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What’s in a name?

Retaining ‘West Texas’ after the A&M merger 

By Chip Chandler
Senior Communication Specialist

 

When the then-West Texas State University merged with The Texas A&M University System, the fight was only beginning — and would be waged closer to home.

Ultimately, the fiercest battle over the merger was waged in front of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, but over the next three years, debate would rage even more loudly in Canyon.

At issue: What to call the now-merged university.

A name change wasn’t automatic. Other schools, like Tarleton State University, didn’t change their name when they joined the A&M System.

“Texas A&M University at West Texas” or “Texas A&M University at Canyon” both were floated as options, State Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) said.

“Students felt the merger should happen. The issue wasn’t the merger. But the name mattered,” recalled Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, who served as student body president during the merger.

The student senate made its wishes known with a vote that asked that “West Texas” remain part of whatever name was ultimately chosen.

“We were just really committed to keeping the history of ‘West Texas’,” Lowery-Hart said. “In all of the name changes before this, it still remained ‘West Texas’.”

At least one TAMU System Regent got a timely reminder of how important “West Texas” was to the school community.

Stanley Schaeffer, a prominent WT alum and area business leader, said his late wife Geneva, also a proud WT alum, was discussing the pending name change with her friend Mary West Traylor over lunch one day in Fort Worth.

West Traylor’s mother, Mary Nan West, was a prominent rancher and the first woman to serve as president of the TAMU System Board of Regents, which was then debating what to name WT after the merger.

“Mary told Geneva that her mother said no one really cares about the name,” Stanley Schaeffer said. “Geneva very heatedly said, ‘Yes, they do care. They want to retain ‘WT’ as the main part of the name.

“Well, Mary picked up her phone and called her mother: ‘Mother, they do care what the name is,’” Schaeffer recalled his wife saying. 

The largest sticking point, then, was over whether or how to add “A&M” to the school’s name.

“We wanted the opportunity that joining the system might create, but we didn’t want to lose what we were in the process,” Lowery-Hart said. “We were proud to be Buffs.”

A 1992 poll of faculty members rejected any name change, according to “Always WT,” Dr. Marty Kuhlman’s centennial accounting of the University’s history. A similar survey conducted of a sampling of students found the matter to be a statistical dead heat: 49.6 in favor of remaining WTSU, 49.4 in favor of adding A&M to the name. Alumni, too, asked to stay WTSU. 

But adding the patina of statewide respect accorded by the merger — a major argument in its favor — seemed to many to indicate that a name change of some sort was required.

“Once we affiliate ourselves with a university like Texas A&M that carries the prestige, I think people will get to know us a little bit more,” student senator Richard Perez told student newspaper The Prairie in 1992. “We can build our university carrying this name.”

“There is no question that it’s right,” then-University President Barry Thompson said later in 1992. “A&M is now the sixth largest research university in the world. It’s recognized as one of the premier universities, [and] we’re part of it.”

The System Board of Regents ultimately agreed.

“The day after Geneva talked with Mary West Traylor, the regents voted on it,” Schaeffer said. “I’d like to think Geneva really had something to do with retaining the name. Maybe not, but I’d like to think so.”

The name officially was changed June 1, 1993.