Ray Keck won’t “act like an interim” this 2016-2017 academic year


Travis Hairgrove, Editor

As reported when Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp first announced that Dr. Ray M. Keck would be taking the reins at Texas A&M University-Commerce, the length of his term as interim president is to extend from June 2016 through May 2017. However, when Sharp offered the position to Keck, he encouraged him not to leave any decisions up to whoever is selected as A&M-Commerce’s next long-term president.

“The chancellor told me he didn’t want me to ‘get up here and act like an interim,’” Keck said. “He wanted me to make the decisions, move forward and do what needs to happen.”

When it came to the Texas A&M System’s decision of who would lead as the institution’s CEO in Dr. Dan Jones’ stead after his unexpected hospitalization (April 16) and eventual death (April 29), Keck believes there was little formality to the process by which he was selected.

“I’m not sure there was a process,” Keck said. “There was an emergency and something had to happen immediately. Mr. Sharp reached out and asked if I’d be interested.”

Furthermore, Dr. Keck felt it was time for him himself to move on from his long-held post as president of Texas A&M International University in Laredo.

“I had been president there for 15 years, so I was thinking already of stepping out of that particular job,” Keck said. “At some point, a president has to step aside and let another come in. I think that’s one of the legacies from Professor Mayo [A&M-Commerce’s founder] that is so admirable. He created the institution and, in a real sense, it belonged to him but he realized he needed to provide for it in the future beyond him, and that’s when he arranged the coming in of the State of Texas. That was really wonderful. That’s a good model, so I think that’s exactly the right thing to do. People in positions of leadership need to recognize that there’s a point at which you need to let somebody else do it. There were no problems [at A&M-International]. Everything was fine. I was very happy, and I think the institution was happy with me.”

Also, a factor that may have contributed to Keck’s selection as Jones’ immediate successor was that the two worked closely together during Jones’ years as provost and vice president of academic affairs at A&M-International.

“I persuaded him to come to Laredo and be our provost in 2003,” Keck said. “He was there for five years from 2003-2008, and we worked together every single day. We had a very warm and trusting relationship. We were good friends, our families became good friends, and we all became very close. In Laredo, he got very excited about the freshman year experience and he brought all of those ideas with him, along with the notion of honors college. Those were some of the things that he was always interested in, and it was very good.

“When Dr. [Keith] McFarland [former A&M-Commerce president from 1997-2008] announced that he was retiring, I encouraged Dr. Jones to apply for this job,” Keck explained. “I thought he needed to be a university president. This was a great institution which I knew very well and thought he’d be great here, so I urged him to apply.”

As far as what initiatives he plans to prioritize in his year as interim president, Keck stated that he’ll be looking into ways to “strengthen faculty positions” to keep up with the robust growth of the student body.

“I’m hearing from everyone that the growth has been explosive and we need to match that with growth in faculty,” Keck said. “I know that’s an important priority, and I understand that because it’s common of any university that’s growing – to try to keep up with that growth by expanding faculty size. It’s a challenge, but we need to do it.”