This article appeared in the November/December 1982 issue of West Texas Business.
By Walter Burch
“A stronger alliance between the educational and business communities is imperative if we are to be of optimum value to each other.”
This statement is one of the convictions guiding Dr. William J. Teague as he enters his sophomore year as president of Abilene Christian University, now in its 77th year of service. Dr. Teague was installed as ACU’s ninth president in ceremonies earlier this year, returning to his alma mater after 11 years in top management with two major corporations. “It’s obvious,” he says, “that universities and business need each other. We need business leaders to help us monitor our academic programs and courses to confirm that we’re ‘on target’ as we prepare our students for professional careers and for lives of work and service.
But businesses and corporations need us too. They need our graduates – individuals they can rely upon to be competent, honest, productive, well-rounded persons,” he adds.
Dr. Teague and his associates are planning ACU’s development well into the 1990s – with a new School of Business expected to be the centerpiece in its current $40 million development program. The new head of ACU – the largest university supported by members of Churches of Christ (current enrollment: 4,546) – was recruited from industry, resigning after three year as administrative vice president of Kerr-McGee Corporation in Oklahoma City, the energy giant that generated $2 billion in sales in 1981. Prior to his move to Oklahoma, Dr. Teague served for eight years as assistant to the president and later administrative vice president of Purex Industries Inc., in Lakewood, California. Individual accountability, productivity, time management and supervision are Teague’s watchwords. He strongly believes these principles have a place in the academic enterprise, “but without leaving the impression that our staff people are merely ‘employees in a factory.’
Dr. Teague is jealous of his time, not out of aloofness, but because he values time and abhors wasting it. His skill in personal time management leaves him time to “try to stay in shape.” He’s an avid tennis buff at age 55. And some days he “suits up” during the lunch hour for a feverish half-hour of basketball with faculty members. “I’ll do almost anything to fight the waistline,” he says. Physically, he’s 5’9”, tanned, fit, with thinning gray hair, and blue eyes that reflect a blend of mischief and joy.
There are many facets to the Teague personality and style. His razor-sharp mind, comedian’s wit and no-nonsense approach to getting things done stand out in bold relief. He’s a fast reader, fast analyzer, and fast mover. An episode this past summer illustrates Teague’s distinctive ability to analyze situations and make decisions. In late July, ACU received a $1 million challenge grant from the Mabee Foundation of Tulsa for its $2.5 million library expansion campaign. The grant, however, stipulated that ACU raise the remaining $700,000 by Dec. 31, 1982 – some five months away. Teague could have moved at a leisurely pace, announcing the gift Aug. 30 at ACU’s opening convocation to kick off the fund drive and easily secure the funds by the end of the year. Teague decided otherwise. On learning of the Mabee challenge grant, he immediately got on the phone with three trustees, Ray McGlothlin Jr. of Abilene, James Muns of Dallas and Robert Onstead of Houston, to map a strategy that would secure the $700,000 in firm pledges before the opening convocation, less than five weeks away. Crisscrossing the state in private planes, dropping personal notes to the university’s major donors, and “wearing out my left ear” in late-night telephone calls, Teague and his trustees, supported well by the ACU development office, easily raised the money in five weeks to crown the library campaign with success. “I thought it would make a lot of sense to announce the beginning and conclusion of the library campaign simultaneously and use our fall months for something else,” Teague says.
Dr. John C. Stevens, Teague’s predecessor as ACU president and now chancellor, believes much of Teague’s success relates to his “skill as a communicator to groups as well as in one-on-one situations.” Stevens adds: “Bill’s ability to inject humor into a deadly serious situation, and to do it with effectiveness, is a unique talent. He will have you laughing, yet you will get the point. Then, in the same speech, he can bring the audience to the point of tears, again making his point. He can be a real spellbinder.”
“His personal magnetism is strong when meeting with individuals. He’s likable, easy to be with. He embodies a pent-up enthusiasm, and he tends to season others with the same optimistic faith that motivates him.”
In great demand as a speaker to civic and church groups, he has “cut down” to about 50 speeches, lectures and sermons in 1982. Ray McGlothlin, ACU board chairman and also chairman of the E-Z Serve, Inc., Abilene Oil Company, believes Teague’s ability to “unlock the motivation potential” in others is based on something other than acquired skills. “I think Bill senses a real debt to others and shows it. He feels grateful to serve and looks upon university leadership as a privilege he shares with others.”
Teague believes the concept of academic tenure, which usually means one’s teaching job at a university is guaranteed until one’s retirement, runs counter to the realities of both human nature and the marketplace. “Of course, I realize the rationale behind tenure, that teachers need the freedom to teach what they conceive to be the truth. Still, we all know of professors, or business managers, for that matter, who have stopped growing because they have no incentives for growth due to their perpetual job security.”
And with respect to church-related colleges, he takes an equally tough stand. “We’ve long since passed the time when lazy, inefficient or incompetent performance at a Christian college could be excused because ‘we’re brethren who adhere to the same religious beliefs and attend the same church.’ A university that claims its educational philosophy is rooted in Christian values cannot consistently tolerate mediocrity.”
Teague’s background includes growing up in Nocona, where he excelled in athletics; one year at the University of Texas in Austin, a four-year hitch in the U.S. Navy; marriage (while in service) to Peggy Newlen of Nashville; and earning a B.A. degree (1952) from Abilene Christian College, where he began honing his considerable public speaking skills as first manager of the campus radio station (KACC), as local disc jockey and sports announcer (KWKC), as emcee for many college events, and as student preacher. After college, he became ACU’s first full- time alumni director and then moved up to become an assistant to president Don H. Morris. He left Abilene in 1957 to become vice president for development of Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, and two years later moved to Los Angeles to serve six years as vice president of Pepperdine University. Meanwhile, along the way, he earned an M.A. degree at Columbia and a doctorate in administration and labor law from UCLA in 1965.
Bill Teague twice unsuccessfully campaigned (in 1968 and 1970) for a congressional seat in Orange County, California, two of his rare setbacks. “I learned a lot,” he smiles. He fondly remembers one wire he received from an ACU trustee, the late J.C. Rigney of Lubbock. It read: “Congratulations on your loss. You still have a chance to go to heaven.”
Teague considers his family his most treasured asset. “They sustain me when others are unaware of the need,” he said.