Sixth in a series on the Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle
In traveling the Texas Panhandle, I sensed in many communities a genuine, thoughtful loyalty to people and place. I am not naïve and know that in towns, as in many families, no matter how big or small, there are frequently underlying tensions. Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best are not reality TV. The antidote for tension is loyalty. Thoughtful loyalty requires an extension beyond self. Loyalty has always been present in great organizations. Families, places of worship and commerce, farms and factories, if effective, are glued together by loyalty.
For universities, a number of forms of loyalty create excellent scholarly and study environments—loyalty to the pursuit of truth, fairness and treatment of others; loyalty from students to faculty and faculty to students are important to a healthy organization and exhibit diverse manifestations of loyalty.
In contemporary corporate America, loyalty is perceived as a one-way street from the employee to the employer. Forbes says it’s the cause of the diminishment of corporate loyalty. Loyalty is a two-way street that gestates from perseverance, dedication, pride and respect evidenced by leadership. At West Texas A&M University our standing commitment is to support loyalty in both directions. When students graduate, their continued loyalty is essential and can never be taken for granted; it must be repeatedly earned through demonstrated trust in alumni.
The recently initiated WT Alumni Scholars (WTAS) program is intended to enliven trust. Our goal is to have the strength of loyalty exhibited across the Panhandle permeate WT. We encourage alumni to recommend potential WT students who they think will make a difference at WT and enjoy the university experience. On alumni recommendation alone, recommended students will be admitted through WTAS. We are indicating loyalty to alumni’s good judgment. If we can’t, who could?
Strong students will study, work hard and make positive contributions to society. Such individual contributions increase the value of all degrees. Degrees are stock certificates. Strong institutions, like WT, that get stronger benefit all. Texas A&M University just surpassed $1 billion in research funding, the first University in Texas to top that mark. I graduated from Texas A&M University. The value of my degree increased last week with the billion-dollar announcement. I had absolutely nothing to do with it, but I own stock in Texas A&M University. My self-interest is to see Texas A&M University improve. WT is no different.
WT will demonstrate thoughtful loyalty by listening carefully to alumni recommendations about who might study here. We will work hard to find students who, when they graduate, will increase the value of all WT degrees. It is our job and demonstrates loyalty to the interests of alumni.
In five short years, I have become acquainted with thousands of WT graduates. The intensity of pride in accomplishment grows from community trust and loyalty. Students trust faculty and faculty trust each other. Likewise, leadership trusts faculty and students. Trust breeds loyalty as surely as spring rain spawns wheat on the high plains.
George Eastman, founder of Kodak, found ways to instill loyalty from workers to the company. Loyalty flowed from Eastman to each worker. If institutions demonstrate genuine loyalty, alumni will be loyal. Their loyalty coupled with enlightened faculty and staff will create a better university. Leadership starts it. Self-serving leaders might create a chimera of loyalty but it will evaporate at the speed of light.
WT is working to demonstrate loyalty by entrusting alumni to identify students who they believe would be a good fit for WT. Don’t be fooled. We still have admission standards, and as we approach alumni about making recommendations, we share those standards and expectations. Students recommended through the WTAS will have application fees waived, be granted express admission and be considered for all WT scholarships, including the newly instituted WT Merit Scholarship Program.
This simple calculus was what I discovered in the small, frequently struggling communities of the Texas Panhandle. Loyalty is a salve that heals many afflictions. At some level, it will heal every social or organizational affliction. West Texas A&M University will be recognized as a university that values loyalty and through our actions demonstrates that such thoughtful loyalty is a two-way street. Commitment and trust are the nucleus of the University’s long-term plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.
To be sure, loyalty and trust are the heart and soul of the Texas Panhandle. I am betting my career on it.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His reflections are available at http://walterwendler.com/.