University History: O'Brien Era

by Dr. Marty Kuhlman, professor of history

The University Under O'Brien, 2006-2016

Dr. J. Patrick O’Brien was named the 10th president of West Texas A&M University on Feb. 21, 2006.  His presidency is marked by a number of important accomplishments including an unprecedented increase in enrollment throughout his tenure. Enrollment grew  from 7,412 in the fall of 2006 to 9,489 in the fall of 2015, marking the highest enrollment in WTAMU history and an increase of more than 28 percent.


The University also developed a presence in Amarillo in 2008 with the establishment of the Amarillo Center. The development of a number of new academic programs also helped to meet the needs of WTAMU students. New academic programs include agricultural media and communication, civil and environmental engineering, public service administration, health sciences and school psychology. Graduate programs such as a Master of Education and a Master of Social Work also have been added.

In 2006 the College of Nursing and Health Sciences was establish, and in 2012 the WTAMU School of Music in the Sybil B. Harrington College of Fine Arts and Humanities and the WTAMU School of Engineering and Computer Science in the College of Agriculture, Science and Engineering were established. In 2013 the Center for Learning Disabilities was established as the University’s first Center of Excellence. In 2015 the College of Agriculture, Science and Engineering was reorganized as two separate units—the College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences and the School of Engineering, Computer Science and Mathematics. To enhance the quality of its programs and the reputation of the institution, initial accreditation was pursued and achieved in business, communication, computer information systems, engineering, theater and the graduate program in social work.

In 2008, O’Brien introduced Buff Promise to give financial aid to low-income students. The four-year graduation rate also increased as the O’Brien administration established programs to aid struggling students. Student life also has been enhanced through a study abroad program and the convenience of the Student Success Center. The Teaching Excellence Center was established in 2009 to provide resources to enhance instruction and learning. The Panhandle community also benefited through programs such as the Distinguished Lecture Series and the Remnant Trust.

Since 2012, WTAMU has been ranked in the first Tier of U.S. News and World Report Master Level Universities and Colleges in the West, and ranked by The Princeton Review as one of the Best Colleges in the West. The University’s online graduate programs in business, nursing and education also have been highly placed in the U.S. News and World Report ranking of Online Graduate Programs. In addition, WTAMU is consistently recognized as a top military-friendly university by G.I. Jobs magazine. The University also was recognized in 2012 as the 21st Most Beautify University in the United States by the Daily Beast.

Athletics at WTAMU also has excelled under O’Brien. In 2013 the West Texas A&M equestrian team won its second Western National Championship at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association and in 2014, Lady Buff softball brought home a national championship, while women’s basketball was the NCAA runner-up for the 2013-2014 season. Football at WTAMU also has boasted many winning seasons during O’Brien’s tenure, including a trip to the NCAA quarterfinals in 2013. The University’s track and field, volleyball and cross country teams also have earned national and/or regional recognition. Plus, WTAMU led the 2014 LSC spring commissioner’s honor roll with 146 student-athletes.

Construction projects totaling more than $150 million also have played an important part in the O’Brien administration. Between 2006 and 2015, Buff, Centennial and Founders Halls, the first residence halls built since Jones and Cross Halls in 1971, added life to the campus. The $22 million Buffalo Sports Park provided students and the community with everything from a walking trail to soccer, tennis, volleyball and basketball courts as well as baseball and softball fields.

Other new construction includes the Stanley Schaeffer Agriculture Learning Laboratory, the Bain Athletic Center, Charles K. and Barbara Kerr Vaughan Pedestrian Mall, Victory Circle, the UL Advanced Wind Turbine Research Facility and the Hayward Spirit Clock Tower.  Plus, a number of renovations have updated facilities and improved technology to provide the best for students. Renovations include Mary Moody Northen Hall, the Jack B. Kelley Student Center, the Classroom Center, Agricultural and Sciences Building, Virgil Henson Activities Center and turning the old Science Building into the School of Engineering and Computer Science. O’Brien has plans for more construction including a new, stand-alone Amarillo Center and an Agricultural Sciences Complex.

Another milestone during O’Brien’s tenure is the successful completion of WTAMU’s Share Your Pride comprehensive capital campaign in 2014. The campaign surpassed its goal and raised $50,306,904—$19,181,599 for program enhancement, $11,813,282 for scholarships and $19,312,022 for capital projects.

There have been numerous changes during the presidency of Dr. J. Patrick O’Brien, and with these changes it makes sense that WTAMU enjoys a national ranking as a top university.

West Texas A&M Presidential Eras