PRAIRIE VIEW- Prairie View A&M University’s President, Dr. George Wright, has decided to head back to the classroom after many years. He’s doing it because of budget cuts that are affecting all state universities. We’ve seen public universities go through steep budget cuts. Now one man at Prairie View A&M has found an unprecedented way to do more with less.
In a typical American history class at Prairie View A&M University, the facts don’t change much. But what’s special about one class is the man leading it. Student Ashley Haley said, “I think it’s a good experience to actually meet him and see what he’s about and how he teaches.” Dr. George Wright isn’t just any professor. He’s the president of the university. “I said let’s lead by example,” he said.
An educator at heart, Dr. Wright is back at the head of the classroom for the first time in nearly 20 years. He’s teaching on top of his administrative duties. “The most important part would be that I would be making a statement,” Dr. Wright said. “The statement was that I wanted to do my part.” Dr. Wright isn’t getting paid any extra to teach. In fact, he’s saving the university $18,000 each semester. It’s an effort his students applaud.
Student Mateo Ramirez said, “He listens to you, he asks you how you feel about stuff, and that is real important for a school.” Dr. Wright says his method may not work for everyone but with the help of two assistants, he is making it work for Prairie View A&M. “What you have to do is the thing we do all the time, is just manage our time,” he said.
In a post written for The Washington Post newpaper, Dr. Wright says: “We live in an amazing time in higher education. Technology, coupled with vision and innovation, has taken the world to new and exciting places. Universities are filled with students – traditional and non-traditional – who are eager to learn new things and apply their knowledge to their lives. Presently, the excitement in academia is tempered with a sense of uneasiness. Visit any college campus across the country and you are likely to see and hear the casualties of an uncertain economic climate. None of us in higher education have been immune to making tough choices. These days, the practice of “do more with less” is the great equalizer that has made all universities similar in a variety of ways, regardless of location and stakeholders. It is a force that has been felt at Prairie View A&M University. PVAMU is an HBCU – Historically Black College and University – outside of the Houston area. Just shy of 9,000 students, PVAMU boasts an established reputation for producing successful engineers, nurses and teachers. With humble beginnings 135 years ago as a training school for teachers, PVAMU has awarded more than 55,000 academic degrees throughout its rich history.
Initially, I proposed a five percent decrease in salary for those in administration if the budget cuts came in higher than expected. Still not satisfied, I made the decision that I would head to the front lines and return to the classroom. This fall, I will be teaching American History to 300 students, which will be the largest class on campus. As president, I called upon administrators, faculty and staff to pitch in and do what was necessary to help the University sustain a 15 percent cut in operating funds. I asked them to take on more courses, teach more students and produce better outcomes with a little less. But in pointing out what they needed to do, I started thinking, “What am I going to do?” I wanted to undertake this challenge as a cost-savings measure. By teaching all of these students in one single class (with the assistance of three graduate students), I will be teaching the equivalent of six classes.
Several other administrators are also returning to the classroom, including Dr. E. Joahanne Thomas-Smith, our provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs. This decision has invested us all in the objective of thriving through the toughest of economic times.” Dr. Wright teaches every Tuesday and Thursday morning for about an hour and a half. This is his second semester teaching. Last fall, he says he didn’t miss a single class.