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Joining the A&M Network

How the merger benefited West Texas State University

By Chip Chandler
Senior Communication Specialist 

 

Prior to the 1990s, higher education in Texas was a strikingly different playing field than today. 

Universities were more likely to be independent institutions, not tied to a statewide system of schools. But with so many schools battling for limited statewide resources, schools like the then-West Texas State University found it smarter to join a team.

“The problem was, they didn’t have the resources to compete for appropriations in the Legislature because these other systems had full-time lobbyists,” State Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) said. “As a legislator, I was seeing how hard it was for independent schools to compete.” 

The problem was apparent on WT’s campus, too.

Dr. James Hallmark, now the vice chancellor for academic affairs for The Texas A&M University System, first arrived at WT as a faculty member in 1991. He recalled that the University — which had just merged months before with the A&M System — was “very resource poor.” 

“WT, when it was on its own, had to rely entirely on its local representatives, but by being part of the A&M System, the school is able to rely on a larger network of representatives across the state house and senate,” Hallmark said.

Being a part of a larger system particularly helps in the sense of economy of scale, said Randy Rikel, WT’s vice president for business and finance.

“It’s cheaper if two people are enjoying the same thing and paying the same amount as one person,” Rikel explained.

As part of a broader system, WT can share many functions — human resources, payroll software, debt financing, treasury services.

“If we were still a standalone institution, we’d either have to hire those people to do those services full time or have them on retainer,” Rikel said.

The benefits of being part of a university system extend beyond that, as well.

Take, for instance, the 2 + 2 program. That allows A&M Veterinary students to begin their first two years of medical training at WT for increased exposure to large animal needs in rural communities. It’s part of extensive growth in the Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences, which also includes the Center for Advancing Food Animal Production in the Panhandle, made possible by a recent $4 million legislative allocation. PECANS also includes Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Education, Research and Outreach program, made possible by a $20 million investment from the Permanent University Fund and a commitment of $5 million from the System by Chancellor John Sharp. There’s also a $24 million Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab joining the complex.

“VERO is 100 percent A&M. The Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab is an A&M agency. If we were not part of the System, they would not be on our campus,” Rikel said.

But WT is still allowed a degree of independence that other university systems don’t necessarily offer its regional institutions.

“WT can still celebrate and cherish the traditions it has built over 110 years,” Hallmark said. “Our institutions have a lot more autonomy than other schools do. They’re still part of a network, but they still have the ability to make decisions that make sense for their students and for the people of the Panhandle.”