John Huffaker: Former Texas Tech Regent, Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Retiring
August 24, 2018 | Written by Karen Michael, Lubbock Avalanche Journal
It’s not often that a university regent steps out of that role and into a position with the university.
John Huffaker served three years as a regent before resigning midway through his appointed term to take on the role of vice chancellor and general counsel of the Texas Tech University System in 2012, but he is now counting down the days in his last month at the system office until retirement.
According to outgoing Chancellor Robert Duncan, Huffaker announced his impending retirement at the start of the summer.
“Sadly for all of us, this will be his last board meeting. Maybe not sadly for him,” Duncan quipped at the Aug. 10 meeting of the Tech System Board of Regents. “I think we all want to congratulate John Huffaker on a fine job he’s done for us as counsel, member of the board and as a proud alum of Texas Tech University.”
Regent Chairman Rick Francis said Huffaker meant a lot to the board, having served with the regents as a peer.
“He gave us a lot of insight, a lot of knowledge. And as we had the opportunity to have John become part of the system, he continued -- as someone who has been in our shoes -- to give us that sage advice and to really help guide the system over these years. We owe you an incredible debt of gratitude, and we are happy that you’re going on to the next part of your life. I know you’re excited about it. But you will truly be missed here, and we know that you will stay in touch,” Francis said to Huffaker from the front of the board room.
In a statement to A-J Media, Regent Mickey Long said he was struck by Huffaker’s intelligence, work ethic and passion when both men joined the Board of Regents in 2009.
“He is a true gentleman who epitomizes all that we strive for as a system. I am grateful he has dedicated nearly an entire decade to serving the students of the TTU System, and he has done so with excellence,” Long said.
As the university system’s counsel, Huffaker said he has overseen many attorneys in providing legal services to the the system office and to Texas Tech, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, TTUHSC El Paso and Angelo State University. The legal issues those universities have range from Title IX violations to procurements, from liability for someone tripping on campus to liability for one of the systems 600 doctors working in Lubbock and El Paso.
As the vice chancellor, he said he has assisted on many issues, including the opening of Tech’s Costa Rica campus.
“We’re currently looking at and working with the transition of LP&L to ERCOT. We’re the biggest customer of LP&L, so that’s really important,” Huffaker said.
“It’s a very diverse practice. That’s one of the things I love about it. But that also makes it very important that I have very good lawyers working in this office, and I have been very blessed with some wonderful lawyers,” he said.
Huffaker’s office at the Tech System building is filled with photos he took during a vacation to the Grand Canyon -- “one of the best trips I ever took” -- as well as pictures of himself at Tech graduations and mementos from his father’s career as a lawyer in Tahoka.
With a father in law, a law degree for Huffaker may have seemed inevitable, but someone forgot to tell that to young John. After his graduation from Tahoka High School in 1966, he spent studied for an undergraduate degree in range and wildlife management at Texas Tech.
“That’s what I thought I was going to do with my life,” Huffaker said.
But the ecology movement was beginning, and with an interest in that, he said he thought he could specialize in ecological law.
“I decided to apply to some law schools and ended up here. And that was a decision of choice. The law school was new at that point. When I actually graduated, I think I was the fifth graduating class. It was a choice that turned out to be a great choice for me, as opposed to University of Texas or even an Ivy League school,” Huffaker said.
As a third-year law student, Huffaker found himself interviewing for jobs in Amarillo, and with his agricultural background, that is how he started practicing law there.
“Your life takes different pathways, and you never know exactly what doors are going to open. It turned out to be a great life. We raised our kids in Amarillo, and I had good law firms and good law partners, good law practice,” Huffaker said.
He married his high school sweetheart wife, Charlotte, in 1969. They plan to move to Aurora, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, where they have already purchased a home in a senior community.
During his time as an attorney in Amarillo, he served 12 years on the Amarillo Community College Board of Regents, and he was the founding president of the Amarillo Education Foundation, which was formed to support public education.
His background with Amarillo Community College leaves him with “great affection” for what those institutions do, but he said there are reasons why an education from a major four-year university like Tech is valuable.
“Why does a guy who’s 71 years old walk around the airport with a Texas Tech shirt on?” Huffaker asked. “It has to do with the cultural thing that happens in these universities.”
Students at Tech are exposed to all sorts of formative things, he said, like ideas and people and culture.
“It’s a unique and very special experience that the United States has available for its young people. That’s a really important part of what we do,” he said.
If it sounds like Huffaker is oddly idealistic for a retiring attorney, that might be true. He is a former regent who enjoys graduation so much that he asked if he could continue coming to graduations and shaking hands with the new graduates.
“After I ceased to be a regent, I had to buy my own robe. It’s black. I didn’t get to wear those cool red ones,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. You can’t robe up with all of your medals and go to the grocery store.”
More seriously, he said he loves going to commencement, and is sure that people wonder why he is there.
“But that’s where you really see what we (Texas Tech) are about. And it really helps you get your head straight, because the great thing is, there will be people in the audience cheering like crazy for their student. You obviously don’t know every student’s story, but you can sort of assume there’s a bunch of first-generation students that you’re shaking hands with. There’s students of every kind of background, diversity ... That’s really special.”
Some of his most memorable moments as a regent came when the first four-year medical school class started in El Paso and when he was recognized as a distinguished alum by the law school.