Tenth and final in a series on the reopening of West Texas A&M University in the midst of COVID-19.
Universities propel students, families and communities toward economic prosperity and intellectual liberty. WT has pursued this mission since 1910; training teachers was our genesis. Today, three of four school personnel in the Texas Panhandle have at least one certificate from West Texas A&M University. We educate the Panhandle with purpose, passion and pride. At this juncture in time, three intersecting dynamics affirm our mission.
First, WT celebrates the 30-year relationship with The Texas A&M University System. On August 2, 1989, Governor William Clements, urged on by many local leaders including Representative John Smithee, signed legislation that fused West Texas State University with Texas A&M System–a remarkable and visionary effort to create new opportunities for both the A&M System and WT. It worked. In the last decade alone, under the leadership of Chancellor John Sharp, WT has moved forward to establish its presence in the Texas Panhandle serving all through excellent and affordable programs. Chancellor Sharp and the Board of Regents of The Texas A&M University System have shown insight and wisdom in building programs in response to regional needs.
Second, WT is continually working on the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World. This plan lays out a strategy to move WT from a comprehensive university to a first-of-its-kind regional research university. We will be a “flagship” in a few areas that benefit the Texas Panhandle and enhance the A&M System in its service to Texas. This living partnership with people of the Panhandle and faculty, staff and students defines WT.
Third, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing nearly everything, including WT, as it serves the Panhandle and the world. The nature of the changes and the full impact on people, programs and this place are not fully known and likely will not be for decades.
These dynamics influence our trajectory of service. This acknowledgement expressed in three short phrases is central to our future: A New World. A New Way. Always WT.
The opportunities presented in our 30-year bond with the A&M System and the new world we inhabit are challenging. We will respond to the environment that shapes us and our view to the future, so the best of the Panhandle culture emerges from the vice of change–one jaw “the old” and one jaw “the new.” The squeeze produces springboards, not shackles. This is not Pollyanna speak. Rather, it is the voice of any forward-looking organization. WT will not be stymied but will skyrocket.
Growth after trauma is possible. Strength, institutional potential, reliance on the community served and the Texas Panhandle fortify our deepest values. Elegantly expressed by President J.A. Hill 75 years ago as the “pioneering spirit,” these values define us whether struggling or soaring. Our relationship with the A&M System, WT 125, and COVID-19 demands this view. It is not a choice we make, but the world we live in: A new world.
Cindy Wahler alleges in Forbes that a crisis should change how we lead: “A wise mentor of mine once advised me that when there is major upheaval in the world, we have two choices as to how to respond. One choice is to put our energy into returning to the pre-crisis state, and the other is to transition to something very different once the crisis has resolved.”
Occasionally we all long for the past. It is human nature. Our new way will require greater organizational flexibility as workplaces will never be the same. Zoom is not going away. It is the contemporary “coffeepot” or water cooler liquefied by 5G network speeds and greased by human interaction: A new way.
A reflection on leadership in the Harvard Business Review states that recovery processes include the confrontation of new realities, working through complex emotions and appreciating the burdens of progress as fresh air, not stagnate swamps. Understanding the broad challenge, teamwork and attention to detail are all important fundamentals. No matter what happens, how, when or where it happens, circumstances are just that. Nothing more.
These realizations manifest themselves in every corner of campus. The face-slapping reality? We live in a new world and will address that new world in a new way. However, we are Always WT.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/.