In mid-August, Guy Bailey will move from Lubbock to Tuscaloosa, Ala., as one chapter of his life closes and another begins. Bailey, who took over as president of Texas Tech University in August 2008, will take on the same role at the University of Alabama in September.
He substantially grew the research productivity at Texas Tech, capitalizing on a state incentive program created in 2009 to build more “tier one” public universities in Texas. This year — much earlier than expected — Texas Tech and the University of Houston qualified for the National Research University Fund, the large pot of prize money for the institutions that meet the state’s tier-one criteria.
“When we started this effort, I don’t think anybody thought we’d be there in four years,” Bailey told The Texas Tribune. “I think people were thinking 10 years. Our faculty and staff really stepped up to the plate. That was huge.”
Bailey’s tenure will also probably be remembered for the contentious episode that culminated with the firing of head football coach Mike Leach, who is now in his first year as head coach at Washington State University.
A Montgomery, Ala., native and an alumnus of the university he will soon preside over, Bailey spent much of his adult life in Texas. Before coming to Tech, his professional career took him around the country, including stints teaching at Texas A&M University and serving as an administrator at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
He said it will be difficult to leave his Texas friends behind. And of Texas Tech in particular, he said, “We have one of the best student bodies you’ll ever deal with.” Bailey recently talked with the Tribune about his last four years. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.
TT: What’s driving this move? It’s not a desire to get out of Lubbock, is it?
Bailey: No, I actually still think Texas Tech is one of the really great educational opportunities in the United States. The fact that we were able to get into NRUF, I think, demonstrates what our faculty and staff are capable of. Going forward, I think the opportunities are enormous.
We’ve got a 10-year business plan that my staff and I worked on. If Texas Tech follows that plan, it can do exactly what the state Legislature had in mind in 2009, and that’s become a major national research university. So I think the opportunity here is enormous.
I recognize that even in leaving. I recognized that when I came, as well. Whoever follows me has a terrific opportunity. We also leave the university in good, sound financial condition. It’s in great shape. I’m fortunate to be going to another university with those same characteristics.
TT: Is participating in the push to build more tier-one universities worthwhile?
Bailey: If you look at it from the broader perspective of the state of Texas, it is losing many of its best high school graduates to terrific institutions around the country. Where I’m going, Alabama, 53 percent of their freshmen come from out of state, many of them from Texas. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, you name it, they’re all recruiting from this state.
Essentially, what students want to do is go to flagship institutions. So they’re going to those universities rather than staying in state. So it’s very important that the state of Texas create some institutions that have a status similar to A&M and the University of Texas to keep the best students in the state.
By the way, the problem is, when those students leave the state, you don’t know if they’ll ever come back. Once they’re gone, they may be gone forever. So that’s a key thing.
The other thing is just that for many years, the proportion of federal research dollars coming to Texas was less than our competitor states. Those research dollars lie behind innovation and business development.
The Legislature recognized both of these things.
From the broader perspective of the state of Texas, having additional national research universities is very important for the state’s future. For Texas Tech, it’s important, because if you want to get the best and brightest, you need to have the prestige of being a national research university. And again, look at the dollars coming in, the effect they have on the local economy.
I think the economic impact that our business plan will have on Lubbock and West Texas is enormous. I think it will have an additional more than $2 billion per year impact if it’s fully carried out.
TT: What was your biggest challenge over the last four years?
Bailey: I think sometimes out here, we’re pretty far away from everybody else. We tend not to realize what we’re capable of doing. I think in some respects, Texas Tech had underachieved and it’s just a matter of not realizing the potential it had. You look at a university with a very large and good engineering program, a very large and old agriculture program, really good basic sciences, you’ve got potential to achieve a great deal there. I think part of it was just trying to help people understand that there was no reason they couldn’t do it. The potential was there.
I think that was the biggest challenge. You tend to think, we’ll never have the money that UT has, we’ll never have the resources A&M has, and you kind of settle for second best. But Texas Tech had tremendous potential and resources at its command. Just helping people understand that was important, and a pair of fresh eyes is always useful in doing that.
TT: So you’re not going with Mike Leach, then?
Bailey: [Laughs] No. Mike and I will kind of be at polar opposite ends of the country, won’t we?
Somebody will probably write a really good book on that situation one day, but not anytime soon. It’s too bad things worked out the way they did. It’s better for Mike to get a fresh start somewhere else, and Tech needed one, too.
I don’t think anybody would tell you it hasn’t been rocky. Anytime you have that kind of dramatic change, you are going to have some split debates.
TT: How did you guys manage to fly under the radar during the onoging debate over research and teaching that has so riled the UT and A&M communities?
Bailey: Sometimes, there’s great advantage in being seveb hours away from the state Capitol. You do fly under the radar a little bit.
But those same debates have really been national in character. One of those things we tried to do as we built our research infrastructure was not ignore or neglect teaching at all.
If you go on our provost’s website, he has a whole set of profiles of what he calls “integrated scholars.” They are people who are great researchers and great teachers, and their work with undergraduates is just as appealing as the federal dollars they draw in. Those are the kinds of people we’re looking for. Both of those things are part of higher education, and they always have been.
We look at both of them when we tenure and promote people. Actually, we probably let more people go in their first three or four years — remember, on tenure track, not everybody gets to their up and out year — we let more people go because of bad teaching, because of bad research. Now, oftentimes, if you get to that seventh year and you don’t make it, it’s because of your research. But that’s because early on, you would have been let go if you were a bad teacher.
TT: You’ve worked in three of Texas’ major university systems: UT, A&M and Texas Tech. Which of those would you say is the best?
Bailey: It depends on what you’re looking at and what you’re doing. I know the Tech system better than the other two. I do think [Texas Tech, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University] are three great universities, and I think people in the state sometimes don’t realize what a huge treasure they have in those three institutions. All three of them are great national brands and are tremendous assets to the state. I hope the state appreciates all three.