From the Buffalo Desk: Pragmatism
Third in a series of how universities can help build character.
WT values the practical framing of intellectual work.
Being pragmatic does not mean big ideas or the big picture are avoided. When carried out faithfully, being pragmatic is a big idea. Useful results from work are a powerful energizing aspiration and a core value at West Texas A&M University.
WT aspires to be pragmatic in its service to our region and state. The University’s long-range plan WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World states, “WT will continue to produce exceptional musicians, dancers, artists, theater performers and educators of the arts who have access and contribute to the local arts community and who also maintain a dedication to sharing a vibrant social and cultural life in the Texas Panhandle.” This pragmatic approach to arts and cultural activities provides strength to family, community life and economy.
Pragmatic service to schools in rural settings is unequivocal in our view of the future. As stated in WT 125, “Supporting Texas Panhandle educators in various ways has defined this University since its inception. WT will continue to expand and adjust its work to produce high-quality educational leaders who live and work in this region.” This represents a practically-minded approach positively impacting educational outcomes in Panhandle communities.
Pragmatism helps generate economic stability and economic prosperity. “WT will continue to heighten and elevate the importance of individuals in the entrepreneurial process, ideation and development of business concepts that improve the quality of life,” as stated in the University’s plan. Economic vitality, intellectual liberty and free moral agency, including the right to fail in pursuit of a better life for oneself and one’s family, are deeply embedded in Panhandle culture. This leads to a results-driven, practically-minded approach to educational opportunity—not to be apologized for, but heralded as eminently useful and uplifting to the human condition.
It would ultimately be foolish not to recognize the power and value of agricultural production in the Texas Panhandle. Walter Mondale famously quipped, “Where’s the beef?” to Gary Hart in the 1984 presidential primary debate. WT knows where the beef is, and it’s an integral part of the Panhandle soul. Here’s the beef: “Moreover, no region in the United States feeds and produces as many beef cattle as the Panhandle and High Plains region of our state—about one-third of the total U.S. population within a 100-mile radius of Canyon.” Our response to geography, climate, history, tradition and culture practically answers the question with behaviors that drive worthwhile attention to this aspect of our way of life and economy. Likewise, such action is in regional, state and national interests. It’s a big deal and simultaneously very practical.
Due to the sparseness of Panhandle population, certain necessities of life such as healthcare are challenging to attain. WT seeks to contribute to rural healthcare. WT 125 states, “In small communities, there is a critical need for people to have access to care or resources to improve or maintain physical health and mental health.” We do not regret attention to immediate and real needs of those we serve. Instead, we see it as foundational to the purpose of education that any effective university represents. It is positively high-minded.
We have a severe lack of water amid this vibrant agricultural region. “In fact, the Panhandle is a significant part of the agricultural heart of the nation—one of the 10 most challenged regions of the country for water scarcity,” as detailed in WT’s plan. At the same time, there is an abundance of renewable energy in the form of wind and carbon-based energy through natural gas and oil. Our practicality is guided by the idea that we need to find ways to address the want of one resource and the abundance of another in support of productive families and communities. Practical application of insight allows some universities, such as Cal Poly, to be ranked among public universities in the nation that have the highest return on investment, a form of increasingly important practicality.
Our ideas regarding WT’s core value of pragmatism are simple. We seek to apply what we learn—from art to wind—for the betterment of our extended community. This idealism is a real and powerful extension of our commitment to getting the job done through impact on the communities we serve.
WT is proudly practical.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at http://walterwendler.com/