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Coming Full Circle with the College of Liberal Arts

Giving News

A businessman makes a
$20 million investment in the
college that gave him his start.

Liberal-Arts-Building

Bobby Patton, Jr., BBA ’85, enjoyed matching wits with some of the university’s top professors when he was a Plan II Honors student in the early 1980s. But after two years in the program, he switched his major to business administration, feeling he needed a more career-oriented education.

What Patton didn’t realize at the time was that Plan II — the College of Liberal Arts’ interdisciplinary arts and science honors major — was preparing him for a career, and a very successful one.

Today he operates oil and gas properties in Texas and Kansas and has additional investments in other sectors, including ranching and insurance. A partner of Guggenheim Baseball Management, he became part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.

“When I first came to UT, I thought being accepted into Plan II was the accomplishment. The liberal arts were not necessarily my focus,” says the longtime Fort Worth resident. “But after I left UT I realized just how important they were to my life. They taught me how to learn, and how to keep on learning.”

Students interact in the Plan II/Liberal Arts Honors shared study space.

Students interact in the Plan II/Liberal Arts Honors shared study space.

That is why Patton and his wife, Sherri, who earned a law degree from SMU and served as an assistant district attorney in Dallas, are giving $20 million to the College of Liberal Arts.

Their gift will support faculty and graduate student endowments, as well as excellence funds for priority programs and experiential learning opportunities for undergraduates in research, leadership, study abroad, and internships.

Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, says the Pattons’ gift will significantly boost efforts to build excellence throughout the college, which offers more than 50 majors in 22 academic departments and in more than 30 centers, institutes, and programs.

“This is truly a transformative gift for the college,” he says.

“Since I’ve been able, I’ve always wanted to do something meaningful for The University of Texas. I like to call this an investment rather than a gift,” says Patton, whose late mother, Nola Payne, BA ’64, was also in Plan II Honors. He says three or four of his professors also taught his mother, including Thomas Whitbread, a professor emeritus in English who died in October. The donation, among other things, is a memorial to Payne and her enthusiasm for Plan II.

“I was a college baby. Mom was in college, Dad was in law school, so I guess I kind of attended Plan II twice,” he says. “UT was the only school I applied to, and I applied only to Plan II at her urging.”

“The liberal arts taught me how
to learn, and keep on learning.”

Patton says there is too much focus today on learning a vocation, and he wishes all college classes would be more like Plan II. He still has vivid memories of his classes and professors and the lessons he learned from them. If a student today were to ask his advice on a major, Patton says he would recommend history.

“History gives us the benefit of hindsight; we learn lessons from the past that can be applied today. We can learn from our mistakes,” he says. “It is something you can apply throughout your life.”

He says studying English is also important, not only in developing reading and writing skills, but also in learning how to weigh opposing ideas and consider consequences rather than simply jumping to conclusions. “You can’t just state something and say that it’s true. That’s why you read history and literature — to support your arguments. Otherwise it’s just conjecture.”

The Pattons’ gift boosts efforts to build excellence throughout the College of Liberal Arts.

The Pattons’ gift boosts efforts to build excellence throughout the College of Liberal Arts.

He adds that the study of liberal arts is important because it “teaches us to be more than followers, to be more than a bunch of lemmings. It teaches us how to think.”

In addition to his business degree from UT, Patton holds law degrees from St. Mary’s University and SMU.

But his grounding in the liberal arts, he says, informs 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. 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.”

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