By Quinn Daniell
Texas A&M University (A&M or TAMU) is a coeducational public research university located in College Station, Texas, United States. It is the flagship institution of the Texas A&M University System, the fourth-largest university in the United States and the largest university in Texas. Texas A&M's designation as a land, sea, and space grant institution reflects a broad range of research with ongoing projects funded by agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research. The school ranks in the top 20 American research institutes in terms of funding and has made notable contributions to such fields as animal cloning and petroleum engineering.
The first public institution of higher education in Texas, though not the first general university in the state, the school opened on October 4, 1876 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas under the provisions of the Morrill Land-Grant Acts. Originally, the college taught no classes in agriculture, instead concentrating on classical studies, languages, literature, and applied mathematics. After four years, students could attain degrees in scientific agriculture, civil and mining engineering, and language and literature. Under the leadership of President James Earl Rudder, in the 1960s A&M desegregated, became coeducational, and dropped the requirement for participation in the Corps of Cadets. To reflect the institution's expanded roles and academic offerings, the Texas Legislature renamed the school to Texas A&M University in 1963. The letters "A&M", originally short for "Agricultural and Mechanical", are retained only as a link to the university's past. The school's students, alumni, and sports teams are known as "Aggies".
The main campus is one of the largest in America, spanning 5,500 acres (22 km2), and includes the George Bush Presidential Library. Approximately one-fifth of the student body lives on campus. Texas A&M has approximately 800 officially recognized student organizations. Many students also observe the traditions of Texas A&M University, which govern daily life as well as special occasions, including sports events. On July 1, 2012, the school joined the Southeastern Conference. A&M operates two branches: Texas A&M at Qatar and Texas A&M University at Galveston. Working with agencies such as the Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M has a direct presence in each of the 254 counties in Texas. The university offers degrees in over 150 courses of study through ten colleges and houses 18 research institutes. Texas A&M has awarded over 320,000 degrees, including 70,000 graduate and professional degrees.
The U.S. Congress laid the groundwork for the establishment of Texas A&M in 1862 with the adoption of the Morrill Act. The act auctioned land grants of public lands to establish endowments for colleges where the "leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanical arts... to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life". In 1871, the Texas Legislature used these funds to establish the state's first public institution of higher education, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, then known as Texas A.M.C. Brazos County donated 2,416 acres (10 km2) near Bryan, Texas, for the school's campus.
Enrollment began on October 2, 1876. Six students enrolled on the first day, and classes officially began on October 4, 1876, with 6 faculty members. During the first semester, enrollment increased to 48 students, and by the end of the spring 1877 semester, 106 students had enrolled. Admission was limited to white males, and all students were required to participate in the Corps of Cadets and receive military training. Although traditional Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets "campusologies" indicate 40 students began classes on October 4, 1876, the exact number of students enrolled on that day is unknown. Enrollment climbed to 258 students before declining to 108 students in 1883, the year the University of Texas opened in Austin, Texas. Though originally envisioned and annotated in the Texas Constitution as a branch of the University of Texas, Texas A.M.C. had a separate Board of Directors from the University of Texas from the first day of classes and was never enveloped into the University of Texas System.
Statue of Lawrence Sullivan "Sul" Ross located in front of the Academic Building
In the late 1880s, many Texas residents saw no need for two colleges in Texas and clamored for an end of Texas A.M.C. In 1891, Texas A&M was saved from potential closure by its new president Lawrence Sullivan Ross, former governor of Texas, and well-respected Confederate Brigadier General. Ross made many improvements to the school and enrollment doubled to 467 cadets as parents sent their sons to Texas A&M "to learn to be like Ross". During his tenure, many enduring Aggie traditions were born, including the creation of the first Aggie Ring. After his death in 1898, a statue was erected in front of what is now Academic Plaza to honor Ross and his achievements in the history of the school.
Under pressure from the legislature, in 1911 the school began allowing women to attend classes during the summer semester. At the same time, A&M began expanding its academic pursuits with the establishment of the School of Veterinary Medicine in 1915.