Wayland president looks back on a decade at the helm 

January 21, 2011

PLAINVIEW – Dr. Paul Armes approaches the interview table with some caution and makes his initial caveat clear: He’s not comfortable talking about the events of the past ten years as something he’s done at Wayland Baptist University.

“Anyone who serves in a position like this has to acknowledge that whatever has happened under my tenure has happened because of the people here. Every president stands on the shoulders of their people, and I’m surrounded by a group of phenomenal individuals,” said Armes. “This is definitely a team sport.”

Caveats aside, Armes also knows that like historians in the past, historians in Wayland’s future will group her history by administrators partly out of ease. It’s also a known fact that changes in leadership often change the course of history for a university. Each leader brings new strengths, new interests, new vision and new viewpoints.

Like so many who have gone before him, Armes brought a unique set of skills and experiences to the presidential table when he arrived at Wayland Baptist University in February 2001 to serve as her 12th president. And as the 10-year mark of his service approaches, Armes took a break from his regular travel and administrative duties to reflect upon just how Wayland has changed over the decade.

Growth and Change

Wayland’s enrollment has seen consistent growth, spurred in large part by the addition of a vice president for enrollment management – filled in 2002 by Dr. Claude Lusk, a former Director of Admissions and business faculty member – and streamlining of offices and processes under that one umbrella. Growth in academic programs, athletic offerings and the like all contributed to the growth as well.

One major area of growth during Armes’ tenure has been the Virtual Campus, which had just begun offering classes when he came as president. Over the years, the class offerings have multiplied exponentially and the university now offers a fully online bachelor’s degree and several master’s degrees, literally opening the Wayland experience to anyone around the world with Internet access.

Armes said improvements and realignments to the university’s administrative infrastructure have helped to better handle the growing system that now includes 6,385 students across 14 campuses. The addition of Dr. Elane Seebo, first as an assistant vice president and now as vice president of external campuses and graduate services, has also helped to shepherd the 13 campuses located away from the Plainview headquarters. All are moves that have strengthened the organization and oversight of the university, Armes said.

Wayland’s physical plant has endured many changes over the decade as well. The addition of the Pete and Nelda Laney Student Activities Center, opened officially in 2008, has been a boon to student life and fitness opportunities and has been utilized heavily by other areas of the university. It is a popular spot on campus, particularly in the evenings. The acquisition of the former Trinity United Methodist Church property added office space for Institutional Advancement and a new home for the Baptist Student Ministries. In addition, the university added a new women’s suite dormitory, Wallace and Patsy Davis Hall, in 2002, then acquired a facility three blocks from the campus and remodeled it as an honors dormitory, now called Dorothy McCoy Hall.

Of great significance to the campus will be the addition of a new men’s dormitory to replace the aging McDonald Hall, a 350-bed facility created to handle the influx of students expected when the university returns to the gridiron with football starting competitive play in fall 2012. Once the new dormitory is completed, demolition can begin on the existing McDonald Hall and construction can begin on the new Flores Bible Building and Mission Center.

In terms of financial strength, the university’s endowment grew by $21 million over 10 years, aided by many new endowed scholarships and growth in value of the school’s land and assets.

Helping plan and celebrate the school’s centennial celebration in 2008-09 has also been a highlight of Armes’ tenure and one the emphasized to him the rich heritage and pattern of God’s blessing on the institution.

Armes is particularly fond of the Wayland Mission Center, an entity he had a crucial hand in helping dream up with others.

“It really came about in response to student trends,” he said, noting that today’s students are generally more interested in missions endeavors. “Our focal point is to minister to students and the kingdom community around us.”

With his pastoral background, Armes embraces the Christian heritage of Wayland and its continued emphasis on the faith atmosphere at all its campuses. He said a new emphasis on leadership and service – which became the Center for Student Leadership and Involvement – is refreshing as well.

“I’m pleased about what I see is a fresh wave of student engagement, with interest in service projects and such,” he said. One such group is the President’s Ambassadors, housed in the Institutional Advancement office and providing assistance to his office and development with donors, trustees and other campus events.

The Tough Spots

Though he doesn’t camp there long, Armes mentions the loss of Dr. Bill Hardage in March 2006 as a particularly challenging time for the university. Besides being a friend, Hardage was in many ways the backbone of the administration, having served in so many capacities for so long and having a deep, genuine love for Wayland.

But Armes noted that the younger administrators on the cabinet, namely Lusk and Dr. Bobby Hall (executive vice president and provost) have stepped up to fill the gap in leadership.

“The school really has an inherent healthiness that allows it to bounce back from tragedies,” said Armes, noting also that the loss of several students over the years in accidents has made for tough times emotionally.

Though much has happened over the decade, Armes is quick to point out that Wayland has had its share of challenges, especially some that sister institutions have shared. One is an increasing competition for resources as well as student attention, and for-profit schools have had some impact in that realm as well. But the faith at Wayland remains strong, and for Armes, that is key to her survival.

“We live in a fast-moving, ever-changing educational world. To maintain our vibrancy, we have to embrace the best of those changes and incorporate them into the life of Wayland,” he said. “I’m so grateful for the importance of faith at this university, and I think this student generation seems to have embraced the importance of faith.”

Keeping a Level Head

Holding the highest seat in a university of any size is no small feat, someone analogous to the mythical Atlas heaving the globe upon his shoulders. How does Armes deal with the complexity and intricacies of the administrative role with such grace and poise?

I have places that are therapeutic for me,” he laughs. “Dr. Hall and I often joke about ‘barn time.’ I love turning wood, because you take a rough piece of wood and work for about 45 minutes and you have a beautiful item. It helps me disengage a little.”

Another enjoyable “side hobby” is preaching, and for Armes, it helps him stay connected to the church community and to people with whom he can share the Wayland story. It’s also a passion.

“That was God’s first call on my life. If I had to quit preaching, I’m not sure I’d be able to do the work I do,” he said.

He also enjoys photography, is a ham radio operator and used to fly small planes, earning his pilot’s license while in Corpus Christi. He and wife Duanea have a small RV in which they enjoy taking short trips and he looks forward to taking his grandchildren on future trips to the national parks when they are older.

All that aside, Armes most relishes the title of husband – he and Duanea celebrated 36 years of marriage in June – as well as father and grandfather. The couple has two daughters. Sarah Thompson, a nurse, and husband Tim, an EMT, parent the Armes’ two grandsons, Gage, 2 ½, and Colton, 3 months, whom they try to see weekly. Daughter Ashley and her husband Aaron Cox live in Italy, where she is a historian for the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Aviano AFB.

Looking back now over his life’s experiences – Baylor graduate, seminary student, longtime pastor, then president of San Marcos Baptist Academy before coming to WBU – Armes said he is amazed by it all.

“I never dreamed that this would have happened in my life. I thought I’d be a pastor forever, but in God’s design, (earning the Ph.D.) exposed me to the academic side of this journey,” he said.

In the end, he goes back to his initial thoughts of the last decade being a shared journey.

“My position is really as a gatekeeper, making sure the broad direction of the university is going the right way. I have people around me who do their job very well, and for whatever reason, God has allowed me to let them do that,” he said. “I feel like I’m an integral part of the life of the university, but we have such gifted people here and they do a good job. All of us want very passionately to do the best we can for the university.”

History’s Reflection

As she did so capably for the centennial celebration and the coffee table book produced over Wayland’s first 100 years, University Historian Dr. Estelle Owens reflected upon the past decade as it will be viewed by historians in the future. In so doing, she found many of the same things Armes discovered.

“There’s an old saying that ‘first-rate men surround themselves with first-rate men; second-rate men surround themselves with third-rate men.’ I think Dr. Armes is a first-rate man in that he has assembled and kept a first-rate leadership team that is very gender-diverse with Dr. Seebo and three female deans,” she noted. “He obviously believes in capitalizing on the gifts God bestows upon people, regardless of their gender.  That hasn’t always been the case here or anywhere else.”

Owens also noted that campus-wide diversity, growth in enrollment, academic programs and athletics were all signs of a healthy institution, and that, she said, is a sign of healthy leadership.

“It’s really obvious that Wayland has been positioned by our leadership to be ready for whatever comes. That has to be the result of a lot of sound decision-making and implementation of best practices,” Owens said. “As Sam Foss put it in House by the Side of the Road, ‘There are pioneer souls who blaze a path where highways never ran.’ That’s us over the course of the last decade, and a lot of that is because of the president and his vision for us. I think Dr. Wayland and all of Dr. Armes’ predecessors would be so proud of who we are and what we’ve become.”