Putting students first
Published: Thursday, June 7, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07
R. Bowen Loftin is the 24th president of Texas A&M University, yet only the fifth Aggie to assume the role.
Born and bred in a small town in Texas and a product of this University, Loftin has solidified his legacy as a president for the students.
Loftin was born in Hearne, grew up in Navasota and is a member of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of 1971.
“I grew up nearby so I was very familiar with Texas A&M, living 20 miles or so from the campus,” Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said. “I made trips to campus for sporting events. I came to the campus from time to time. When I was beginning my senior year in high school and looking where to go to college, Texas A&M was an obvious choice.”
Despite having an ‘obvious choice’, Loftin applied to schools other than Texas A&M — Rice University and the University of Texas. Although A&M was far closer to home than the other two schools, location wasn’t the only factor that swayed Loftin’s decision to attend A&M. Finances played a deciding role.
“I applied here and was admitted. I also applied to two other schools. All three came back with acceptances, which included offers of a tuition scholarship,” Loftin said. “Now having said that, tuition at the time was 50 bucks a semester. But, that didn’t help a lot because there is more to going to school than tuition.”
Loftin came from a very poor family. His dad worked at an hourly job, making a few dollars an hour. At this time, no federally subsidized student loan program was present. Loftin said if he wanted to borrow money, he would have had to go to a bank.
“I had this opportunity to go to one of three schools, but the money was going to be a problem, especially [for] Rice University,” Loftin said. “Here and Austin were cheaper, but not within my price range so I didn’t know how to make it work.”
Several weeks later, he got a [second] letter from A&M offering a full scholarship.
“A former student of A&M had passed away earlier and had left money for an endowed scholarship for a person in physics and they wanted me to have it,” Loftin said. “It made the decision very easy.”
Without a wealth of knowledge in the subject, Loftin said he decided to major in physics.
“In high school, I had a physics teacher who wasn’t a trained physics teacher — he was really trained as a mathematics teacher. He taught the advanced math classes and he taught physics as well,” Loftin said. “I felt it was a course that had such fundamental importance to so many things, that if I mastered physics, I could do most anything I wanted to do.”
Although physics may not be the degree of choice for most university presidents, it works for Loftin.
The transition from a physicist to an administrator came naturally, which he credits to the nature of the science field itself and to courses outside his degree plan he took while in school.
“When I got here to A&M, I came from a very small high school. A&M, to me, even though it had only 10,000 students, was a candy store There was lots of stuff here that I wanted to do,” Loftin said. “I certainly took my required courses in physics and mathematics, but I was really interested in liberal arts. I added a lot of courses that were not in my required curriculum. I read widely, and I took sociology and political science. That gave me an extra bit of education I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”
One can look at the presidency like a physics equation: On one side lies the problems a president manages and the other side is interaction with people.
“Physics people solve problems — it’s what we do,” Loftin said, “And [the presidency] is full of problems.”
There are two very different sides to the job, so how can a physicist be a president? Loftin gave two answers.
“One- My father was a people person. Observing him as I grew up, I saw my father as a man who could get along with anybody — rich, poor, old, young it didn’t matter,” Loftin said.
Loftin attributes his father to his success in relating to people, in particular to students.
“He would always get along with everybody. I watched that and I assumed that’s the way life was,” Loftin said.
The president has numerous tasks and Loftin said, early in the job, he worked 16-hour workdays. Yet his most difficult task involves deaths of students.
“The hardest thing I do at Texas A&M is deal with tragedy,” Loftin said. “I have lost almost 50 students since I became president.”