A Conversation with Texas Tech Chancellor Tedd Mitchell
Jay Leeson: Here on the phones with us, I believe calling in from D.C. is Dr. Tedd Mitchell, your chancellor at Texas Tech University. Dr. Mitchell, how are you?
Tedd Mitchell: I’m doing well. For a minute there I didn’t know if that was a recording or if that was really you live, Jay.
Jay Leeson: Hey I’m that good.
Tedd Mitchell: You are.
Jay Leeson: And I don’t think you meant it as me being good. But I’ll take it.
Tedd Mitchell: I thought that was you or if that was me on the other line.
Jay Leeson: Hey, listen. And that’s a mistake that I get pretty common. And I feel bad for you cause I got a bit more of a gut than you do.
Tedd Mitchell: I had somebody on the plane asking if I was Jay Leeson a few weeks ago. How are you?
Jay Leeson: So did you hit ’em? What’d you do?
Tedd Mitchell: I thanked them for the compliment.
Jay Leeson: Hey, listen to that. Speaking of compliments, let’s get a couple housekeeping things out of the way. I need to ask your permission on a couple things.
Tedd Mitchell: Okay.
Jay Leeson: You’ve got a tree house there in east Texas in Longview that’s how many square feet?
Tedd Mitchell: It’s about 600 square feet.
Jay Leeson: Oh, it’s just 600.
Tedd Mitchell: Yeah. It’s just 600.
Jay Leeson: So the Leeson’s take a little jaunt east of I-35 and what’s the Air BNB? What’s the nightly on that?
Tedd Mitchell: You gotta come by and see. You gotta cook breakfast, that’ll be your cost. No you guys if you like tree houses you need to come see this thing. I tell everybody it’s the best built home we have.
Jay Leeson: Is there anything up at TTU.edu on your tree house? Or do people just need to Google Tedd Mitchell tree house?
Tedd Mitchell: If you Google camo, as in camouflage, Camo Treehouse it’ll pop up.
Jay Leeson: Okay, and that’s your place.
Tedd Mitchell: Yeah, that’s been one that we … at this little ranch that we had out in east Texas we needed extra space for a long time and so just a couple years ago we decided instead of just adding on a room to our cabin, or adding on another little cabin we decided to add the tree house. And it’s been a lot of fun.
Jay Leeson: So do you ever feel weird whenever you’re around with some hard knuckle west Texans and they say, “Well we’re gonna go to the ranch this weekend,” and you say, “We think that we’ll go to the tree house?”
Tedd Mitchell: Yeah. I don’t think that they really get it until they get over there and see it.
Jay Leeson: But you can probably sniper some bucks from up there.
Tedd Mitchell: Oh, let me tell you I’ve got my youngest son, he keeps thinking it’s the best blind he has. But my wife, other than duck hunting over there, she doesn’t allow him to deer hunt. But it is a very good blind.
Jay Leeson: Okay. While we’re on the permission front we’re doing some new things, got a new studio put in place for the show, gonna get into that. They tell me within the week so I’m gonna say three weeks from now. But also looking to expand our online store. Do we have your permission to sell shirts that say “Our chancellor can kick your chancellor’s ass?”
Tedd Mitchell: You do with it whatever you want there, Jay. You have my permission.
Jay Leeson: It’s not your name so I’m not giving you a cut, Mitchell.
Tedd Mitchell: There you go, there you go, there you go.
Jay Leeson: Okay. Speaking of, let’s get in some weeds right quick. You’ve got three regions there at the Texas Tech University system that are up for re-appointment. Have you gotten any word from the governor about any of the three?
Tedd Mitchell: Not a peep. And it’s one of those things that in general … and this is my ninth year of doing this and so every two years you get three people that will rotate. And I’ve seen it done all different ways. Obviously you hear stuff but the same stuff I hear is the same stuff you hear. And so from the standpoint of what will happen later this month or what won’t happen later this month the focus that we all have, and when I say we I say everybody on the team, I’m talking about all the presidents and vice presidents and vice chancellor, everybody’s staying focused on discussion with it. Because it’s one of those things that with the appointments of the regions we’re just gonna … we’ll leave that up to people other than us, obviously.
Jay Leeson: Can I be a vice chancellor for a day?
Tedd Mitchell: Yeah, have at it man. Depends on what you wanna be vice chancellor of.
Jay Leeson: I don’t know. Maybe I just be a vice chancellor for a day. I’ll make a tee shirt about that too. But not a peep from the governor? Or the governor’s staff?
Tedd Mitchell: No. No, no, no. And I will tell you, generally speaking, for every time there’s something coming up we don’t have a peep from the governor. So if you go back to every other odd year that we’ve done this I’ve never heard anything from the governor’s office up until the time that it’s done. And you’ve heard … you know the same thing I do when they talk about the folks they’re looking for, Governor Abbot when he was in Lubbock several, or I guess a few months back, was saying they’d be looking for somebody from west Texas in general, from Lubbock in particular. And then obviously they were looking for people who had been underrepresented. So what that means in the final analysis I really don’t know. But I do know that was a statement directly from him that that’s what they’d be looking for.
Jay Leeson: It’s August 22nd but who’s keeping score. It’s January … when you say later this month, January 27th right? That’s the date?
Tedd Mitchell: That’s correct, yeah. That’s correct.
Jay Leeson: And there can be a holdover after that point.
Tedd Mitchell: Yeah.
Jay Leeson: Okay.
Tedd Mitchell: They can have holdovers, they can appoint [Robert’s 00:05:53] time, when they appointment Robert’s time you still have to have Senate confirmation and so when the folks … if you have somebody that is on the board and somebody new that’s appointed then they have to go through Senate confirmation which they try to plug in very quickly during the session. If you have anybody that’s held over then depending on when they’re appointed or when a new person’s appointed depends on when session’s going on and whether or not then there is a senate confirmation or now.
Jay Leeson: Doctor Tedd Mitchell, chancellor of Texas Tech, joining us here on Your Other Side of Texas. I wanna get into vet school but first one thing that your predecessor had in mind that I thought … whenever you put together an asset in west Texas like Texas did so wisely decades ago, it’s there to present the interests of the region, and it is a rural region outside of Lubbock. I always call Lubbock the rural metropolis. But I wanna get into the rural based issues that you’re looking at. Talk to us about from a medicine standpoint as you come from the Health Sciences Center and then into … in that it extend into telemedicine, access, and providers in rural communities, rural hospitals.
Jay Leeson: Talk to us about … because listen, here’s the knock, Doctor Mitchell, even though I’m gonna make tee shirts that say our chancellor can kick your chancellor’s rear the knock is that you don’t know much about Texas politics. That these chancellors were set up, we put in chancellors at Texas Tech who could work the legislature. But whenever it comes to rural medicine that puts you on a different plane. Because it’s not like you’re just some average Joe walking in, you understand the issue. Talk to us a little bit about rural based healthcare and what your legislative priorities are going in.
Tedd Mitchell: Sure. So if you look … rural based healthcare is actually, to me, a microcosm of rural based governance in general because if you go to any rural part of the state of Texas, in fact if you go to any rural part of the United States, if you look at these communities there are two things that are vital to the existence of that community. One is an educational system and another is the healthcare system. And if you want to watch communities around the state of Texas, not just in west Texas, but if you wanna watch a small community dry up and blow away do away with either their educational system or their healthcare system. And that little town will cease to exist.
Tedd Mitchell: And so one of the things that I’ve learned over the last nine years on the health sciences center side is that when you talk about the health of the area, the healthcare that is delivered there is a vital part of that. But as I’ve said it’s just a microcosm of the bigger picture of the health of that community in general. And so we’ve spent time in the legislature, and I’ve been down there now for multiple sessions, one of the things that is really important for people to understand is that the needs of rural Texas are very, very different than the needs of urban areas. And that’s just the way it goes.
Tedd Mitchell: And a lot of times when people talk about democrat versus republican it’s actually really more urban versus rural. And because … for example I’ll use education as an example. If you talk about the city of Dallas, if you talk about doing things to get vouchers for kids to go to other schools and things of that nature it may work when you’ve got multiple schools around you that you can choose from. But that same issues, which is typically a republican type issue, would not work very well if you’re in Demmit, where your choices of schools are far more limited. And so something that we typically couch things in democrat versus republican or conservative versus liberal but very often the way we have to think about things, we have to think about what are the rural needs versus the urban needs. Because they’re often times very different. And that’s not just for healthcare, that’s for education and other things as well.
Tedd Mitchell: And so the charge that we have, although we’ve been focused primarily on areas west of I-35 our 108 counties in west Texas, the charge that we have is to protect the food, fiber and fuel producers of the state who live in these rural areas. Because if you think of the epicenter of the beef industry of the nation it’s around Amarillo. If you think of the epicenter of the fiber industry, cotton, it’s around Lubbock. And if you think of the energy epicenter is the primary base in Midland, Odessa. And those are the people that take care of people in Dallas and Houston and Austin and San Antonio. We’ve got to make sure that we take care of them.
Tedd Mitchell: So when you go to the legislature it’s not a matter of just trying to go down there with your hand held out. It’s a matter of going down there and telling folks, “Listen, your livelihood and your standard of living is completely dependent on whether or not we’re able to take care of the people in west Texas that are sustaining your standard of living here in Austin or in Houston or in Dallas.” So we’re not coming down here as a bunch of poor rural folks with hat in hand saying, “Hey can you help us out here and throw us a bone?” We’re going down there saying, “If you wanna take care of yourselves you better help take care of these folks out here.”
Tedd Mitchell: And that’s a very, very different approach. I think, to me, to me, when you go to the legislature it’s not a matter of just trying to go down there and slap people on the back and try to work out deals. There’s obviously a part of it that is that. But more importantly at the end of the day you’ve gotta be able to make your case. You’ve gotta be able to make your case for a need and why it’s important to the state of Texas to be involved in that. And when it comes to things like veterinary medical school, when it comes to things like the mental health initiative that we have, when it comes to even the student enhancement down at Angelo State University for first generation students, and if it comes to things down to the dental school out in far west Texas- those are all things where it’s clear we’re trying to service a need that is important not just for our region, for the entire state.
Jay Leeson: Man. You know sometimes I really get bummed out about how you’ve perfected my talking points. I mean-
Tedd Mitchell: Yeah, okay.
Jay Leeson: The hair aside. But no, really. I entered this program, Doctor Mitchell, by talking about the importance of place. And by talking about how I domesticate a party’s platform to my place and then I’ll choose the party based upon which one’s best for my place. And let’s switch over to that school for just a moment. Where the powers that be won were up here. And when I say up here, the Caprock in the Panhandle, I believe on the I-27 corridor between Potter and Lubbock County, the governor himself got enough votes to offset his losses in El Paso, a major urban region. And that’s just in five counties right there. You have to be going into this legislature saying, “Hey guys, look, where did you win? You won up here, that’s where you won,” right?
Tedd Mitchell: Right. And when you talk purely about the political side of things all of a sudden what I call the Midwest Texas axis and that goes-
Jay Leeson: The what?
Tedd Mitchell: The Midwest Texas Axis. From the panhandle down to the Permian Basin, not far west axis, and not Fort Worth west axis, but that Midwest Texas axis that goes from the panhandle down to the Permian Basin, that’s what won all of these statewide races for the Republicans. That’s the section that won it.
Jay Leeson: I’m gonna add that to my vernacular. Midwest Texas … I’m writing it on my iPad right now. Go ahead.
Tedd Mitchell: No, and your point is spot on. Because had it not been for the fact that counties up and down I-27 and extending all the way down 84 to the Permian Basin had it not been for the fact that those counties were turning out heavily, heavily Republican then you would have had some of the statewide races that would have gone the other way.
Jay Leeson: Yeah, especially those races that were within … I look at the US Senate race and that was 2.9-
Tedd Mitchell: Very close, very close-
Jay Leeson: But then the state wides other than Greg Abbot were within six and half.
Tedd Mitchell: Right. And it made all the difference. And quite frankly politicians, they obviously look at numbers like that and they know it the old thing you dance with the one what brung you. And they know. You look at things like that … and it’s not just that area, if you look at the rural areas of the state, it’s not just that they tend to be more conservative but that they also turn out. And folks turned out to vote. And it was an important factor in a lot of these races. And in fact … you’re not trying to go down there and beat people over the head about stuff but you do need to remind them of that, we need to remind them of that. We’re the people that helped to support you on this.
Tedd Mitchell: There’s not a tit for tat, you support us because we supported you. But because we supported you you need to listen to what we’re trying to tell you about the needs that we’re trying to serve out here that the majority of folks that live over I-35 and east it’s just not on their radar. It’s just not on their radar to serve these areas. Not because they’re bad folks, it’s just because it’s out of sight, out of mind. And that’s it.
Jay Leeson: Yeah. I always say on the program Morton, Canadian, Muleshoe, Lubbock, all the same thing. And people don’t think about it.
Tedd Mitchell: That’s right.
Jay Leeson: So I wanna ask you this. And I’m gonna allow you to back on out on this if you wanna back out on the question. I don’t think you will. But I’m really disappointed with Chancellor John Sharp in that he is made this a hill to die … your cohort, President Lawrence Schovanec, has said a hill to die on, this vet school. As somebody who studies Texas politics who watches it with some obsession I have a great regard for John Sharp. I think that John Sharp’s resume is only that equal to Kent Hance in this state. And that is saying something. But your other cohort, down in College Station, has made this a hill to die on. What do you make of that? Are you disappointed with him too? That he would make this the defining issue of his chancellorship there at Texas A&M?
Tedd Mitchell: No. And I’ll tell you I’m not disappointed in him doing that. In fact that’s kind of what I’d expect him to do with it. He’s 110% about Texas A&M, and that’s what he’s about. And that’s the role that he’s playing down there, that’s the role he’s been playing for a long time.
Jay Leeson: But what does he make of chancellor for … I know a lot of Aggie and I guess John Sharp would call them two percenters up here and Aggie parlayans who are all for that school in Amarillo … graduated, have their shingle on the wall proudly and doing the thumbs up whatever gigam who are all for the vet school. But just … I get lost in this. I don’t understand why it is the issue that it is for him.
Tedd Mitchell: Well and I don’t know obviously why it’s an issue for him. But I’ll tell that our approach to the session with the vet school is about the need for this area and how important it is to do this. So the last thing that anybody has ever wanted to do is to try to make this something about why Texas Tech should get something versus why they shouldn’t get it because of A&M. Because this is something … this discussion has been going on since 1971. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 1971 took a vote on whether or not Texas Tech should have a vet school and they voted five to four in 1971 to give Tech a vet school.
Tedd Mitchell: And it’s really interesting because if you look at their minutes from 1971 it is ironic how similar it is to the same discussion we’re having now. So the folks that were on the board back then were saying we’re not keeping up with the demands, we’re not getting people to come out to the rural areas, we’re not getting them to go into large veterinary medicine and the arguments were exactly the same 50 years ago as they are today. And yeah, what has happened in the meantime is the state has exploded. I just saw the census report today we’re the fastest growing state in the United States. We had over 300 thousand people come in in the last year.
Tedd Mitchell: So you go back 50 years ago and the problem was already occurring. And what has happened is it’s just mushroomed over the course of the past decade or so. So for us this is clearly, clearly something that is about needing all hands on deck. What A&M has proposed with having students from college station do rotations up at West Texas A&M, hey we’re all for that. And if they can get a few people to wind up staying in that area, so be it. But for us this is not an either or, this is we need all hands on deck for this thing.
Tedd Mitchell: And if you look at the number of students that have to leave the state … we actually have more students that leave the state of Texas on an annual basis to get their veterinary degree than stay in the state to go to A&M because we don’t have the slot. So it’s about a need that has just gone underserved and unserved for now nearly half a century.
Jay Leeson: I really think it’s disappointing. The other … Sharp is disappointing to me, not to you, I’m speaking for myself, for me. The other thing that’s disappointing is whenever you have opportunity like Tech and A&M have within that 15 miles between Canyon at West Texas A&M and Amarillo to combine to do something that’s unprecedented in a rural region, that’s disappointing to me as well. That there can’t be some sort of a partnership.
Tedd Mitchell: Yeah, that part is disappointing. It’s always disappointing when because of things that have nothing to do with serving needs something can’t happen. That’s true.
Jay Leeson: Then it’s not about … I’m a placist … if I can say that word. I’m place over party but it’s really disappointing when I see somebody really buried down into their own interests and do something that’s against the state, against the state’s best interest. Tedd Mitchell … chancellor Texas Tech as we close up here, somebody was just named Amarillo man of the year, Jerry Hodge. Jerry and Margaret Hodge, I think one of my highlights of 2018 was getting to know Jerry Hodge. And he is a west Texan. He’s on his own tier of West Texanism there. Jerry Hodge had 10 million dollars. He and Margaret 10 million dollar pledge in. I tweeted I think a couple of days ago I’m hearing rumors that they could put that 10 million dollars back up for the vet school. As you go into a legislature that’s a pretty big deal. All of a sudden you’ve got a 10 million dollar pledge from somebody and I guess it could be less … I don’t know the parlance. It could go from pledge to gift. Can you confirm any of those rumors?
Tedd Mitchell: Well I will tell you this that we are actively visiting with Mister Hodge and I’m confident that at the end of the day he’s very, very supportive of this effort up there. And so I’m not gonna speak for him until he’s had a chance to think through with his side and all that but I am confident that he will support the vet school in every way possible moving forward just like he has in the past. I’ll leave it at that.
Tedd Mitchell: But I’ll tell you, he is the epitome of kind of the west Texas can-do attitude about things because as you just said when we go down to Austin and say, “Listen, we’ve got skin in the game. We’ve got people out here that are putting up money for the facilities, we’ve got people that are putting up money for scholarships, we’ve got people that are putting skin in this game in a way that lowers the bar, the financial bar for the state. And so we’re doing this in a way that is distinctly different.”
Tedd Mitchell: And I have to tell you the energy, and you know this, the energy around this has been just dramatic over the course of the last couple years. It’s really … it’s been impressive and fun to watch this.
Jay Leeson: Man you gotta do this with me every couple weeks. I just want you to think about that. Have your staff run some numbers and decide how good or bad it is for you. But I don’t know why you don’t have a radio show already but you’re really good on the radio.
Tedd Mitchell: Yeah I’ve got a face for radio. And here’s the problem, you and I look alike.
Jay Leeson: Well I’ve got better hair. Hey we appreciate you making time. What are you doing in DC, by the way? You gonna go sight seeing or you gonna go grab some lapels and tell them, “Listen here: food, fiber and fuel?”
Tedd Mitchell: Let me tell you something, these folks up here they forget how much money they owe you and you gotta help them remember. We just gotta always remind them how important it is what we do in west Texas. What we do in west Texas impacts everybody around the country. And every now and then we gotta come up and remind them of that.
Jay Leeson: Well I’d love to watch you pull on lapels sometime, that’s for sure. He is Doctor Tedd Mitchell of Texas Tech University, the chancellor-
Tedd Mitchell: Good talking to you, Jay.
Jay Leeson: Hey, I appreciate you coming on, Doctor Tedd Mitchell. Have fun there in DC. Appreciate you as always. Gonna go into a quick break and we’re supposed to hit that … yeah, there it is.
Jay Leeson: I mean, really, guys, honestly. I’ll take … if you’ve not listened to the program I’ll take people to task when they need to be taken to task. But I’m really optimistic about that guy. I mean to come on the show and to engage the topics I just gave him, he’s not your average politician.