Living History – Former TJC presidents reflect on their years at the helm

Feb 29, 2016 by

fall-winter-2016-coverThey each brought different talents to Tyler Junior College and served during very different times. But, the institution’s last three presidents agree on one thing: It is the people that make the difference.

Dr. Ray Hawkins and Dr. Bill Crowe returned to TJC to assist current president Dr. Mike Metke in welcoming returning faculty and staff during Fall Convocation in August. They brought chuckles to the audience and shared stories of how TJC impacted their lives.

Crowe, who served as president from 1994 to 2007, and Hawkins, TJC president from 1981 to 1994, recalled decisions that helped shape the institution and times that brought significant challenges.

Following their convocation addresses, the trio walked to Jenkins Hall to pose for photographs with the statue of noted TJC president Dr. Harry Jenkins. They then held a brief news conference with area news media.

“He was a stern task-master who ran a tight ship,” Hawkins said as he nodded toward the bronze statue of his predecessor Jenkins, who served as TJC president from 1947 to 1981. “He is an embodiment of the legacy of this fine institution.”

During his address before faculty and staff, Crowe said he appreciated Metke’s invitation to return to campus – especially being called upon to speak ahead of Hawkins. “I’m pretty tired of following him,” Crowe quipped, noting that he had followed Hawkins’ tenure as TJC president, attended the Community College Leadership Program at The University of Texas after Hawkins had completed it and served as president of the Texas Association of Community Colleges a few years after Hawkins had.

Hawkins recalled his three years in the late ’60s as professor of government during “yeasty times” – at the height of the civil rights movement, in the midst of the Vietnam War and following ethnic integration. The college had a growing enrollment but faced challenges in its facilities and infrastructure.

Faculty members shared offices, with as many as four professors per room, and were faced with being mired in mud when walking between the two primary academic buildings, now known as Jenkins Hall and Potter Hall.

TJC President Dr. Mike Metke (center) and former presidents Dr. Bill Crowe and Dr. Ray Hawkins (background left and right, respectively) hold a press conference near the statue of former TJC President Dr. Harry Jenkins.

TJC President Dr. Mike Metke (center) and former presidents Dr. Bill Crowe and Dr. Ray Hawkins (background left and right, respectively) hold a press conference near the statue of former TJC President Dr. Harry Jenkins.

An upcoming site visit by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – the college’s accrediting body – brought changes that not only satisfied regulatory requirements but made faculty members much happier as well. During preparation for the site visit, TJC received voter approval for bonds to construct a library to replace the small room dedicated for such in the main academic building. TJC also built raised sidewalks to connect the new building to the two academic buildings.

Hawkins left TJC to enroll in the doctoral program at UT in 1970 and had not considered returning to Tyler until he received a phone call from then vice president Dr. Ed Potter in 1981, while serving as a campus dean at Tarrant County Community College. “He said ‘Ray, we’re looking for a new president and we would very much like to have your application.’”

Hawkins was hired by the Board of Trustees to replace the iconic Jenkins and take TJC through a new era of growth and change.

“It was a great privilege to succeed him,” he told TJC faculty and staff. “We had outstanding programs and an outstanding reputation.”

His challenges were to establish a plan for campus growth and address shortcomings of the campus infrastructure. A new master plan was adopted and the college built a student center, new residence hall, a health and physical education facility and an administration building.

Crowe and his wife Debbie (right), are greeted by TJC alumna and longtime friend Emma Lou Prater

Crowe and his wife Debbie (right), are greeted by TJC alumna and longtime friend Emma Lou Prater

“The most important thing we did was to always have an emphasis on hiring good people,” he said, citing the selection of Crowe to serve as director of campus safety in 1984. Crowe completed his doctoral degree while at TJC and served in two deans positions and as associate vice president before being selected to succeed Hawkins as president.

“Bill became my kind of utility infielder,” Hawkins said. “A lot of times you move people around because you don’t know what to do with them. But Bill was an exception to that, and we did move him around to fill holes. … He was a natural choice for the Board of Trustees to replace me when I left.”

Hawkins chided Crowe for his resistance to the governor’s announcement in 2003 that state allocations would need to be returned to offset revenue shortfalls. Crowe had said during a meeting in Austin that the state would have to “come to Tyler and take it” if TJC were to return state-allocated money. To his surprise, the meeting was being covered by a local newspaper reporter. During his remarks at convocation, Crowe recalled making the statement and later being told by fellow community college presidents to restrain from such remarks in the future. He also recalled having to notify members of the Board of Trustees that the 300-pound statue of Harry Jenkins had been stolen from its perch in Wise Cultural Arts Plaza, in April 1995.

Longtime board member A.D. Clark’s reaction was particularly memorable, he said. “Bill, don’t you have some kind of police background?” Crowe recalled Clark saying over the phone.

Crowe cited reducing college indebtedness, growing enrollment and connecting with key benefactors as accomplishments during his tenure.

During the day, all three presidents paid tribute to the college’s benefactors, its supportive community, its notable alumni, Board of Trustees and its faculty and staff.

“We have amazing people here,” Crowe said. “There’s no place like this.”

Metke thanked the presidents for their reflections. “Those of us here now get to stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said. “All that you have done for this college has made our jobs so much easier.”


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Features, Winter 2016

About the author

Fred Peters is the Director of Public Affairs at Tyler Junior College. He can be reached at 903-510-2627 or at fpet@tjc.edu