The longtime Rawls College of Business professor of finance and interim dean will retire this summer after a stellar 37-year career at Texas Tech University.
Paul Goebel had a decision to make.
Like any young postdoc, the young Goebel had a vision of where he saw himself five, 10, 15 years down the road upon earning his doctorate from the University of Georgia in 1980. At the urging of one of his professors, Goebel took an interview with the business college at Texas Tech University.
The interview went well and Goebel took the job as an assistant professor with the thought he'd be here three to five years, tops. So sure was Goebel that his tenure in Lubbock would not be long that he opted to enroll in an optional retirement system the university offered at the time that vested after a year, unlike the state retirement system that vested after a minimum of five years.
"That came back to bite me good,” Goebel said.
Did it ever, but in a good way. Goebel, 66, is finally leaving Texas Tech this summer – 37 years after he arrived – as he will officially retire as a full-tenured professor after teaching one last class in the Summer I session. The young assistant professor who thought for sure his academic fortunes were somewhere other than Lubbock and Texas Tech will leave with quite a legacy in the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business.
His recent tenure as interim dean of the college was the cherry on top of the sundae of an academic career that made him one of the leading real estate experts in the country. A licensed real estate broker, Goebel has served as the James E. and Elizabeth F. Sowell professor of finance, and while on the faculty at Texas Tech, has served as the chairman of the City of Lubbock Planning and Zoning Commission, served on the Lubbock Zoning Board of Adjustment and chairman of the board of the Texas Tech Federal Credit Union.
Above all that, however, what Goebel has cherished most in his time at Texas Tech has been the daily interaction with the students and seeing them reach their academic and professional potential.
"It's the students, and realizing what impact I can make on their lives, not just by imparting knowledge,” Goebel said. "Knowledge is great, but having an impact on so many students over the years, so many alumni that I see on a fairly regular basis around the state and around the country where I hear from them or touch base with them. They've done well, not necessarily because of me, but I would like to think I was a part of that. That's the exciting part and why I stayed in it all these years. That's the reward, the payoff.”
Realizing his own path
As much as he relishes the educational atmosphere and satisfaction that comes from "seeing the light bulb go on,” Goebel did leave the academic world behind for awhile, working in the real estate industry doing development, brokerage and valuations. It was a move that, Goebel said, proved invaluable because it gave him a solid foundation for teaching what he had actually learned to do in the private sector, not just from books.
He remained an adjunct professor at Texas Tech while working in the business world, but eventually realized that, while he was trying to help students reach their full potential, he was not doing so in his own life.
"Financially, it was rewarding. But you just miss something,” Goebel said. "I bought and sold a number of properties over the years and did well financially in that. But I really wasn't fully using my academic education. Are you making a difference in other people's lives by building your net worth? No. The difference you make is when you can influence other people. To me, that's the most important part of it and what I will miss the most.”
So, after a few years in the private sector, Goebel returned to the faculty full time at Texas Tech and never left.
"At the time, my wife and I had been here five years and realized that Lubbock's a pretty nice place,” Goebel said. "Yeah, it's flat and yeah, there are not many hills or trees or natural landscape, but it had a beauty of its own. The people here are fantastic, and we realized this would be a good place to live and raise a family, which we've done. I wouldn't trade this off for anything.”
Love of academia
Like all retirees, Goebel is asked the question – why now? Giving an answer, though, is not that simple.
On one hand, he feels he still has the ability to make a difference in student's lives, as evidenced by the appraisal class this spring that started with 20 students and ended with 47.
"You will always have students come in who aren't motivated and don't want to be there. They just want that piece of paper that says they're educated,” Goebel said. "Getting an education is not important to them, so you deal with them the best you can and try to pull it out of them to where they realize this will mean so much more 10, 15, 20 years down the road.
"But it's the folks that really want to be there, who have that motivation, who want the education and want to succeed. That, to me, is the attraction, and that is what I've always taken the greatest pleasure in seeing the light bulb come on.”
Conversely, Goebel is conscious of the fact that some educators have stayed long after their effectiveness on students and their educational trek diminished, and he wants to get out before that happens to him.
"I don't want to be that person who hung around too long, and we've had some, where you're just mailing it in and you're not really helping the students,” Goebel said. "But more importantly, I don't want to be taking a spot from someone else who is ready to start their career path. I don't want to be hanging around after I'm relevant.”
It was only in the last few years that Goebel had considered retirement, and then fate stepped in again when he was asked to carry the college through a transitional stage as the interim dean of the college.
That delayed his retirement for a little over a year as he guided the Rawls College of Business into a new era with the appointment of Margaret Williams as the new dean, who began her Texas Tech tenure in April.
Goebel said he never considered seeking the position full-time. He was well and truly looking forward to the next phase of his life.
That includes leaving Lubbock – finally – to move to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, closer to his wife's family. He has also inquired with the dean of the business college at the University of North Alabama in nearby Florence about teaching some classes there to stay relevant.
"He mentioned the possibility of considering a full-time position, which I promptly declined,” Goebel said with a smile.
That would interfere with his retirement plans, which include some traveling, working on an old car that needs repair, projects around a house they purchased there a few years ago, and just reading a novel without feeling guilty now that he will have plenty of free time.
Goebel said he is also looking forward to continuing the volunteer work he and his family have been involved in both with various organizations in Lubbock and their church.
"I've got plenty to keep me engaged,” Goebel said.
Leaving a legacy
Much has changed in the 37 years Goebel has been at Texas Tech. In fact, pretty much everything has changed.
The Rawls College of Business moved into its new building in 2011 and added a west wing just last year. More than that, however, are the advancements in educational pedagogy and technologies that have transformed higher education learning.
"It makes it easier to teach, but at the same time, maybe, it takes some things away,” Goebel said. "It used to be starting out, we would get a book and sit down and have to create our own lecture notes. I always said give me a book and three days head start and I can get there and stay ahead of the students. Today, you adopt a book and it comes with the Power Point slides and chapter summaries and reviews and test banks. It makes it a whole lot easier.”
Part of the Rawls' west wing expansion included a testing room where students could take exams, thus freeing up class time during the semester. Goebel said he is excited to be using that for the first time during the Summer I session.
He also likes that there are classrooms now where lectures are taped so students can get back at a later date and catch up from a class they missed or review a particular point made in class they might not understand at first. Anything that helps students learn, Goebel said, is a good thing for higher education.
"I've always been a big proponent of the fact that my job is not to teach, but to help them learn the material, and there is a big difference there,” Goebel said. "We're not trying to spoon-feed them but help them figure out this is what they need to learn and what is important.”
More than brick and mortar or technology and pedagogy, Goebel is proud of the reputation the Rawls College of Business has earned nationwide as one of the leading business colleges in the country. He remembers when it wasn't that way.
While currently writing the college's accreditation report, he has reviewed the college's history and recalls a time in the 1980s and 1990s when the state faced difficult budget times that forced many colleges to cut back significantly on faculty and staff, and thus the student body was cut almost in half. In order to increase enrollment, the admissions standards were relaxed, lowering the required GPA necessary to enter the college.
Eventually, as times improved, the requirements increased, and the students responded by meeting those challenges, Goebel said.
"I think people recognize quality and will flock to that quality,” Goebel said. "I'm very proud of that. We've had our ups and downs over the years, but day in and day out, we've gotten the job done and I'm very proud of that. I'm very proud to be associated with this college.”