By Tom Lindley
GOODWELL — Some
say this is a hard land, which might explain why young
artist Antonio Martinez is partial to hard pastels.
purple adds mystery and allure to the tantalizing
blue eyes and the face of his latest portrait. It
is the Oklahoma Panhandle State University art student’s
way of drawing his model out of the shadows, just
as his plight has drawn others into the light.
art is a piece of me, something from me," he said
last week. "It brings me peace."
of a college campus is only 10 miles down the road
from where Martinez went to high school in Guymon,
but he had to spend nearly two years, travel hundreds
of miles and go public with a private fear to get here.
He is the
son of immigrants, and his arrival at the Capitol last
year was instrumental in convincing the Oklahoma Legislature
to pass a bill allowing noncitizen Oklahomans to qualify
for in-state tuition, scholarships and financial aid.
for him, Martinez’s parents are long- time legal
residents of the United States who had not obtained
their citizenship. Although he grew up on Spider- Man
and was a four-point- plus student, Martinez faced
the reality that he didn’t have a country.
did not have the documentation he needed to receive
the art scholarship Panhandle State was offering
him. He also didn’t have enough money to pay what a noncitizen
is charged to attend an Oklahoma university, which
meant he didn’t have a clue what he would do
with the rest of his life.
always the packing plant, and, like many Hispanic immigrants,
Martinez, now 20, eventually might have gravitated
to one of the processing plants on the northeast side
of Guymon, where the thought of hard work is secondary
to the promise of decent pay.
possibility of going to college — much less the likelihood
of making a living drawing pastels — has not
been afforded to many Hispanic immigrants, who often
are reminded that they work on the floor or in the
field, while the best jobs usually go to the white
Panhandle State President David Bryant believes the
future is tied to ending that stereotype, which means
Martinez, who is close to completing his freshman year,
could continue to help open doors for others.
place for us to start is to provide the educational
opportunity for people," Bryant said.
words strike at the heart of a growing debate in Oklahoma
about the future of the state’s 13 public universities.
Critics say Oklahoma has too many regional universities
and is wasting money on the duplication of services.
State appropriations to
higher education increased from $555 million in fiscal
year 1995 to $800 million in fiscal year 2003, but
universities and colleges maintain that they need much
more to replace a decaying infrastructure and provide
room for the additional 20,000 students they gained
in the past year.
higher education’s efforts
to persuade lawmakers to find new revenue may have blindsided
Gov. Brad Henry, who proposed a $65 million increase
in his budget but was trumped shortly after by the Council
of Presidents’ $500 million proposal, which they
say amounts to only a third of what they need.
financial stakes are magnified for smaller universities,
such as Panhandle State, whose educational mission
already is unique in that more than half of its students
are from out of state and its largest potential for
growth lies with the West’s burgeoning
vast educational needs, the test for Panhandle State
will be whether Oklahoma is willing to make a commitment
to importing students and educating the children of
would argue that it is an investment with a high return,
given that out-of-state students and Hispanics help
the economy, improve the quality of the workforce and
add to Oklahoma’s
$7 million share of the bond proposal would be used
to build a new science and agriculture center in an
attempt to increase enrollment in one of its most essential
areas of study.
is one new building on campus — the
Noble Cultural and Activity Center — and new student
housing is under construction. But efforts to continue
to boost enrollment, which now numbers about 1,200, remain
focused on giving students a reason to stay.
problem, obviously, is that all roads don’t lead to Panhandle State, and the one
that leads out of Goodwell is so straight and wide it
begs for acceleration. But the new sheriff — make
that the new president — has taken an aggressive
approach to recruit and retain students at the only four-year
school within 100 miles in any direction.
week ago Friday, Bryant discharged three of his top
administrators. Monday, he hired a new women’s
basketball coach. Tuesday, he gave the hard sell to
more than 60 area high school Hispanic students who
were on a recruiting trip. Tomorrow, you might find
him painting the curb in the parking lot.
"The university has to be a presence,
and we’re paddling real fast to catch up and be
an integral part of the changing times," he said.
The football coaches and their wives
painted the football stadium. Members of the championship
rodeo team clean up trash around campus without being
told, and art students have painted their own building
and bought the furniture for the student lounge.
"This has been an exhilarating
experience," Bryant said. "There’s something
about the people here."
professor Bryon Test said the only problem is that "we’re so detached from the
rest of the state, they don’t even know we’re
That could change, because
at the rate Antonio Martinez’ portraits
are selling, it’s likely that some day when you
think pastel, you will immediately think Panhandle.