Photo by Jon SooHoo
What is the difference between a vocational school and a university? To Bobby Patton Jr., the difference is important, so important that he and his wife, Sherri, are investing $20 million to make sure UT Austin remains in the latter category.
The Pattons believe there is no better preparation for life and work today than a liberal arts education because it requires creative, independent thinking and innovative problem solving. And it’s a testimony to the power of Patton’s student experience in the Plan II honors program within Liberal Arts that he feels such devotion even though he was only in it for two years. He switched majors to business administration, but the Plan II experience stayed with him, and the more of life he saw, the more convinced he became of the program’s value to his journey. He became an investor in oil and gas, ranching, insurance, and even major league sports when he became part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.
The Pattons’ gift will support faculty and graduate student endowments, as well as excellence funds to support programs and experiential learning for undergraduates in research, leadership, study abroad, and internship programs. “The Patton Challenge has inspired others to make investments in our college that are truly unprecedented,” says Randy Diehl, dean of Liberal Arts. “Since receiving the gift last fall we have been able to create 19 new faculty endowments — that’s nine more than the total we were able to fund in the previous seven years.” Patton has a soft spot for two liberal arts mainstays. “History gives us the benefit of hindsight; we learn lessons from the past that can be applied today.” And he says studying English is important not only in developing reading and writing skills but in learning how to weigh opposing ideas and consider consequences rather than simply jumping to conclusions.
Patton says he applies what he has learned in the liberal arts to how he conducts business. “I focus on buying good companies, but I’m not so much interested in what they do as how they do it,” he says. “Sometimes older companies just keep adding layers instead of solving the underlying problems. You need responsibility and accountability — you need to have a standard — and that’s something I demand because of my liberal arts education. You could say I run a liberal arts business.”