Millionaire Donors Fund New Institute Promoting “Panhandle Values” at West Texas A&M

Last week, it was announced that right-wing millionaire mega donors Alex and Cheryl Fairly would be donating $20 million dollars to create the Hill Institute, an on-campus academy dedicated to promoting a specific set of so-called “American values.” 

A flier advertising the new institute stated, “The mission of The Hill Institute is to encourage reflection upon the importance of ten West Texas, Texas, and American values and, through study and scholarship, promulgate the values among students within the diverse disciplines of the University and the extended community.”

The Hill institute was named after Joseph Abner Hill, a former president of the university. On the institute’s website, Hill’s “belief regarding the importance of Judeo-Christian values” was cited as inspiration for the institute. 

The institute was spearheaded by West Texas A&M President Wendler. Last Spring, university faculty issued a vote of no-confidence in Wendler after he canceled a student drag show on campus.   

Since the creation of this new institute was first approved by the Texas A&M Board of Regents, the board had been searching for a donor to fund the institute, and eventually landed upon Amarillo businessman Alex Fairly and his wife Cheryl, prominent conservative donors. In the past Fairly has donated to a variety of right-wing candidates and causes. 

This past year, the Fairlys donated $145,000 to the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, which props up pro-voucher candidates across the state. Among Defend Texas Liberty’s donors is Tim Dunn, a billionaire oil magnate who has funded pro-voucher Christian nationalist groups across the state.

Defend Texas Liberty has recently come under fire after the PAC’s Executive Director, former State Rep. Johnathan Stickland, was spotted meeting for six and a half hours with self-avowed white supremacist, anti-Semite, and Holocaust-denier Nick Fuentes. 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has refused to denounce Defend Texas Liberty and stated that the meeting with Nick Fuentes was just a “blunder” personally attended the ceremony announcing the $20 million donation to the Hill Institute. At the ceremony, he stated that he intended to get similar institutes at universities across the Texas A&M system.

Patrick’s presence and support of the announcement is noteworthy given his supposed condemnation of the politicization of institutes of higher education. During the regular legislative session, Patrick supported Senate Bill 16 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) which was intended to “ban CRT at Texas Universities.” In his remarks supporting that bill, which did not pass, Patrick lamented that Texas Universities had become “woke” and overly politicized.

It is unclear how the Hill Institute’s stated mission will manifest itself. The term “family values” has frequently been co-opted as a dog whistle by some on the far right to signal an ultra-conservative social, political, religious, and economic agenda.