The West Texan: WT’s Hill Institute to Promote Regional Values

Brad Newman Dec 14, 2023
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The West Texan: WT’s Hill Institute to Promote Regional Values

It’s not just any university. It’s a distinctly West Texas university.  

And so the values of the West Texas region should be foundational to how the University forms students into engaged citizens. 


The West Texan Winter 2023: This article appears in the Winter 2023 edition of The West Texan, in mailboxes soon. Click the image to read the full issue.

That’s the impetus behind West Texas A&M University’s Hill Institute, a new initiative that highlights and seeks to instill 10 key values of the Texas Panhandle throughout the academic landscape.  

“As a regional university, we serve the region first,” said WT President Walter V. Wendler, “and reflecting the values of this region, I think, is extremely important.  

“We want to display these values and suggest to students that we’re here to reinforce these in you and shape who you are.”

The Hill Institute has selected a slate of 10 of those values to emphasize:  

  • Trust 
  • Family and Economic Prosperity 
  • Hard Work 
  • Regard for Others 
  • Personal Responsibility 
  • Compatriotism and Patriotism 
  • Private and Civic Virtue 
  • Faith 
  • Loyalty 
  • Rugged Individualism  

“The Hill Institute specifically fits within WT’s vision for the future by taking seriously what makes this region of the country and world so important – its people,” said Dr. Todd W. Rasberry, WT’s vice president for philanthropy and external affairs and executive director for the WTAMU Foundation.  

“People” is one of three priorities of WT’s One West campaign, the university’s comprehensive fundraising campaign that supports WT’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.  

“It’s important, as a regional university, that we serve the region first, and remember that it’s the people of this region, and their values, that we need to pay attention to,” Wendler said.  WT officials had been planning a project like the Hill Institute for several years. The Texas A&M Board of Regents approved the creation of the Institute in February 2022.  

But a $20 million gift from WT alumni Alex ’85 and Cheryl ’84 Fairly provided WT the funds necessary to announce the project’s launch in October 2023.

“We have a chance to do something special that we believe is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Alex Fairly said.  

The Fairlys’ gift currently is the single largest family gift in the history of WT and in the One West campaign. Since September 2021, the One West campaign has raised more than $150 million. An updated goal of raising $175 million by 2025 has been set.  

The Fairlys, both WT alumni, are prominent supporters of WT and both serve as members of the leadership committee for WT’s One West campaign.  

“The focus on the region WT serves that Dr. Wendler has brought has become an incredible gamechanger,” Alex Fairly said. “We wanted to support the Hill Institute because of the opportunity to help WT become a beacon that champions the values we believe in, and which we know the Panhandle and so much of the country believe in.”  

The Fairlys were instrumental in choosing and fine-tuning the values of the Hill Institute, Wendler said.  

“We’ve been working together, diligently coordinating a project that highlights the values and the value systems of the Texas Panhandle,” Wendler said.  

Each of the 10 values is reflected in West Texas people, the president said — from rugged individualism (“the people here have a certain grit that would be asset anywhere”) to compatriotism (“Panhandle people know they belong to something bigger than themselves and work together”). It’s those regional characteristics that can enhance the quality of WT students, Wendler said.

“WT has embraced regionalism as a defining, not limiting, characteristic,” Rasberry said. “WT has a responsibility to be the Panhandle’s university.”  

Increasingly in institutions of higher education, commonly held societal values are not at the forefront, Alex Fairly said. But the 10 values of the Hill Institute are essential to developing citizens of a constitutional republic, regardless of their field of study, he added.  

The Hill Institute will endow faculty positions in all six of WT’s colleges, funding research and scholarship related to the values. Hill Scholars will be selected – students who receive scholarships for exemplifying one of the values, or whose studies especially reinforce one of the values.  

The Hill Institute also will underwrite premier speakers and lecturers at WT, as well as create publications related to the 10 values and the importance of promulgating personal values in society.           

“The Hill Institute will make the role of values an essential part of the teaching, research, and service mission of WT,” Rasberry said. “This makes WT unique in many ways in the state and nation.”

The Hill Institute’s namesake is Joseph Abner Hill, the second and longest serving president of WT (then, West Texas Normal College). 

“Joseph Hill was very inspirational. He never lost his focus or fortitude,” Wendler said. “He is a stunning example to me of someone who worked to create good citizens.” 

Hill served from 1918 until 1948—through 30 years of significant challenge and growth for WT—and came to exemplify in ways the 10 values of the Hill Institute.  

As WT leads its students and faculty to reflect on and emulate the values of the Hill Institute, these characteristics will solidify WT’s positive influence in the region and in the broader U.S., Wendler said.  

“A long-term effort like the Hill Institute elevates the prestige of the University,” the president said. “Others will look to us to see how our success flows from an emphasis on the basic characteristics who we are.”