WHEN I MOVED TO TEXAS TO WORK for Texas Monthly in late 1991, the two words staring out at me from an upcoming cover were “Aggie Sex.” Was I on a different planet? I quickly got up to speed on what an Aggie was—sex I’d heard of—but it took me a bit longer to really get the Aggies, the peculiar (in the best sense) species that inhabits Texas A&M University’s College Station campus and other glamorous locales in perpetuity. Now, nearly fifteen years later, although I’m still not sure we should be publishing the word “teasip” without defining it, I’ve come to appreciate what the Aggies mean to this state, and I’m a strong advocate for putting them in our pages whenever possible. This month’s story by senior executive editor Paul Burka (“Agent of Change,”) is his and our sixth on the subject since 1997, which may seem like a lot if you’re, well, a teasip. But everything about the Aggies is fascinating to a large segment of our audience. Each time we’ve had them on our cover—portrayed favorably, Bum Steer—worthy, or somewhere in between—newsstand sales have been extremely high. (Here’s hoping the record remains intact.)
This story is a bit different from its antecedents in that it focuses less on the Aggies than their leader, Robert M. Gates, who began his fifth year as the school’s president in August. From a distance, the former CIA director had always seemed to be a recognizable Washington, D.C., type: morally upright, irritatingly sobersided, and unfailingly loyal (specifically to his patron George H. W. Bush, on whose behalf he came to Aggieland in the first place)—which is to say, profoundly uninteresting to profile. But Paul convinced me that I’d underestimated him. Gates is more contemplative than one would have expected, a thinker as well as a doer. He’s reasonably self-aware for someone who spent so much time inhaling that Beltway air. And—most impressive of all—he’s not simply marking time in the job, as some late-career coasters would. At no small risk, he’s pushing and poking and prodding the famously hidebound Aggie culture in the name of ushering it into the modern era, whether or not it wants to be so ushered. He’s also asking, out loud, the blasphemous question of whether the Aggie brand needs an overhaul—and he’s getting help from a distinguished alumnus of t.u.! (I’m told that I don’t need to explain what t.u. is either. I’ll probably get the hang of this around, I don’t know, 2036.)
ANN RICHARDS, FOR ONE, would have appreciated Gates’s resolve. As the late former governor found out, change is never easy, no matter how much it’s called for; writer-at-large Jan Reid’s memories of his old friend (“Ann,”) vividly bring to mind a time when the idea of a bawdy, brazen Scholz Garten liberal taking the reins of Texas was itself blasphemous. And change comes at a price. Even in the theoretically charitable period immediately after her death, there were those who clearly took pleasure in mocking her political legacy. But in the end, on the biggest issue she tackled—whether more women and minorities deserved a place at the table—she was right and her critics were wrong. Whatever else Richards may not have accomplished, in this area real progress was made, and its effects have been lasting. We’re a better state for it, and for her, just as the Aggies owe Bob Gates a debt of gratitude. They may not know it yet, but they surely will someday.
Tacos to die for, the state’s best public schools, gangbangers gone wild, Forest Whitaker without mercy, the politics of slaughtering horses, why Plano is the new Peoria, and a cancer doctor with cancer.