Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Since we sent out the first UTB Legislative Update last month, the agenda for the Rio Grande Valley has been supercharged.
During the last week of January, I testified before the Senate Finance Committee on our funding priorities for the next biennium, was invited to the State of the State address by Governor Perry to be recognized for the exemplary success of the Math and Science Academy program, participated in United Brownsville day at the Capitol, co-hosted RGV Higher Education Day with President Robert Nelsen of UT Pan American and co-hosted a legislative reception with UTPA and UT Health Science Center San Antonio, at the Bauer House, home to the UT Chancellor. The week culminated in the chambers of both the House and the Senate with honorific resolutions passed supporting the vision of a new UT South Texas University.
The events wove together the enthusiasm and energy of student government leaders and musicians, business and community leaders, alumni, and legislators all brought to this special moment in time. Each person and each group representing thousands of others like them who, while they couldn't be there in person, were there in spirit to rally support during this historic moment for the new UT South Texas Univeristy. Together they walked the halls of the capitol, took turns telling their personal stories of what a university education meant to them and in unison, became powerful advocates for an accessible, affordable and high quality university of the first class to be established in the Rio Grande Valley.
On February 4th, the Valley legislative delegation filed identical House and Senate bills to establish a new UT University in South Texas. On the House side, Representative Rene Oliveira took the lead in organizing the discussions that eventually led to consensus among all RGV representatives and the filing of HB 1000. On the Senate side, Senators Eddie Lucio, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Judith Zaffarini worked together to co-author their companion bill in the Senate, SB 24. With an impressive demonstration of the power that comes from the strength of a strong regional agenda, RGV legislators have given life to an idea that will finally fulfill the dreams and aspirations of thousands of generations to come. And in a demonstration of bipartisan support, Chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education Dan Branch and Chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee Kel Seliger, also signed on as co-authors of the bills. In his comments at the bill filing, Chairman Branch said that it was his vision that the Rio Grande Valley will one day rival Silicon Valley as an intersection of education and innovation.
And much to the surprise and delight of all, on January 29th Governor Rick Perry lent his support and strongly endorsed the establishment of the new UT University in his State-of-the State address calling South Texas critical to the future of Texas and asked the legislators to pass the bill to give South Texans access to the Permanent University Fund.
This month, the rally continued. On Tuesday, February 12, I testified alongside President Robert Nelsen before the House Higher Education Committee. The idea was again well received and clearly supported. And then at the UT Board of Regents meeting on Valentine's Day, the BOR spent more than an hour in executive session studying options for siting the new Brownsville campus of the new UT univeristy.
The momentum created by the December 2012 announcement by the UT BOR of their intention to estabilsh the new UT University in South Texas and make it PUF accessible, has rapidly captured the imagination and support of the leadership of the entire state of Texas in a way that is extraordinary. But much still remains to be accomplished before the vision becomes a reality.
Finally, the bills must each receive a two-thirds vote in their respective chambers in order to be enacted before the end of the legislative session expected to end early summer.
To follow the progress of the bills and of this historic moment in time, the UT System has created a web page dedicated to the South Texas Initiative, and more information can also be found on the UTB website.