They Say It’s Your Birthday

17 02 2010

They said I wouldn’t last more than a year here.

That’s what all my friends, colleagues and family in the Midwest said when I came to West Texas A&M University for the Fall 1989 semester. It’s too provincial there. It’s too windy. It’s too far away.

And as I found out, it’s too close to perfect.

Today, my home and my employer mark a very big event. We (as in all of us who claim this great school) are 100 years young. To mark the occasion we have been holding events all week to mark the centennial, including this morning’s opening of a time capsule buried in 1985. This afternoon we’re having a birthday party.

At the risk of sounding just a tad sentimental, I must say that the 21 years I have been here have definitely been the best years of my life. Sure, I could always find something to gripe about, but WT has given me the academic freedom to run and play in my discipline, to try new things. To founder. To flourish. And to age nicely with an incredible group of colleagues.

I have always argued that the best testimony a faculty member could give to his or her employer is whether they would send their kids there. While my kids will be able to exercise their own academic freedom when they come of age, you can bet I will be doing everything I can to sell them on WT.

During my years in and around academia, I have seen many institutions of higher learning lose focus on their mission, their raison d’tre. All too many times I have seen schools strive to be something larger than what they are supposed to be, seeking to ascend to powerhouse levels of academic prestige normally reserved for a state’s flagship schools. In so doing, they have often forgotten their charter to serve a region, and to serve it well. Those big britches just don’t fit very well.

That doesn’t mean WT isn’t interested in growing. Show me something that isn’t growing, and I will show you something that is dying. It’s just that we haven’t forgotten why we are here, and who we serve. We are a regional institution with big league scholars and students. If others want to join us, we welcome them.

But we are the Texas Panhandle’s only four-year state university.

Am I proud? You betcha. The longer I stay here, the more I love this place. I raise my glass. Happy Birthday, WT! And may you…we…have many more.

Dr “To The Future…And Beyond!” Gerlich

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