Ubiquitous Aggies

Newly appointed Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp answers a question from the audience at TribLive on September 29, 2011.
Newly appointed Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp answers a question from the audience at TribLive on September 29, 2011.

Last October, then-new Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp tacked a couple of questions onto a statewide poll.

He wanted to see how many people were aware that the system he had recently taken over ran — in addition to 11 universities and a health science center — a total of seven state agencies, including the Texas Forest Service and the Texas Transportation Institute.

Sharp said the results revealed that only seven percent of the registered voters knew that the Forest Service, the best known of the agencies, had anything to do with A&M.

That's about to change. The A&M System regents are expected to approve a resolution that will add “Texas A&M” to the name of each agency. The change is part of a massive rebranding effort, which is just one of many changes Sharp has announced as he approaches his one-year anniversary on the job.

“I’m not very political anymore, so if I think something needs to be done, I just do it — unless somebody can convince me otherwise" said Sharp, a former legislator, railroad commissioner and comptroller. "I’m not hindered by having to make everybody happy."

Other major items on the docket for the A&M regents include granting Sharp the authority to move the Texas A&M University Health Science Center under the umbrella of Texas A&M University; it's currently under the system umbrella. The move is expected to foster collaboration between the two institutions, as well as provide a significant boost to the university’s research statistics.

Sharp also wants permission to enter into negotiations with Baylor University to change the name of the Baylor College of Dentistry — which is actually a component of A&M’s Health Science Center — to something more A&M-centric that retains the name “Baylor.” However, if those negotiations are unsuccessful, Sharp will go ahead and change the name to the “Texas A&M College of Dentistry.”

“I think it’s in the interest of A&M to have people know where all these good works are coming from,” he said.

So far this year, the A&M System chancellor has announced — in no particular order — the creation of the state’s first $10,000 degree, plans to buy Texas Wesleyan University’s law school, the landing of a huge federal bio-security contract, his intent to earmark a significant chunk of the system’s Available University Fund money, and the outsourcing of support services at Texas A&M University.

Some of the moves have been more popular than others. That outsourcing at A&M, has particularly upset some staff workers, who are unhappy about no longer being state employees, and local food providers who still don’t know what it means for their business with the university.

Sharp said all the changes are geared toward three things: faculty, researchers, and students. “We’re not here because of dining, or landscaping, or the chancellor, or the president,” he said. “Once you change that thinking so you don’t have a sense of entitlement just because this is the way it’s been run, your job is to enhance those three things and do it the absolute best way you can.”

And he said there is more change on the horizon. “The best description I’ve heard is that we’re like a gangly teenager who hasn’t even begun to reach our full potential yet.”