There’s a lot of things that I miss about Texas, my former home for nearly 8 years. The barbeque…the football…the music. The accents. The liberal use of y’all. The occasional use of the ‘double y’all,’ as in ‘y’all get y’all some cobbler.’ The freedom to wear a cowboy hat (I have two) without looking like a complete idiot. And a couple of the biggest universities in the U.S. in UT Austin and Texas A & M, both with enormous stadiums that rise from the campus grounds like shrines to the gods of football. So it was with great anticipation that I returned to my former home state for a visit to Aggieland (Tuesday, November 29 – Thursday, December 1), a campus so huge that it has its own airport!
My host, Binayak Mohanty, a friend an colleague for the last 15 years, picked me up at the airport on Tuesday night (okay, it’s more like an air field) and immediately delivered on my one request for the visit: real, honest-to-goodness Texas barbeque. We went to the original C & J’s, where we met Tony Cahill, another old friend and colleague. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed their company, as well as a cold Shiner Bock to wash down a pork rib slathered with barbeque sauce. Later that evening Binayak dropped me at my hotel, the quaint Vineyard Court, where I stayed in the “Reveille Suite,” complete with a charcoal sketch of that furry Collie. It was good to be back.
The next day we embarked upon a whirlwind tour of campus and its facilities. Although I had lectured at A & M before, I had never seen more than the buildings in which I had spoken. Not so on this trip. I saw the whole thing. Well, almost. It’s actually too big to see it all in a day and still meet with faculty, students and present a seminar.
It was, without a doubt, truly impressive. Let me focus on Binayak’s work and his group as an example. Since his arrival in College Station ten years ago, Binayak has assembled a group of students and postdocs as big as soccer team, a few of whom presented the lab’s research to me, and much of which is groundbreaking. Their work features an exciting mix of lab, field and modeling studies, as well as slew of high-quality and high-impact publications. Like the campus itself, it was a lot to take in in one day.
I also learned of Binayak’s plans to lead a new Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) proposal, a facility that is sorely needed in the southern region of the country. I wish the team great success. Importantly, Binayak and I discussed plans for outreach to India to transfer and apply some of the work that both of our groups are doing. The South Asia region faces a looming water crisis larger than Texas itself. I will look forward to further discussions with Binayak and others on this important endeavor.
It was great to reunite with longtime friend and collaborator Paco “Grandpa” Olivera, and to catch up on how our families are doing. We had a brief but fun time together during my trip, reminiscing about the great team we had assembled out of UT CEE/CRWR to work on large-scale river transport and DEM processing that included Kwabena Asante, Mary Lear and David Maidment.
I also had the good fortune to meet UC Berkeley grad Gretchen Miller, a new faculty member in CEE. Gretchen is an ecohydrologist (and a new mother) and has a bright future ahead of her. I’m glad that she has the support of her faculty, and that she will have access to the pool of great graduate students that is traditionally drawn to TAMU.
On a somewhat less than positive note, a common theme throughout my visit was the disdain of the faculty for Governor Oops. The Governor’s lack of appreciation for two of his states greatest assets, the top-tier research institutions that are TAMU and UT, underscores his profound ignorance of the role of education and university research in the socioeconomic well being of his state, and simply adds fuel to the Bonfire that is igniting beneath his Wrangler-clad butt to exit the national stage.
Here’s one thing that I don’t miss about Texas. The lack of support of the Texas legislature for its first-rate university systems and its phenomenal flagships remains a persistent problem. It was that way when I was on the faculty at UT from 1994 to 2001, and unfortunately, it is still that way today.
If this attitude persists, the best minds will have no choice but to leave for schools where their contributions are appropriately recognized, putting the state of Texas at a significant, long-term economic disadvantage. So much for creating those jobs.
Research drives technology and innovation, and nowhere is it done better, and most cost effectively, than at universities. Some of the greatest inventions of our time have emerged from university campuses, including the technology that makes this blog post possible, the internet. Strong research universities are the incubators for the best ideas that will define our future.
Enough ranting. After a short hop from the airfield back to Houston on Thursday morning, and I was on my way back to California to prepare for next week’s AGU meeting in San Francisco.