According to Wikipedia, the meaning of the surname Hurley is uncertain.
However, folks at Tarleton State University will tell you it means progress, something President James L. Hurley specializes in. For example, while other colleges were struggling during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tarleton was experiencing 7.5% growth.
“We’ve been extremely blessed,” the humble Hurley said. “I would attribute it to heritage, culture and tradition with this institution. We have deep respect for those, from everyone who works here to each of our students.”
Hurley’s addition as the school’s 16th president in August 2019 has brought nothing but excitement and optimism. Tarleton is the fastest growing campus in the Texas A&M system.
Tarleton is also the third-largest university in Texas in terms of the number of counties represented on campus, surpassed only by the University of Texas and the main A&M campus in College Station. Approximately 230 of the state’s 254 counties have someone attending Tarleton.
“That’s some elite company to be in,” Hurley said. “It shows the diversity we have. We’re extremely proud of that.”
Hurley said the biggest changes he’s seen at Tarleton are growth in budget, student population, faculty and staff, and facility growth and enhancement.
Hurley is always looking for ways to make the school better. It’s a work habit he inherited from his parents, mom being a travel agent and dad an electrical lineman. He is the grandson of two coal miners.
“Hard work, that’s all I know. I don’t require a lot of sleep, I don’t drink caffeine, I get my energy from my students’ success,” he said. “I came from a heritage of grinding and working hard, that’s the Appalachian way.”
Hurley was born and raised in Chavies, Kentucky, about 20 minutes from Hazzard, which many folks know from the classic TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
“Not many people know where Chavies is, but most know where Hazzard is if they’re familiar with old TV shows,” he said with a chuckle. “My home was 50 yards from the railroad tracks.”
Hurley said he knew in fifth grade that he wanted to become an educator. It made his grandmother very happy.
“At that age, you don’t think professor, but to me they’re all teachers and investing their intellect in young people,” he said. “I remember my fifth-grade teacher, Irene Strong, would always tell me ‘You’re gonna do more.’”
But it was his grandmother who had the greatest influence. A teacher’s aide herself, she saw a lot of potential in her grandson.
“My grandma was always encouraging me to do more. She was big on you’ve got to have a college degree to make it in what she called the world,” Hurley said.
Hurley follows a philosophy instilled in him by his family of God, country and everyone else besides yourself coming first. He and his wife Kindall are passing that same philosophy on to their children, sons Drew and Carter and daughters Blayklee and Brooklyn. Drew has been accepted to West Point.
A skilled basketball player (point guard), Hurley used that and his intelligence to earn a college scholarship. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pikeville, a master’s degree from Indiana University and a doctorate in education from Morehead State University.
“Growing up in Eastern Kentucky, you didn’t have (an emphasis on) football. Basketball and education were two good skills I possessed,” he said.
LIVING TO EDUCATE
A lifetime educator, Hurley previously served as instructor, professor, dean, vice president and president of Tusculum University, with extensive experience at comprehensive higher education institutions. Under his leadership, Tusculum added its University Health Center; College of Health Sciences; College of Science, Technology and Math; and the Niswonger College of Optometry.
The first big initiative Hurley set in place at Tarleton was the Distinguished High School Partners Program, with the first partner school being Granbury, followed by what is now more than 150 high schools in over 100 districts. The program guarantees admission to Tarleton for the top 25% of graduating seniors. Also, each of those seniors will receive a scholarship to Tarleton, he said.
That led to a Distinguished College Partners Program, which includes an agreement with Weatherford College. This program guarantees that any hours a student receives at a partner school will transfer with them to Tarleton as long as it’s in the academic pathway offered at Tarleton.
“You lose nine or 12 hours in a transfer, that’s a semester,” Hurley said. “We have to make these transitions seamless.”
Arguably the biggest change under Hurley is Tarleton moving from NCAA Division II to Division I as a member of the Western Athletic Conference. Hurley called it a “gamechanger.”
“Not just for the school, but for the entire community we serve. The morale of the alumni is great. The value of their degree has been enhanced so much by the things we’re doing,” he said.
With the move came some challenges, however, Hurley said.
“The regulations and by-laws are drastically different between D-I and D-II. The academic preparation and standards are much higher. We’ve achieved in that area, but it was hard,” he said. “We had to bring everything up to D-I standards”
For example, Hurley said the school had to bring in an additional 6,500 temporary bleachers to increase the capacity of the football stadium to 17,000. Now, renovation is being done to increase seating to 24,000.
Also, the university is presenting to the A&M Board of Regents in May for approval to build a new 7,500-seat basketball and event center. He said the school is hoping to bring in events such as conventions and concerts.
Also, the school had to enhance its academic support staff for athletics, including doubling the number of tutors for student-athletes and hiring the first assistant athletic director for academic success. The school also renovated an on-campus facility, converting it into a student-athlete academic center.
The biggest reward of going D-I, according to Hurley?
“That’s easy, the institutional profile and recognition behind Tarleton. Every time we’re on CNN, ESPN, Fox, it raises our enhancement and awareness,” he said.
Over the next five years, the Texans’ football schedule includes games against TCU, Texas Tech, Baylor and their parent A&M Aggies.
Successes so far include the softball team defeating Syracuse, the baseball team taking Texas A&M to extra innings, and the men’s basketball squad faring well against numerous D-I schools, including wins over Air Force (67-45) and Stephen F. Austin (77-71) with a narrow 64-55 loss to perennial power Gonzaga. Against the Zags, it was a one-point deficit at the half and only a two-point deficit with just over five minutes to play.
The Texans’ schedule also included national champion Kansas.
Now, looking ahead, Hurley is pushing Tarleton 2030, the school’s future-based strategic plan.
“By 2030, we want to be the top comprehensive regional university in the nation,” he said. “We want to make our students, school, state and nation the best ever.”