The First Strength of a Public University: Integrity

First in a series on strength in regional universities.

The quality of universities in America was considered the best in the world just a decade ago, according to the New York Times. Quality comes from the relationship of the university to its students, the place where it is established (its’ geographic and cultural home), faculty, alumni, the value proposition created by the cost of the degree, its’ benefit in the marketplace and the business and industry that employ graduates. To deny or overlook any of the matrices of forces that create the ecosystem supporting the university would create significant shortcomings.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, a growing body of evidence suggests Americans are losing faith in higher education. Positive bridges built between people and places through the community/university connection generate a strong bond leading to high quality and trust. While true for any university, regardless of size or reach, connectivity is the lifeblood of America’s regional universities. Regional universities create local opportunities for students and communities alike and face challenging times, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Issues critical to a strong university will be addressed in the coming weeks. I will reflect from the perspective of West Texas A&M University, but I believe the concepts have value in diverse university settings. The first characteristic – the foundation for all public institutions – is organizational integrity: Nothing surpasses its impact on vitality and purpose in higher education.

It is easy to appreciate that people demonstrate integrity or its absence in day-to-day dealings and relationships. Authenticity, gratitude, honesty, kindness, and reliability are values that impact the strength of people and organizations alike, according to Finger Prints for Success. Quality comes from countless trusting relationships between students and faculty in an educational organization. Effective regional universities are more than management structures with rules and operating procedures. Similarly, McDonald’s and a mom-and-pop hamburger joint in the older part of town are strengthened or weakened by integrity, present or lacking. While any institution must demonstrate many forms of integrity, moral integrity may top the list. We know it when we see it, lament its absence, and many sense a general decline in individual and institutional morals.

Vision ties multiple characteristics into a network of organizational memberships. Organizational citizenship is that fabric of relationships that strengthens organizations, from ecosystems to marriages. For example, being regionally responsive to and reflective of the people we serve in the Panhandle of Texas is critical. No institution is relieved of the responsibility to attend to the framework of community standards of those who host the institution in the town, region and state in which it is situated. Tip O’Neil might quip, “All education is local,” as a reflection of community standards. Community standards will provide strength and distinctiveness, leading to attractiveness by being committed to something. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Lamar Alexander reported Chancellor Daniel Diermeier of Vanderbilt University was committed to “principled neutrality” on vexing issues. Purpose in an organization composed of purposeful people cannot sustain itself by taking any position. That would lead to a moral-less institution—not a viable perspective. Accepting a moral or ethical philosophy while embracing others different from your own is challenging in every human organization.

Personal integrity has a significant impact on individual and institutional success. Basic shared values allow people to be more satisfied with themselves and their situations. Strong values promote positive responses to challenging circumstances. According to Harvard Business Review editors, people at every level of any organization nurture and sustain integrity in executive leadership. Personal values exercised institutionally in various large enterprises impact stock prices. Corporate values influence success, according to Forbes. People long for strong ethical frameworks, and too many feel that their company has weak ethics. In the corporate world, half of the largest corporate bankruptcies since 1980, Enron, WorldCom, Lehman Brothers, and others, resulted from lapses in day-to-day ethical decision-making. And what works – or doesn’t – in corporate America might inform universities.

In universities, shared characteristics are at the core of academic integrity, without which institutional strength is nonexistent. Intuitional integrity is the North Star that gathers energy through professed and enlivened community standards.

Quality in a university results from many forces at work in the learning environment, but none more important than institutional integrity, especially at a regional institution that serves the Texas Panhandle first and always. This is the duty and strength of WT.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns, with hyperlinks, are available at


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