Dr. Thomas M. Hatfield Endowment
For his entire adult life, Dr. Thomas M. Hatfield has been passionately committed to the ideals of community colleges. He believes in the importance of open admissions and equal opportunity for all in higher education, in the superiority of the “late bloomer,” and in giving everyone a second chance. To these ideals, he has devoted his professional life.
Dr. Hatfield’s experiences with community colleges began at the age of 15 when his mother enrolled him in the community college of San Antonio, Texas. Later he earned a B.S. degree from Trinity University, followed by M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, and a year of postgraduate study at UCLA.
Dr. Hatfield was 38 years old in 1973 when the ACC Board of Trustees selected him to be ACC’s first president. Hatfield envisioned ACC bringing post-secondary education and job training that would enable Austin’s diverse citizenry to more nearly achieve their potential and realize their dreams. Many people thought the greater Austin area had enough colleges and universities. As a public speaker, Hatfield employed analogies to help citizens and community leaders understand ACC’s role in the education-rich Austin community. He compared ACC to the “little red schoolhouse” of times past. He also employed the image of an “educational common market.” In an active speaking campaign, he told listeners that ACC would be good for the economy and good for people, who would have new opportunities for advancement and better-paying jobs. He described community colleges as uniquely American institutions that were well suited for Americans and their needs. To emphasize that ACC was for everyone, Hatfield established the President’s Office in the vacant, historically African-American high school at 900 Thompson Street in East Austin.
Under Hatfield’s leadership, ACC endeavored to unify a fragmented community. Education naturally liberalized individual and community life and, he said, should not be walled off from them. He sought access to public and corporate facilities for classroom space and changed the “lock-step” nature of higher education by promoting “individualized instruction.” He advocated weaving ACC into the fabric of the community by joining with hospitals and government for shared training, with theater groups for students to study the dramatic arts, and sharing book and periodical collections with the public library system.
In January 1977, Hatfield resigned as president of Austin Community College to accept a position as dean of the Division of Continuing Education at the University of Texas at Austin, where he remained until 2007 to become director of the Military History Institute at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at UT Austin. In 2011, he was named Dean Emeritus, and in 2017, the ACC Board of Trustees designated him President Emeritus.
In partial retirement, he has written two acclaimed books. One is the biography of Earl Rudder, Texas A&M’s famous president, Rudder: From Leader to Legend, published by the Texas A&M Press; and the other is On The Way: The Life and Times of Frank Denius, published by the University of Texas Press. Dr. Hatfield is a veteran, having enlisted in the Texas National Guard as a teenager, and was honorably discharged from the Army eleven years later as a captain in military intelligence.