Texas A&M University-Commerce was founded in 1889 as East Texas Normal College, a private teachers college, by William Leonidas Mayo in Cooper, Texas. After a fire destroyed its only building in 1894 the college moved to Commerce due to its better rail connections and its willingness to donate land and money. After growing from a school with just 35 students East Texas Normal College survived two more devastating fires in 1907 and 1911, respectively. Mayo secured state funding to sustain the college on March 14, 1917, State Senator Ed Westbrook, sent a telegram to Mayo noting the bill making East Texas Normal College a state institution passed. Unfortunately, President Mayo never received the telegram, as he died suddenly of a heart attack just before its arrival. More than 30,000 students received an education under President Mayo including future Speaker of the House of Representatives Sam Rayburn. As a private college, East Texas Normal College prepared prepared more public-school teachers than any other college or university in Texas. After Mayo’s death in 1917, Randolph Binnion became the second president of newly renamed East Texas State Normal College. Under Binnion’s leadership, the college saw increases in its enrollment athletic programs, the number of faculty, and buildings. The curriculum changed significantly, as the state mandated East Texas State Normal College to transition from being a three-year to a four-year institution in order to award Bachelor degrees. During Binnion’s presidency, blue and gold were adopted as East Texas State Normal College’s colors and the lion as its mascot, giving the school an identity that it retains to this day. In 1923, the institution’s name changed to East Texas State Teachers College. In 1924, Binnion resigned to become provost at the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville. Samuel H. Whitley, the third president of East Texas State Teachers College oversaw the establishment of its graduate program, increased the size of the faculty, and made additions to the campus including the construction of the president’s house and a library (now Talbot Hall of Languages). Whitley’s presidency was impacted by the Great Depression, and later, American involvement in World War II. The Depression brought government programs to campus, such as the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration. World War II saw the curriculum adapt with the times. Classes offered included first aid, and a “Food for Victory” course. The university was also home to the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps., and the Army Specialized Training Program. After the war ended, enrollment increased substantially due to the influx of returning veterans. Whitley died suddenly of a heart attack while on a hunting trip on October 2, 1946. Dr. Arthur Clinton Ferguson, who previously served as dean of the college for 22 years, was named interim president of East Texas State Teachers College for one year while the Board of Regents searched for Whitley’s permanent replacement. Ferguson’s greatest contribution as president was to help convince the Legislature to provide a stable source of funding by establishing a tax-supported construction fund for buildings on state campuses. Dr. James Gilliam Gee was inaugurated as East Texas State Teachers College’s fifth president in September 1947. In his first two years, Gee disbanded the training school, which had served as a laboratory for the teacher training program since 1917, and established an Air Force ROTC unit. In 1957, the institution’s name changed to East Texas State College as it broadened beyond teacher education, while in 1965, it became East Texas State University after the establishment of a doctoral program. By the mid-1960s, Gee transformed the campus via construction of new dormitories and classroom buildings. He also reorganized the administrative structure, and required newly hired faculty to hold doctorates. In 1964, Gee oversaw the integration of East Texas State University after the Board of Regents directed him to admit “all qualified applicants, regardless of race.” Velma Waters, a Commerce resident, was the first undergraduate African-American student to register, while Charles Garwin was the first African-American graduate student to register and graduate from East Texas State University. Gee retired in 1966. Dr. D. Whitney Halladay became East Texas State University’s next president in 1966. He reorganized and expanded the administration and anticipating continued increases in enrollment, oversaw the addition of several new buildings including The Business Administration Building, the Student Affairs Building, and the Journalism/Graphic Arts Building. Streets which bisected main campus were closed and replaced with sidewalks, creating a more walkable campus. In 1969, the Legislature passed a bill allowing East Texas State University its own, separate board of regents, to better serve the university’s interests. Halladay resigned in the spring of 1972. Vice President for Administration F.H. “Bub” McDowell was named as Halladay’s successor. Under McDowell’s leadership KETR began broadcasting in 1975. KETV began broadcasting student television programming in 1979. McDowell retired to a life of public service in 1982. Dr. Charles J. Austin became the university’s eighth president in February 1982 and he immediately addressed the university’s declining enrollment by raising admissions standards. Austin’s most serious challenge occurred in 1986 when the governor’s Select Committee on Higher Education proposed closing the university. After President Austin appointed a special committee to document the university’s strengths and to create a plan of attack, hundreds of letters of support were sent to the Select Committee while 450 supporters traveled to the state capitol in Austin. Impressed by this support and the persuasiveness of Austin’s arguments, the Select Committee declared that “East Texas State University should not be closed.” Shortly after securing East Texas State University’s continued existence, President Austin accepted a position at the University of Alabama’s medical school. Appointed East Texas State University’s ninth President, Dr. Jerry Morris continued the recruitment and retention programs started under President Austin. East Texas State University faced the challenges of rising tuition, lagging faculty and staff salaries, and chronic underfunding by the state. To combat these challenges East Texas State University joined theTexas A&M University System and became Texas A&M University-Commerce in 1996. Morris retired shortly after in 1997. President Morris’s successor, Dr. Keith McFarland, faced a prolonged decline in enrollment, to address this the university created twenty new academic programs and the first new campus master plan in 40 years. Under McFarland, the university demolished 42 structures, and added new buildings, including a new science building, later named in Dr. McFarland’s honor, Morris Recreation Center, Rayburn Student Center, the Music Building and the Alumni Center. By the time Dr. McFarland retired in 2008, Texas A&M University-Commerce had become among the states top producers of educators and education administrators, while also creating award winning programs in art, photography, and new media. Dr. Dan Jones was appointed as the eleventh president of the university in 2008. He continued his predecessor’s emphasis on modernizing campus, constructing two new dormitories and several smaller buildings and demolishing many older ones. During his tenure, Jones transitioned the university from three to four academic colleges, and reorganized the administration. He led the university into online education, launching the state’s first competency-based degree, and created seven new academic programs, including a nursing program. Enrollment grew to almost 13,000 students for the first time in university history, minority enrollment nearly doubled, and international enrollment also increased. Jones passed away unexpectedly on April 29, 2016. After initially serving as interim president, Dr. Ray M. Keck was appointed the twelfth president of Texas A&M University-Commerce in 2016. His notable accomplishments included the revival of the Sam Rayburn Speaker Series, the creation of Signature Courses for freshmen, and a stronger relationship between the university, the city, and Commerce Independent School District Dr. Keck retired in 2018. On August 16, 2018, Dr. Mark J. Rudin was named the 13th president of Texas A&M University-Commerce after a nationwide search. Formerly the Vice President for Research at Boise State University, he comes to Commerce with a special focus on increasing research and upgrading the university’s Carnegie Classification, as well as increasing student retention. It is clear that as the university continues into the 21st century, Mayo’s motto of “unfettered thought, ceaseless industry, fearless investigation, and unselfish service to others” rings as true as ever.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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