For Juliet Garcia, the news came in a text message.
“When I got it I said ‘Oh my gosh it really happened,’” the University of Texas at Brownsville president said Saturday, noting that the announcement about Gov. Rick Perry’s decision on the merger between her university and UT-Pan American in Edinburg wasn’t expected until the beginning of the week.
Shortly after the text message, she received official confirmation from the UT System — Perry had signed Senate Bill 24, legislation that now clears the path for the merger and the eventual creation of a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.
It was news she and others across South Texas had been hoping for.
“It’s done and it’s a marvelous thing,” Garcia said. “This is a good conclusion. There was lots of speculation about whether or not it would finally happen.”
While Perry’s office had not yet released a statement, UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Gene Powell, chairman of the UT Board of Regents, released a joint statement Saturday expressing their appreciation for the governor’s signing of the law.
“We are so thrilled that Governor Perry has signed Senate Bill 24 and now the path is clear for us to embark on this mission to build a world-class university in South Texas,” the release reads. “This is truly landmark and transformational legislation that will benefit all of Texas and the nation.”
Garcia said she felt there were many who should be content with their work in making the merger a reality, highlighting the region’s putting aside of self-interest to ensure the entire Valley could benefit.
“We have a strong voice when we speak as one,” she said.
Garcia expanded on those sentiments in a statement where she again championed the regional approach as officials from across the region and state worked together to pass the legislation.
“It is not by chance that we should arrive at this moment,” she said in an email. “It occurred because people recognized the collective power of the Valley working together in unison toward an important and mutually beneficial goal. It should become the template for future innovative regional planning and advocacy.”
Garcia said now that the legislation has been made law, the UT System can begin planning in earnest.
“We were waiting for this to finally happen,” she said, adding that Cigarroa will be laying out a timeline for the merger soon, perhaps as early as this week.
Cigarroa has previously suggested that it will take 12 to 18 months to finalize a plan for the new university, which is expected to have an enrollment of 28,000 students, research expenditures of $11 million, an endowment of $70.5 million and a total operating budget of $419 million.