UTEP celebrated the Dec. 1 announcement of a $25 million gift from the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation. Pictured are, from left, Jake Logan, UTEP vice president for institutional advancement; UTEP President Heather Wilson; Woody Hunt, Gayle Hunt, James B. Milliken, chancellor of the University of Texas System; and James E. Payne, dean of UTEP's Woody L. Hunt College of Business. (Daniel Perez/El Paso Matters)

James E. Payne, dean of the Woody L. Hunt College of Business at the University of Texas at El Paso, is leaving UTEP to become the dean of the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University, the university announced Friday.

“I really appreciate the support of the faculty, staff, alumni and the students and the community stakeholders,” Payne said Friday between meetings. “They really contributed a lot to our success.”

One of his most significant contributions to the college during his four-year tenure was his role in securing the $25 million gift from the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation in December 2022 that led to the renaming of the college to the Woody L. Hunt College of Business. The foundation’s gift significantly increased the college’s endowment base.

Under Payne’s watch, the college made substantial changes to its curriculum at the graduate and undergraduate levels and introduced some online programs to serve the community. He had a hand in the reorganization of the MBA programs, the initiation of a new minor in commercial real estate, and the addition of more student professional development activities.

Additionally, Payne established the Center for Free Enterprise, hired 30 new business faculty members and increased financial support for faculty research and doctoral students. He also spearheaded the successful business and accounting accreditation by the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business).

Payne took pride in the college’s operational changes that created more transparency in regard to performance expectations.

In an email to the university, UTEP President Heather Wilson thanked Payne for his accomplishments, which included the expansion of corporate academies that better prepare students for the workforce. She said that an interim dean will be named soon.

“Moving forward, we will conduct a national search for a new dean who will build on our strong foundational business programs and position UTEP to be the nation’s leading university for the study of U.S.-Mexico trade and commerce,” Wilson said.

Businessman and philanthropist Woody Hunt said he was sad to see Payne leave because of his role in the transformation of the business school, which was a big factor in the foundation’s decision to support the college.

“With every challenge comes an opportunity,” Hunt said. “That opportunity will be to conduct a highly competitive search that will bring a replacement who can continue to lead the (college).”

At Oklahoma State, Payne will replace Ken Eastman, a longtime educator who taught at Spears for almost 34 years and served as dean since 2014. Eastman officially retires July 30, 2023. The Oklahoma State University/A&M Board of Regents approved Payne’s appointment at its regular monthly meeting on Friday.

“Filling the dean’s role at the Spears School of Business was going to require an educator, administrator and researcher with the right experience to take the reins at a college that has enjoyed such a successful history,” Jeanette Mendez, OSU provost and senior vice president, said in a press release. “I am pleased the search attracted a scholar of Dr. Payne’s caliber, who is also an experienced administrator and sitting dean.”

Payne called the Spears School “a large operation” with almost 6,000 students that is well-recognized in its field.

“The faculty and staff seem excited,” he said. “It should be fun.”

Payne, the Paul L. Foster and Alejandra de la Vega Foster Distinguished Chair in International Business, said he plans to continue working at UTEP through July and will start at the Spears School of Business in early August. The Kentucky native and first-generation college student has 35 years of higher education experience as an instructor/researcher to include 20 years in administration.

The former Fulbright scholar earned his Ph.D. and master’s degrees in economics in 1989 and 1987, respectively, from Florida State University, and his bachelor’s degree in economics from Berea College in Kentucky.

The Hunt College of Business employs approximately 70 full-time faculty and 40 staffers. It also enrolls approximately 3,200 students who pursue undergraduate degrees in economics and finance, accounting and information systems, as well as marketing, management and supply chain; master’s degrees in accountancy, business administration and science in economics; and a Ph.D in business administration.

Daniel Perez covers higher education for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for El Paso Matters in partnership with Open Campus.