Thanks to an anonymous donor gift, the Amarillo Campus courtyard is now known as the Robert L. Duncan Plaza.
When students and visitors begin the walk toward the south entrance of the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) building, they will traverse the open-air space dedicated to the man who brought this vision to fruition.
The SVM recently announced the naming of the Robert L. Duncan Plaza as a tribute to the chancellor who turned the idea of a veterinary school at Texas Tech into reality. A generous Texas Tech donor had been considering a gift to the SVM, but it was clear the right place was the Robert L. Duncan Plaza because of the impact he had on its opening.
“This didn't happen because of one person,” Duncan said during the dedication ceremony. “This happened because of a vision and the people who came together to do this. This project was so exciting for people around the state of Texas, and that that's one of the reasons it got done. It's the right thing to do with the right idea, and everybody knew that Amarillo would step up to the plate, and then West Texas stepped up to the plate.”
After much effort to secure the trust and support of the regional and Texas Tech communities, the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo opened its doors in August to its first cohort of students. It was a historic moment that came 50 years after Texas Tech was first approved for a veterinary school in 1971.
“The School of Veterinary Medicine became a reality in large part because of the passion and generosity of our dedicated supporters,” said Kendra Burris, deputy chancellor for the Texas Tech University System. “This donor's admiration for Chancellor Robert Duncan's vision toward establishing this historic and monumental achievement is extraordinary. It's a special occurrence when a donor makes the decision to recognize and honor an individual outside of their own family. This illustrates how amazing our donors are and how their galvanizing efforts led to our collaborative success in establishing the vet school.”
In his two-decade career as a Texas legislator, Duncan knew full well what Texas Tech University needed to move forward as one of the leading institutions of higher learning, not just within the state, but in the U.S. as well. He had seen Texas Tech make several efforts to open a veterinary school, only to be thwarted when it came time to fund it.
So, when he became chancellor of the TTU System in 2014, one of his first moves was to begin studying how Texas Tech could finally bring a veterinary school to fruition, what it would look like, and how to overcome all the hurdles that had tripped up previous efforts.
In December of 2015, Duncan announced Texas Tech would not only pursue a veterinary school, but do so in a manner that was innovative, would not duplicate current veterinary schools and would specifically address the shortage of rural and regional veterinarians facing the entire country.
“Addressing the veterinary education needs in Texas is crucial not only because of the region's and state's deep-rooted history with agriculture and ranching, but also because of its continued prosperity,” Duncan said at the time. “Our vision goes beyond the establishment of a veterinary school, setting out to transform the landscape of veterinary medicine education and provide innovative solutions for the industry's future.”
Duncan's support of the cause didn't just end at that initial announcement, however.
The Texas Tech alumnus who earned both his bachelor's and law degree from Texas Tech also played a key role in helping secure both private philanthropic and industry gifts to support construction of the facility and endowment of scholarships for students.
During his time as chancellor, Duncan helped secure a $15 million grant from the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), which later became an agreement to fund up to $69 million for the building of the SVM facilities. He also helped lead efforts that would result in industry gifts from Amarillo National Bank, Caviness Beef Packers, the Harrington Foundation and others shortly after his retirement.
“Everyone knows how incredibly important this School of Veterinary Medicine is to Texas Tech University, the Texas Tech University System, to Amarillo, to West Texas and to the state,” Texas Tech president Lawrence Schovanec said to Duncan during the dedication. “Your role in this will be a part of your legacy forever. Some would have thought that when you raised this possibility it was a quixotic or audacious idea. But Bob Duncan knew exactly what he was doing, and many said, ‘I wouldn't bet against that man.' Sure enough, you succeeded.”
Perhaps one of Duncan's biggest influences came in the summer of 2016 when he and other Texas Tech officials testified before the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) on the need for a new veterinary school in Texas. Without the support of the THECB, the initiative would have faced a much steeper climb.
But at the hearing, the THECB adopted a report that reiterated the critical shortages of large-animal and rural veterinarians in Texas and the implications on the nation's food supply. The report offered new recommendations to address the problem and cited Texas Tech's plans to develop a veterinary school with an innovative model that did not repeat existing veterinary education efforts.
Thus, the doors for establishing the first new veterinary school in Texas in 100 years were opened, and Duncan drove Texas Tech straight through them.
“There have been a lot of great people over the decades who have worked on establishing the vet school, but they weren't successful,” said Guy Loneragan, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. “This was not a Texas Tech team, this was a community-driven team, and that team was built by Bob Duncan. He articulated the vision for that team, and he outlined the strategy for that team. Bob unified that team around a shared vision.”
Prior to his time as chancellor, Duncan developed an interest in education-related issues during his more than two decades as a member of the Texas Legislature, first as a member of the House of Representatives from 1989 to 1994 and then 17 years representing the 28th district in the Texas Senate from 1997 to 2014. He dedicated himself to education, serving on the Senate Committee on Higher Education and the Education Committee as well as the Natural Resources Committee and as chairman of the State Affairs Committee. He was named one of the state's 10 best legislators by Texas Monthly.
The School of Veterinary Medicine was not Duncan's only accomplishment for Duncan as chancellor, however. In his four short years leading the TTU System, Duncan helped it grow into one of the leaders in the state and the nation and helped widen Texas Tech's footprint around the world. During Duncan's time as chancellor, the TTU System raised more than $585 million in philanthropic support, more than any other system administration through the first four years. He also helped grow the system's endowment more than $150 million to a total of $1.3 billion in 2018.
In addition to the SVM, Duncan, a native of Vernon, also paved the way toward opening a school of dentistry in El Paso and opened Texas Tech's first international campus in Costa Rica.
“Terri and I are really thankful and appreciative,” Duncan said with his wife by his side. “We loved working for Texas Tech, we loved working on the vet school project and we love the friendships we've made here. There's no doubt this first initial class will be historic and make us all proud in the future.”