December 6, 2012, will be remembered as the day Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and the UT System Board of Regents flung open the door of opportunities to the universities in the Rio Grande Valley to join their sister institutions as equal recipients of the Permanent University Fund (PUF) — a dream long-awaited.
Previously, the only path to getting The University of Texas - Pan American and The University of Texas at Brownsville in the PUF was to pass a constitutional amendment, which would require approval of a two-thirds majority of voters in Texas. This alternate solution also requires a vote, in this case, a two-thirds majority of the Texas House and Senate. Benefiting not only South Texas but the entire state; the legislation has a much better chance to pass.
The Board of Regents unanimously approved the Chancellor’s request to work with the Legislature to establish a new university in the Valley that would include UT Brownsville, UT Pan American, and the future South Texas School of Medicine, which will integrate our Valley institutions into a comprehensive new university.
If the legislation passes, here is what we know so far:
- There will be one university in the Rio Grande Valley.
- That university will be eligible for allocations from the PUF from revenue generated from West Texas oil and gas lands managed by The UT System.
- There will be a medical school in the Valley that will be part of the new university once all accreditation requirements are met.
- The new university will have campuses in Brownsville, Edinburg and Harlingen.
- The administrative offices for the new university will be in McAllen.
- Once combined, the headcount of the university will make it the second largest Hispanic - serving institution in the nation.
- The new university will be on track to become an emerging research university, the only emerging research university in Texas with a medical school and on track to receive matching funds from the State and the UT System for dollars raised through philanthropy.
- The new university will capitalize on its location along the border and will enhance bicultural and bi-literate education and research in the Valley.
The new university is about growth and expansion: of academic programs-online, on campus and using blended models; of technology available for creating new ways to teach and for our students to learn; of campuses that will create new models of student engagement and accelerate time to graduation. The new university is about expansion of our vision for how we can contribute to the transformation of the Rio Grande Valley and how we can become the state's greatest asset for driving economic development by preparing a competitive workforce that can compete in a global environment. And, most of all, it is an expansion of our vision that includes us working in sync to model how collaborative and regional thinking strengthens our work, makes better use of scarce resources and delivers greater benefits.
Our preeminent focus must first be on getting the legislation passed this spring. If we are successful, the process would culminate with the governor signing a bill establishing a new unified UT university in the Rio Grande Valley this summer.
For UT Brownsville, it must also include completing the separation with Texas Southmost College and preparing a strategic plan for building the new Brownsville campus as a model for the 21st Century.
We have been faced with uncertainty before, and each time we have risen to the challenge. Now we are faced with uncertainly once again, but this time, with the great benefit of the inspired leadership of Chancellor Cigarroa and of the Board of Regents who unanimously signaled their faith in our ability to build a new place: a place that is proud of its heritage, experienced by its history and inspired by the people it serves.
Submitted Dec. 12, 2012 at 11:30 a.m.