Bobby Patton Jr. enjoyed matching wits with some of the university’s top professors when he was a Plan II Honors student back in the early 1980s, but after two years in the program he switched his major to business administration, perhaps thinking he needed a more career-oriented education.
What he didn’t realize at the time was that Plan II was preparing him for a successful career as an investor in oil and gas, ranching, insurance, and even major league sports when he became part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.
“When I first came to UT, I thought being accepted into Plan II was the accomplishment. Liberal arts was not necessarily my focus,” says Patton. “But after I left UT I realized just how important liberal arts were to my life. They taught me how to learn and how to keep on learning.”
That is why Patton and his wife, Sherri, are giving $20 million to the College of Liberal Arts to support faculty and graduate student endowments, as well as excellence funds to support priority programs and experiential learning opportunities for undergraduates in research, leadership, study abroad and internship programs.
“Since I’ve been able, I’ve always wanted to do something meaningful for The University of Texas. I like to call this an investment rather than a gift,” says Patton, whose mother, Nola Mae, was also in Plan II Honors. He said three or four of his professors also taught his mother, including the late Thomas Whitbread, who was an English professor.
“I was a college baby — Mom was in college, Dad was in law school, so I guess I kind of attended Plan II twice,” he says. “UT was the only school I applied to, and I only applied to Plan II at her urging. Plan II was very inspirational in making this gift, so it is as much in her memory as it is in mine.”
Patton says there is too much focus today on learning a vocation, and he wishes all college classes would be more like Plan II. He says he still has vivid memories of his Plan II classes and professors and the lessons he learned from them.
If a student today asked his advice on a major, Patton says he would recommend history.
“History gives us the benefit of hindsight; we learn lessons from the past that can be applied today. We can learn from our mistakes,” he says. “It is something you can apply throughout your life.”
He says studying English is also important, not only in developing reading and writing skills, but also in learning how to weigh opposing ideas and consider consequences rather than simply jumping to conclusions.
“You can’t just state something and say that it’s true. That’s why you read history and literature — you read to support your arguments. Otherwise it’s just conjecture.”
He added that the study of liberal arts is important because it “teaches us to be more than followers, to be more than a bunch of lemmings. It teaches us how to think.”
Patton says he applies what he has learned in the liberal arts to how he conducts business.
“I focus on buying good companies, but I’m not so much interested in what they do as how they do it,” he says. “Sometimes older companies just keep adding layers instead of solving the underlying problems. You need responsibility and accountability — you need to have a standard — and that’s something I demand because of my liberal arts education. You could say I run a liberal arts business.”
Feature photo caption: Sherri and Bobby Patton Jr. at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, prior to a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers on June 15, 2015. Photo credit: Jon Soohoo