A University and a Way Forward

Universities, like all human organizations, need a passion for purpose coupled to a plan for the future. Without such a commitment, reactionary leadership and management follows. Such passion for purpose and a future grows from an institution’s people, its purpose and its place. At West Texas A&M University we have recently completed a long-range plan called WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World. The process was complex. It included nearly 300 people. Committees, theme groups and white paper authors labored diligently. Some might say such a collage of people is all form and no substance, but they would be wrong. The ideas propagated in this work will leverage the University forward with a well-conceived, carefully deliberated sense of service and corporate self. Such work will distinguish West Texas A&M University.

As a state-supported institution, our first responsibility is to the people of Texas. Our work is sustained through tax revenue. We are in their debt. More specifically, as a regional university, our work is directed to the people of the Panhandle, our primary service region. Included as a central function of that work is creating talented people who fuel economic opportunity for themselves and others. This is an essential facet of a publicly-supported University.

Our north star in WT125: From the Panhandle to the World is leading WT to regional research university status. We are defining, through our planning process, what such a university will look like. No current model exists, but it would have a number of characteristics. First, research in the various disciplines will be focused on regional needs. For example, water scarcity is a critical problem in the Texas Panhandle. Our water consumption is primarily directed towards agriculture – water scarcity is legendary. Water engineering questions need to be addressed. The complexities of this regional need demand attention in engineering, agriculture and political science. This is but one example. There are many others – smaller school districts, culture in rural communities and healthcare are also important. Our work in the coming decades will be directed at identifying and solving complex problems in the Panhandle and similar areas around the state, nation and world. This focus will create distinctiveness that will be widely recognized and valued.

A number of big ideas guide our thinking. Citizenship and the rights and responsibilities of it are critical to our future. In the coming decades more students will study and work simultaneously. They will not be of traditional age or demographics. Many will transfer from community colleges as a means to reduce educational costs. For WTAMU to survive it must be sensitive to this changing nature of the students that we serve. We must value on our campus the values of the Texas Panhandle. We are not Houston or Dallas, San Antonio or El Paso, Fort Worth or Austin. We shall be proud of the place we call home and the values that make it up. Too many regional universities spend too much time apologetically lamenting their size, composition or geography. That is a fool’s errand and is not our aspiration.

WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World was guided by several deep planning principles. Our business is developing human capital and human potential – an educated citizen who benefits from completing a degree. This leads to an inarguable realization that a core understanding of the competencies of contemporary citizenship, understanding human values and the to and fro of our economies is essential. Such ambition requires basic abilities in critical thinking, numeracy and other aspects of life in mid-21st century America.

Our students must also understand the nature and value of risk-taking as a core value of the American experience. Too often we want to hone risk out of our daily existence and create safe predictability. However, rewards are driven by determination, forbearance and grit – there is no higher calling for a public university in Texas.

While we are looking ahead, we are also actively engaged in generating new ideas that provide forward movement for WT. We developed the admissions fast-track application, whereby a student can apply and receive a response within 60 seconds followed up with a letter from the college dean or adviser within 24 hours. We will strive to better serve our veterans with special programs that integrate military service and the educational process at WT. Additionally, we established a financial literacy program. Buff$mart helps students understand and make better financial decisions with the goal to graduate with little to no debt.

West Texas A&M University is poised to take great steps in the near and long-term future through a comprehensive, participant-driven planning process. We are defining a new way forward.

For a complete version of our plan, please visit wtamu.edu and click on WT 125.

 

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