It was my honor and pleasure to work in Texas A&M University’s archives for nearly four decades. The documents contained in the files paint a clear picture of the numerous challenges the university has faced in the past 136 years. Even today these brittle yellowed papers from long ago give insight into dearly won lessons
The past is truly a prologue. Indeed, Texas A&M has evolved from what one Hollywood actor once described as a “cow college in Texas” into one of the nation’s leading universities in teaching and research. The journey was long and arduous. There were constant setbacks along the way.
Political meddling often retarded the growth of the school. For example, Gov. Oran M. Roberts’ (Jan. 21, 1879-June 16, 1883) firing of the A&M president and entire faculty set the school back for decades.
Over the years, leaders arose to overcome the obstacles and at times literally saved the school from extinction. President of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas and former Gov. Lawrence Sullivan Ross (Jan. 18, 1887-Jan. 20, 1891) used his reputation and considerable leadership skills to increase state funding to the struggling little school in order to stop the financial strangulation, at least until his untimely death.
Col. Edward B. Cushing, Class of 1880, became president of the then-Board of Directors with the express purpose of thwarting a political attempt to close the school and move parts of it to Austin. His undying devotion to the school was legendary. Without his leadership, all that would remain of A&M today would be a historical marker on the prairie along Texas 6.
Maj. Gen. James Earl Rudder, Class of 1932, provided steady leadership during the turbulent 1960s while guiding the school through the growing pains of integration and the admission of women.
Sterling C. Evans, Class of 1921, chairman of the board, played a pivotal role in the admission of women. The list of Aggies who stood up to help A&M during challenging times — sometimes at personal risk — is legion.
Today we are again challenged.
In their column (Eagle, April 21) “A&M regents failed to protect university,” Jon Hagler and Ray Bowen sounded an alarm that all of the Aggie family needs to heed.
They stated their opinions and requested that we get informed of the facts and develop our own opinions. All of us who care about Texas A&M University need to do so.
Like the rest of the nation, Texas faces severe financial challenges in higher education. All people except those who have no interest at all in higher education are aware of that fact.
It is equally clear that the status quo for higher education in Texas won’t work for the future and that higher education must evolve and adapt in order to survive and continue to provide a quality outcome for graduates.
But there is a right way and a wrong way to go about accomplishing the required evolution. The right way protects and preserves the quality of education and research at all universities in Texas. The wrong way will result in irreparable harm, especially to our current and emerging Tier 1 research universities.
There are ways for the Aggie family to get informed and participate in this serious debate. First, look at the website for the Alliance for Texas A&M University, www.alliancefortamu.org, to follow the public media trail. One of the links at the site is specifically focused on governance issues.
It especially is important for all of us to understand the examples of failed governance of the Texas A&M University System and the impact of those failures on Texas A&M University.
Second, examine the efforts of an organization known as The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education. The Coalition’s website is www.texaseducationexcellence.org.
Texas A&M University is not alone in this debate. The Board of Regents of the University of Texas System also has failed to act on every occasion in the best interest of its flagship university, UT Austin. The Coalition is a non-partisan organization with members from both flagship universities who have come together to strive for excellence in higher education while preserving Texas A&M University and UT Austin as two of the top Tier 1 research and teaching universities in the nation.
The Coalition also is working on clearly defining the issue of failed governance at both the UT and A&M systems and to promote actions aimed at restoring such governance to be fully compliant with the Texas Education Code.
Third, express your opinions, and encourage others to express theirs, to the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency. This is a committee jointly chaired by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.
Information about this committee and its hearings can be found at http://heget.posterous.com.
The Alliance for Texas A&M University website also has links to the various hearings and testimony presented. It is hoped that the work of this joint committee will result in proposed legislation which defines more precisely the appointment and confirmation process for individual regents, as well as clarifying the roles and responsibilities of boards of regents.
It’s time for all of those who care about the future of Texas A&M University to get informed on the issues and speak up.
• David Chapman is the retired Texas A&M archivist..