I came to El Paso for the first time in 1971 as a visiting assistant professor of linguistics,
and I came here on a one-year, temporary contract to replace a faculty member on leave.
And I came thinking that I would stay no more than one year.
Very quickly I came to love the people and particularly my students. I found them to be
enormously satisfying to work with, and I found in them a characteristic that very much
mirrored my own experience in going to college, where I had been at a high school that
didn’t prepare me very well.
I was scared to death, much as our students here often are, because they have no—their
parents haven’t been to college, much like mine. They come from a modest background,
and so they don’t have any kind of confidence builder.
And I think the role of a university like this one is to provide that for them.
In 1971, when I came here, this was an institution that had, I think, a colossal inferiority
complex. We complained a lot about what we didn’t have. We saw liabilities where there
were really assets, and we repeatedly complained about being on the border, having a lot
of poverty in our community and so on.
When in fact, what I understood was that these were all opportunities just waiting to be
capitalized on.
And so when I became president, one of the things I did was to try to translate every
single liability into an asset. And to say, look, being on the border really is a wonderful
set of opportunities for us. We can do things that no other university in the United States
can do because of our location. And so as a result of that, we’re participating in a very
exciting development on a binational scale. Very few universities can do that.
Our Hispanic student population is also a huge asset. It’s the fastest-growing segment of
the U.S. population. We have experience in educating these students that no one else in
the country can duplicate because of the numbers that we have here.
And we know what the issues are for these young people. I compare my own history with
some of theirs, but I can tell you that my life is a cakewalk compared to their lives today.
They work very, very hard to get an education. I thought I worked hard, but they work
harder. They have many more responsibilities for family members and their own families,
health issues, just everything you can think of. (They are) mature beyond their years. And
we know a lot about how students like this succeed, we know how to help them succeed.
And so that’s a very exciting piece of what we do here.
We have got to have some further investment in endowments for faculty, in research
facilities, in scholarships for highly talented students—merit-based scholarships. We’ve
got to have resources to support graduate students. We’ve got to have technology.
We have to move to the next level.
People who care about the future of this country, and particularly about the future of this
region, I think can’t help but understand how important it is for them to invest in what we
are doing here. Because we are the key to this region’s future.