Jennifer Ridge: This is Jennifer Ridge at the office of University Public Relations. Would you please give me your name and if I have your permission to record you?
Terry Easton: My name is Terry Easton and you have my permission.
JR: Thank you, Terry. Would you mind doing me a favor and start by telling me a little bit about ETU’s history?
TE: Not at all. East Texas University was first founded in 1888 as East Texas Women’s College. For whatever reason, the college wasn’t very successful. By 1905, enrollment had dropped from a peak of 18 students to only five. Fortunately for us, just down the road at Beaumont a little oil well by the name of Spindletop turned out to be the biggest oil discovery of its time. One of the early wildcatters who got rich off the discovery was Howard O’Brien, whose wife just so happened to be an ETW alumnus. After the O’Briens went from rags to riches almost overnight, Mrs. O’Brien convinced her husband to donate a million dollars to her alma matter.
JR: No kidding!?
TE: Yeah. Think about it. For most people today a million dollars is a lot of money. Back then, it was really a lot of money. Of course, nobody gives away that kind of money without some strings attached. Mr. O’Brien insisted that enrollment be opened to men as well as women. Of course that meant they couldn’t keep calling it a women’s college, so they eventually settled on the name South East Texas Institute.
JR: But… aren’t we closer to the northern part of the state than the southern?
TE: Hmph. I guess it’s just one of those regional peculiarities. Everyone refers to this part of the state as southeast.
JR: Oh. I’m sorry to interrupt.
TE: Not at all. You just stop me if you have any questions. Anyway, South East Texas Institute served this part of the state for several decades. In those days, the students came from mostly rural families and studied forestry or geology. Aside from oil, there used to be silver in this neck of the woods and there’s still an operating tin mine.
JR: So when did the name change to East Texas University?
TE: Actually, not that long ago. It was in 1987. In 1985 a news magazine listed the top ten party schools in the country, and we were on it. President Patterson was hired to clean house. He fired faculty who turned a blind eye to cheating, he helped the city clamp down on underage drinking, and he raised the minimum qualifications for admission. He also lobbied the state legislature to change our name to distance ourselves from the old reputation. We’d grown quite a lot from the days of being a forestry and geology institute, and he felt like our name should reflect our greater scope.
JR: I’ll bet the students weren’t too happy about all that.
TE: Heh, yes, he was a pretty unpopular person around here at the time. But he had his supporters and he did what needed to be done. Today East Texas University serves more than 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students in almost sixty fields of study. Our anthropology and folklore departments are ranked in the top ten in the country and ETU is rated in the top 20 best education values for a public university. You’ll see a statue and two buildings named for the O’Briens, but ETU owes what it is today to former president Patterson.
TE: Let’s see… what else would you like to know? We have students from more than twenty countries. We also have a nationally ranked ROTC program and we were just recently awarded a grant to become a Homeland Defense Training School. We also have a very active Journalism department. We have a student operated cable television station, radio station, and newspaper.
JR: Let me ask you something. ETU may not be a party school anymore, but surely the students must have some why of blowing off steam? I’ve spent the day in town, and it doesn’t really look like a college town. In fact, it doesn’t seem very… hospitable to students.
TE: That’s because we try to give the students what they need right here on campus. We have five rec sports facilities and an indoor Olympic-sized pool. We have our own movie theater and bowling ally. We have two new dorms that are less than five years old. By comparison there’s not much in Pinebox to interest students, and that is at least partly by design. They don’t want much to do with us, and we don’t need much from them.
JR: Well, you say “us” and “them”, but you must live here too?
TE: … I don’t want to read this in your travel article, okay? This is off the record. Got it?
JR: Got it.
TE: Most ETU faculty and upper-level staff live in Timberland Village. It’s a planned community about a quarter of the way around the lake. We have our own grocery store, post office, gas station, and so on.
JR: Wow! Really? It sounds like there’s not much love lost between Pinebox residents and ETU.
TE: I don’t think I want to comment on that. Let’s just say Timberland Village is just a nice place to live. It’s a private, gated community, and crime is almost unheard of.
JR: Speaking of crime, is it much of a problem with your students? I mean, I’m sure there’s the usual amount of petty theft, but anything more serious?
TE: What does this have to do with a tourism article?
JR: Not a thing. That’s just my own curiosity speaking. This seems like a such a nice, quiet place to live and go to school.
TE: Oh, it is. Sure there’s the usual rowdiness every once in a while, but overall these are pretty good kids.
JR: So nothing too serious? No bodies found in the roommate’s dorm fridge or anything?
TE: Haha, no nothing like that. Every semester we have a few students who just disappear, but most of them turn up either back home or hung over in a Mexican jail. I’m sure it’s the same at every University.
JR: …You’re probably right. Well Terry, thank you for your time. Do you mind if I take one of these brochures?
TE: Please do. And let me give you an ETU t-shirt as a souvenir.
JR: Thank you!
[interview ends] -> Interview 5: Henry UrbinaNo tag for this post.