two sons.

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