West Texas A&M University is becoming a regional research university. Defined in WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World, it means in part, ”Our focus will be on community life, schools in rural settings, enriched enterprise, beef, rural health care and water and energy. These points of focus will lead to the development of a first-of-its-kind Regional Research University.” To obtain power from that thought, it is essential that our university be knitted into the Texas Panhandle.(Red Dot) Canyon lies at the crossroads of the Great Plains of the Midwest and the Texas region of high commerce bounded by Houston, DFW, Austin and San Antonio—a wheel-like structure with College Station at its axle.
Here, in the center of cattle country, where 30% of the beef consumed in the United States is bred, raised, harvested and packaged for consumption, a distinctiveness unfolds that is the result of this complex confluence of forces that work on us culturally, economically, geographically and socially. If we will allow these forces, and those identified above, to shape us without resistance but with appreciation, we will be distinctive. As WT celebrates regional distinctiveness, it will become increasingly unique. This foundational reference point guides us.
Our service to the Panhandle defines who we are, the programs we offer, the students we serve and the faculty we hire and add to this simmering stewpot of intersecting influences. Service shapes WT, its benefits, regional value and, most assuredly, our contribution to Texas and beyond.
As a progeny of the teachers college or “normal school” movement, our duty was first to provide educators for the Panhandle. We did. As the adopted child of The Texas A&M University System, more differentiating facets grow from this confluence of DNA, constantly redefining us in a way ever more unique in America’s constellation of universities. This marriage between WT and the larger A&M System does not diminish distinctiveness but enlivens it for mutual benefit through service.
Too many institutions see the provision of service as an outward duty from campus to community. Instead, an effective regional research university accepts service as opportunity, along with other forces that sharpen and hone mission and provide value near and far: West Texas A&M’s whetted edge. This view requires institutional humility. We have something to give the community, but the community provides identity for WT. After that, subsequent to our immersion in the forces that define the Texas Panhandle, we become, without choice, what we must. WT’s service mission works to integrate the campus into the surrounding community. The same is true the other way around. We are thankful to gain strength from the energetic Canyon/Amarillo nucleus of service animated by vision.
The knowledge generated and shared through WT provides a living-learning laboratory frothing with ideas from student and faculty alike fueling individual and collective benefit. This application of knowledge to real problems is the core of our concept of a regional research university. It is founded on a principle espoused by Alfred North Whitehead: “… unapplied knowledge is knowledge shorn of its meaning. The careful shielding of a university from the activities of the world around is the best way to chill interest and to defeat progress. Celibacy does not suit a university. It must mate itself with action.”
WT will be an institution fused to its community. And while this thinking may sound high and mighty, it is instead grounded and pragmatic. Seen in this light, we generate and share value to people in our proximity who aspire to study in a community-serving university, not an isolated one. Not a monastery, but an estuary of ideas and action, simultaneously inward and outward. Little is more exciting to anyone seeking opportunity when applied value is the result of opportunity exercised.
The destiny of West Texas A&M University is wedded to Canyon, Amarillo and the constellation of communities that are the Panhandle. And, vice versa. The best universities get and give life through meaningful community interaction. Community leaders, university leaders and faculty, families and students must see, live and value it. Likewise, business and industry should embrace it, as WT embraces them.
When institution and community are bound together, profit and benefit expand in all directions creating the essence of a university knitted to its surroundings.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at http://walterwendler.com/.