University of Texas Permian Basin: A History

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9781571682697: University of Texas Permian Basin: A History
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This book is a history of the founding and early years of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa, Texas. It chronicles the early efforts of citizens of the Permian Basin to establish a degree granting institution in the area, the enactment of legislation creating the institution and the bitter battle over the siting of the university.

It focuses primarily on the period following my appointment as vice president for academic affairs in 1970, through the planning phase, to the opening for students in 1973, to my appointment as president in 1974, and my resignation in 1982 when I left Odessa. It relates the many struggles the university confronted, its trials and tribulations, and efforts to become "a university of the first class," as directed in its legislative mandate, all in an environment of high political intrigue.

As of this writing it has been 27 years since I arrived in Odessa to help establish UTPB, and 15 years since I left. Although I made notes during my service with the University and wrote some material shortly after leaving Odessa that became part of this book, I waited ten years to begin writing the manuscript, then spent five years working on it, interupted from time to time for work on two other books. I delayed writing the book in the belief that the passage of time would help to put my views about the University into better perspective. I think it has done that.

The book is also, in part, a memoir in that it is based on my recollections, supplemented by notes made at the time events occurred, plus documents, correspondence, university records, newspaper articles and personal files. Because of the positions I held, I was often privy to discussions, information and decisions that were not generally known, much of which appears in this volume.

Portions of this book have appeared in print previously. An earlier version of Chapter 1 appeared first in the International Journal for Management in Higher Education (12:1, 1988), now known as Higher Education Management, with the title "The Siting of a New University: The Case of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin," and in its French version "L'Implantation d'une Nouvelle Universit: le Cas de l'Universit du Texas du Bassin Permien" in the Revue Internationale de Gestion des tablissements d'nseignement Suprieur, both published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. I thank the journals for permission to use that article in this book.

An earlier version of the chapter on innovations first appeared in Important Lessons from Innovative Colleges and Universities (1993), a book about innovative institutions created in the late 1960s and early 1970s, of which I served as co-author and editor. I am grateful to Jossey-Bass publishers of San Francisco for permission to use that chapter in the book.

A fuller discussion of the upper level model and its experience at UTPB appeared in The Educational Record (Summer 1984) under the title "Upper Level Colleges Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow".

I want to thank Dr. Ron Van Ryswyk, former president of Marycrest College (Iowa), for reading the first draft of the manuscript and making helpful suggestions.

Finally, I am deeply indebted to my wife, Nancy Fyfe Cardozier, who served so ably as the president's wife during my tenure as president, devoting enormous amounts of time to those duties that fall on the president's spouse and, like almost all college and university presidents' spouses, without compensation. In addition, she assisted in many ways in the preparation of this volume, helping to recall events and episodes of our years in Odessa, and then as editor of the final manuscript, all in good spirits, notwithstanding the fact that it stole time from her work as a sculptor.

V. R. Cardozier Austin, Texas March 1998

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1 Siting The founding of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and the strife surrounding the siting of the institution is an incredible tale. The struggle is a reflection of the rugged individualism and intense competition that characterize the oil industry and the twin towns of Midland and Odessa, located twenty miles apart in the center of the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas. The two towns, which have battled since their founding more than a century ago, attempted to outmaneuver one another in persuading state authorities to place the new university in their respective towns. Involved was a mixture of civic pride, twin-town rivalries, power politics, deception, enormous egos, and the eccentric mystique associated with that isolated region. There are more than 3,600 colleges and universities in the United States -- including 1,500 two-year colleges. Behind many is a history of struggle and conflict in the decision leading to the selection of a site for its establishment, especially in the cases of public, tax-supported four-year colleges and universities. Few, however, experienced the turmoil and strife surrounding the establishment and location of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. Many Odessans thought that when the decision was finally made to put the university in their town, the matter was settled. Instead, the troubles were just beginning. To put the struggle into context, one must first understand the historic animosity between the cities of Midland and Odessa. Midland is located 330 miles west of Dallas toward El Paso and Odessa is 20 miles beyond. The area was originally settled in the 1880s for ranching. Although rainfall averages only 14 inches or so a year, this could sustain cattle production. It was years later that the mesquite bush invaded the area and sapped the soil of available moisture, severely reducing the growth of grass. By the mid-twentieth century, most ranches produced enough grass to feed only one cow per 40 acres and, in some areas, one per 100 acres. Fortunately for the ranchers, oil production entered the scene in 1923, and it continues to be a major oil-producing area today. Land-poor survivors became multi-millionaires, and the cities of Midland and Odessa thrived. As the population of the two cities developed, Midland became a white-collar town, regional headquarters for major oil companies, inhabited by independent oil operators, geologists, engineers, lawyers and others engaged in the management and technical functions of the oil industry for the entire Permian Basin. At the same time, Odessa became a blue-collar town, the location for drilling companies, well service companies, and machine shops (Odessa had 100 of them in 1980), populated by roughnecks, roustabouts, drillers, and others involved in laboring jobs in the oil industry. As the oil industry in the Permian Basin expanded, Odessa attracted nightclubs, honky-tonks, bootleggers, and other less genteel types of entertainment, and became known throughout Texas for rowdiness and violence -- fights, knifings and shootings. Midland, with its white-collar population, experienced little of this and never developed the negative image statewide that Odessa did. Geologists and engineers flocked to Midland, giving it one of the highest education levels of Texas cities, although critics charge that this is misleading, that Midlanders' values reflect technical training only, not the qualities that generally identify educated people. The origin of the enmity between the two towns is uncertain. Bessie Cowden Ward, then an octogenarian rancher near Odessa, in response to a question, said in 1975: "As long as I can remember, they have been over there and we have been over here, always fussing and fighting." Midlanders view Odessa as a roughneck town of crude, unpolished types, socially and culturally inferior to themselves, whose upstart leaders are always trying to figure out ways to best Midland through chicanery. For many years, Odessa had voted Democratic and Midland Republican, which gave Odessa an edge in Texas state politics. At the same time, Midland enjoys the benefits of major financial contributions to political campaigns and those activities and projects whose success depends on money. Odessans resent what they perceive to be a superior attitude of Midlanders. Odessans claim that Midlanders, who are accustomed to getting their way in business through financial power and technical acumen, are willing to cooperate only if all joint decisions are according to Midlanders' proposals. In spite of the tension between the two towns, there have been periods and projects on which the two towns cooperated effectively. The major cooperative effort that survived periodic breaks is the Midland-Odessa Symphony and Chorale. The 80-piece symphony enjoys a good reputation among regional symphony orchestras, thanks to an abundance of musical talent in the two towns, a series of highly capable directors (during the late 1970s and early 1980s the director was Dr. Thomas Hohstadt, a distinguished musical conductor who had been trained at the Eastman School of Music), and an organizational structure that involves both Midlanders and Odessans in fund raising and in the management of symphony-chorale affairs. Otherwise, cooperative efforts rarely succeed. Odessa usually takes the lead in trying to develop cooperative efforts and Midland joins, sometimes reluctantly or with little enthusiasm, but something usually occurs to inflame the tension between the two towns and a period of non-cooperation follows. The siting of the university in 1969 was the most serious of these, and much of the fury of some Midland leaders over that decision and rancor toward Odessa still exists. Higher education came first to Odessa. Odessa Junior College was established in 1946 with the superintendent of schools as president. The junior college was an immediate success for the unwealthy, working people of Odessa. There was little urge for a junior college in Midland at that time due to its smaller population and the fact that a large percentage of Midland young people could afford to go away to college, many attending Ivy League and other expensive colleges and universities. Throughout the 1950s, the Odessa Chamber of Commerce discussed the possibility of converting Odessa Junior College to a four-year college. At that time the closest senior college was Texas Technological Institute (now Texas Tech University) 140 miles to the north. San Angelo Junior College, 130 miles to the east, did not become a four-year institution until 1966. By 1963, the effort to make Odessa (junior) College into a four-year institution was moving, but it was not until the 1965 legislative session that the leadership of the town was organized to bring it about. Legislation converting Odessa Junior College to a four-year institution, to be called Permian State College, passed both the Texas House of Representatives and Senate that year and went to then Governor John Connally for approval. He vetoed the bill, with the explanation that the Higher Education Coordinating Board, which had been created in the 1965 legislative session, had been charged with making a comprehensive study of higher education needs in Texas, and to approve a new institution before that Board completed its study would be inappropriate. Cynics in Odessa charged that the real reason was financial contributions to Connally's campaign from Midland, along with the intervention of Tom Sealy of Midland. True or not, the charge gained further currency when the governor appointed Sealy, the leading power broker in Midland, as the first chairman of the Coordinating Board. Promoters of a college for the Permian Basin decided to try a different tack in 1967. They gathered officials and leading citizens from several counties around Midland-Odessa into a committee to advance the idea of a regional taxing district, for which there was precedent, to support the establishment of an upper level college into which Odessa College would be merged. Both houses of the legislature approved the bill to which had been attached an amendment requiring Coordinating Board approval, in order to avoid a veto by Governor Connally. Connally signed the bill, probably knowing that the Coordinating Board would not approve it. Following the 1965 legislative session the Coordinating Board was created and appointed a committee to study the need for new institutions of higher education; Sealy named himself chairman of that committee. The committee contracted with outside consultants to make certain studies, especially demographic, and its own staff conducted studies. In public hearings held by the committee, representatives of junior colleges around the state appeared and argued against the establishment of four-year colleges in their towns. At the same time, the committee and the Texas commissioner of higher education became interested in the upper level universities being planned in Florida. One had opened in 1965 and another would open 1967, with two more to follow in the early 1970s... Impact on the University The effects of the conflict between the two cities over the siting have been felt by the university in several ways. Perhaps most of all is the symbolic import; the university stands as loud testimony to Odessa's triumph in a series of battles between the two towns, and as such contributes to the continuing conflict. Subsequently, when Odessa was chosen as a site for an external clinical teaching center for the medical school of Texas Tech University, again besting Midland in competition, the UTPB case surfaced amid the refueling of the enmity between the towns. The conflict over UTPB siting also gained statewide publicity and contributed to the legislature's irritation with the two towns, sometimes making it more difficult for each town to gain legislative support for projects to which the other town objected. The conflict also gained the attention of the state's higher education agency, its board and administrative staff, and led to less than sympathetic understanding of the university's problems and either non-support or, indeed, opposition to steps that would have permitted the institution to develop. An equal, possibly greater, impact was on philanthropy. In Texas, wealthy people have long been accustomed to making sizeable gifts to public as well as private colleges and universities, and while UTPB has realized financial gifts from Midlanders, the gifts have not been large. On the other hand, had the university been located midway between the towns, there is good reason to believe that it would have been the beneficiary of many large gifts of funds. According to Martin Allday, attorney for George T. Abell, a very wealthy Midland oilman who died a few years later, Abell directed Allday to allocate $25 million in his will to the university if it was sited midway between the two towns. It is also likely that the university would have become a four-year institution soon after opening if it had been located midway. The university enrollment barely topped 2,000 at its highest as an upper level institution, while studies indicated that if freshman and sophomore years had been added during the oil boom years of the 1970s or early 1980s, increase in enrollment up to as much as 5,000 within a few years would not have been an unreasonable expectation. As a four-year institution, it could attract out-of-area students who are not attracted to an upper level institution, including students from other countries who are interested in studying geology and the petroleum industry. A four-year institution would also make possible the development of intercollegiate sports teams -- football, basketball, and others -- which would give the university visibility, and attract financial gifts and students. Yet not all of the impact was negative. The conflict probably contributed to the very strong support the university enjoyed from Odessa leadership, who worked diligently to assist the university in its developing years. In addition, there was little evidence that enrollment of Midland students in the university was seriously affected by the conflict, perhaps due in part to the fact that most of the Midland leaders involved in the conflict are wealthy and their children go away to college, including expensive colleges in the East. UTPB enrolls largely students who live within commuting distance who are unable for various reasons to leave the area to pursue a college degree. The majority of them enroll part time. And, as noted earlier, when a group of Odessans formed the "Friends of UTPB" organization, in 1981, a large number of the members were Midlanders. There was also other evidence of support by a large percentage of Midlanders, generally those not identified with the power structure and who were influenced little or none by the conflict over the siting of the university. Several UTPB faculty members chose to live in Midland and all reported hospitable treatment by Midlanders, with few incidences of reference to the siting conflict. In 1986 the university established a research institute concerned primarily with the petroleum industry and placed it midway between the two towns north of the airport. This appears to have mollified some Midlanders and attracted financial contributions to the institute. And yet, no one thinks the rancor between the two towns will disappear soon. To be sure, not everyone in each town feels antipathy for the other town, and among those who do harbor resentment, deep-seated rancor is believed to be greatest among a small number of community leaders in each city. The late Conrad Dunagan, a prosperous businessman in Monahans, a leader in the Permian Basin and longtime observer of the two towns, was asked in 1982 what would bring about improvement of relations between the two towns. He answered: "A half dozen well placed funerals in each town would help."

*

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* Despite years of valiant but unsuccessful efforts to make UTPB into a four-year university, when it did occur, it happened with little fanfare. In 1986, Gary Watkins, county judge of Ector County, was elected to the House of Representatives, where he requested and was assigned to the Subcommittee on Higher Education. In addition to the aforementioned financial problems, several factors prevented Watkins from changing the status of UTPB in his first couple of terms in the legislature, including particularly the fact that the chair of the Higher Education Subcommittee was Wilhelmina Delco, the representative from east Austin and the most powerful woman and most powerful black member of the legislature. Delco had exhibited considerable animus toward UTPB. In a speech to students at UT-Austin in 1987, she affirmed her view that it should not have been created. She would have closed it if she could have. Why? Her reasons were not clear but informed sources said that she saw Odessa as a redneck town and would do nothing to support it. She visited UTPB once -- April 18, 1980 -- and while strolling about the Mesa building that afternoon saw several classrooms unoccupied. Her guide explained that UTPB served primarily working people, many of whom could not attend class in the afternoon, but that every classroom was filled after 5:00 P.M., when most classrooms at other universities in the state were empty. She was not impressed. The fact that few students a...

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V. R. Cardozier
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