OP-ED: THE IDLE AMERICAN: A revolting development

Published 12:27 am Wednesday, March 24, 2021

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Don Newbury

My intent was to write a tribute to a long-ago university chancellor. He handled problems with dignity and grace, typically responding with a twinkle in his eye, beaming countenance and droll wit.

Were he still living, he would have chuckled at my misadventure in finding the definition of “droll.” Sure enough, it is a reference to the curious or unusual in ways that provoke amusement. This assumes, of course, that “droll” is spelled correctly.

Typing two “o’s” instead of two “l’s,” however, turns up the word “drool,” instead, and Dr. James M. Moudy–Texas Christian University chancellor from 1965-1979–never drooled.

I thought of him the other day while reading of the “brouhaha” at the University of Texas over threats and counter-threats concerning whether the school song (“The Eyes of Texas” sung to the tune of work related to the railroad) should remain in favor.

What would Dr. Moudy have done?

Smiling, he would likely have “drolled” something like, “Do we have a school song? Not many know the words if we do, but over the years, there has been much ‘tinkering’ with the TCU cheer.”

He might have waxed rhetorically in telling about how the university’s athletic teams came to be called “Horned Frogs.” Another sidetrack to avoid a direct response, he might have shared history of the TCU cheer. It has been modified periodically for at least a century, including words like “riff, ram, bah zoo, lickity, lickity, zoo, zoo.”

Maybe a “droll” observation by this recognized minister, scholar and educational leader would have included an expression of gratitude for not being president at Campbell University. “Defending ‘Horned Frogs’ as mascots for an institution in Texas might be easier than continually justifying ‘Fighting Camels’ in South Carolina,” he’d joke.

It’s hard to fathom why some memories are retained.

The title of a Dr. Moudy speech some 50 years ago to the Fort Worth Rotary Club remains lodged in my brain. It was: “What I Would Do If I Were a College President.”

Speaking drolly and purposefully, he elicited smiles as he rolled on with an undeniable spirit that much was “right” with the world. Surely his tongue was might near rubbed raw, lodging so often in his cheeks, back in the day when some decisions were actually “slam dunks.”

I do remember his account of growing up in Greenville, Texas.

When he was a second grader, his mother “encouraged” his taking private violin lessons. A reluctant student, he tracked mud into his teacher’s house, knocked over a lamp and dropped her violin.

With eyes glaring and patience expended, she warned, “James, if you don’t shape up this minute, I’m going to tell your folks you have definite promise.”

Back when, Dr. Moudy and his colleagues made decisions that “went down without sugar.” These days, many weighty issues are more likely to be “taken under advisement.”

Then and now, controversy “follows the money,” and UT has plenty of it, not only from traditional revenues, but also from major funds established by the 1876 Texas Legislature. It created the “Permanent University Fund” (tax monies from more than two million oil and gas- rich acres in West Texas) accrue largely to UT, but also to Texas A&M University.

Both universities should be able to make it until, well, the wells run dry.

Pressures at the top grow exponentially when both enrollments and budgets bulge and both have ballooned. My CEO experiences were in much smaller institutions (Western Texas College, Snyder, Texas and Howard Payne University, Brownwood, Texas). At both institutions, I made such “major” decisions as whether to have school on bad weather days.

Finally, this: Seagraves, Texas, Public Schools chose the theme music from a 1951 movie, On Moonlight Bay. They “localized” the words, of course, from the song made famous by the lovely Doris Day.

Life was simpler then.


Dr. Newbury is a long-time public speaker and university president who writes weekly. Email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Facebook: Don Newbury. Twitter: @donnewbury.