Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp watched media coverage of last year’s Texas wildfires with frustration.
Texas Forest Service workers were interviewed and praised in dozens of stories, including on cable news and other national media. But it was never made clear that the service was an agency within the A&M System.
“There was no mention of A&M,” he said. “I was unable to find any news clips anywhere. We know it, but the fact that we know is not good enough. We want everyone to know how good we are.”
This week, the A&M System Board of Regents will likely try to change that. The board’s regular meeting on Thursday and Friday — the agenda of which will be released early this week — will include discussion of new names for all seven of the A&M System’s state agencies, plus the Baylor College of Dentistry.
The Texas Forest Service would become the Texas A&M Forest Service. The Texas Transportation Institute would become the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, and so on with the Texas Engineering Extension Service, Texas Engineering Experiment Station, Texas Agrilife Research, Texas Agrilife Extension Service and Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.
The Baylor College of Dentistry would become the Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry. Any new signs for the Dallas school would have “Texas A&M” written twice as large as “Baylor,” and the words would be in maroon, Sharp said.
The idea behind the change is to expand the reach of the A&M brand, Sharp said. The Baylor College of Dentistry and all of the system’s state agencies are nationally renowned, but people often don’t recognize that they are associated with A&M, he said.
“We are the best in so many things, but there are a lot of people who don’t know we have anything to do with those things,” he said.
But not everyone is excited about the change. Sharp said he has heard some concern from agency members that the new names could affect their reputations. For instance, the name Texas Transportation Institute may suggest a group with statewide authority, while the Texas A&M Transportation Institute may indicate a smaller scope.
Sharp said he understands that, but that the changes are still worthwhile.
“I would argue that putting the A&M name in there does the system and the university more good than” the potential negative impact on the agencies, he said in an interview Friday.
Other questions have been raised about whether such a change will be cost-effective. A new name will mean new signs, stationery, business cards and marketing materials. But A&M System Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications Steve Moore said the items will only be replaced due to attrition, when they would have been replaced anyway. Therefore, he said, “there is little or no cost.”
The most skepticism seems to be coming from the Baylor College of Dentistry. Jonathan Clemetson, president of the school’s alumni association, said his organization took an informal poll of graduates and found that almost 90 percent opposed a name change.
“The school has 100 years of history,” he said. “Why would you want to throw that away?”
The school was founded as the private State Dental College in 1905. In 1918, Baylor University acquired it, renamed it and managed it until 1971, when the school broke off so it could become public and accept state funding. It joined the A&M System in 1996.
Most people in the dental community know it simply as “Baylor,” Clemetson said.
“It is not just the name recognition, it is being synonymous with quality,” he said. “When Baylor students go to residencies, usually they are the first on call.”
Sharp acknowledged that opposition, saying he has received “some interesting hate mail” on the subject. But he questioned whether it makes sense for A&M to have a dental school named after another university.
“When A&M took over, there was an agreement that we would keep the name prominently for 10 years, and we have done that for [longer than that],” Sharp said. “We think it is time that the entity responsible for it has a more prominent role in the name.”
The changes are part of multiple efforts that A&M and its governing system have made in recent years to grow the school’s brand. A&M President R. Bowen Loftin listed the potential brand growth as one of the key reasons for the Aggies joining the Southeastern Conference for athletics. And A&M’s reputation was one of the main reasons given for the university’s purchase of the Texas Wesleyan School of Law earlier this summer.
“I think that having the university be more proactive in creating awareness of Texas A&M and its pockets of excellence is something that is necessary and important to do, and I’m glad to see them pay more attention to it,” said Paul Busch, an A&M professor who studies marketing and university administration.
Busch noted that Phil Kotler, one of the thought leaders in marketing, has visited A&M several times and remarked that the school is “one of the best kept secrets in the country.”
“I think from a branding and a naming standpoint the logic [of renaming] is certainly sound and justifiable,” Busch said.