Dear UT Brownsville Friends, Colleagues and Family,
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.
How did it happen? Why now? There will be many versions of this story told in the future, but the one that I know as eyewitness to the event is that Chancellor Cigarroa and Chairman Gene Powell had a vision for what the future of South Texas must be and then made it happen.
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. It was always considered high risk with bad odds. But, instead of giving up yet once again, they sought another solution: to create a new institution and have it automatically become a recipient of PUF along with all other UT institutions. 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.
On Thursday, December 6 the Board of Regents unanimously approved the Chancellor’s request:
Mr. Chairman and members of the Board, I ask you to approve this vision and to grant me the authority to work with the Legislature to establish a new university in the Valley that would include U. T. Brownsville, U. T. Pan American, and the future South Texas School of Medicine, which will integrate our Valley institutions into a comprehensive new university. We envision this as a university that spans the entire Rio Grande Valley, with a presence in each of the major metropolitan areas – Brownsville, Edinburg, Harlingen, and McAllen.
To boldly expand medical education in the Valley, I also respectfully ask the Board of Regents to allocate $100 million over the next 10 years to accelerate the transition of the Regional Academic Health Center into a school of medicine. This will be extremely important in recruiting necessary leadership, to recruit additional medical school faculty, to enhance biomedical research, and to work with our hospital partners to establish core residency programs throughout the Valley.
The announcement was made to both campuses on December 7. The good news is that the proposal has received strong support from our local legislative delegations and from many others throughout the state.
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 Permanent University Fund (PUF) from revenue generated from West Texas oil and gas lands managed by The University of Texas 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.
We do not know what the name of the new university will be. In his remarks to the Board of Regents, the Chancellor referred to the creation of a new university poised to prepare graduates for a global environment that would take advantage of its geography and the unique characteristics of the Rio Grande Valley to serve as a gateway to the Americas.
Obviously, the unknown creates uncertainty and apprehension. Change is not easy, even change that will so positively transform the Valley. In the next ten years, we expect to add 7,000 to 10,000 jobs in the Valley that will, on average, pay $63,000 annually. We will continue with our master planning and site selection to build a new campus in Brownsville, and we foresee the construction of new buildings in Edinburg and McAllen. More doctoral programs will come to the Valley, and the prestige of this new university will grow exponentially. There may be questions about our future, but remember that we remain committed to graduating as many students as possible, as quickly as possible, with the best education that we can provide. With the addition of PUF funding, we will have the resources needed to make dreams into reality.
The new university is about growth and expansion: expansion of opportunities; of academic programs-online, on campus and using blended models; expansion of technology available for creating new ways to teach and for our students to learn; expansion 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.