“Hundreds of hours” of discussions leading to land deals between the University of Texas System and Texas Southmost College were approved in a matter of minutes without questions or comments from UT System regents during their meeting Wednesday.
The land transactions establish the University of Texas at Brownsville’s footprint in its Fort Brown location southeast of Ringgold Road with TSC remaining northwest of Ringgold Road.
With future land acquisitions UTB’s campus would number about 302 acres and would be divided by U.S. Expressway 77/83.
State Senators Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, were at the meeting.
UTB and UTPA presidents, Juliet V. Garcia and Robert Nelsen, respectively, also were in the audience.
Though the decision to accept the land deals between UTB and TSC was granted quickly with little fanfare, Garcia said the discussions did not feel quick to those involved.
“It was complicated,” she said.
The main goal for administrators was that students “on campus should not feel the brunt of separation,” Garcia said.
The way buildings and land were exchanged gives both schools the room to grow, she added.
With this deal, UTB students will have access to the Recreation, Education, and Kinesiology Center and the Arts Center, where UTB will continue to house its music program. TSC students will have access to the UTB’s University Boulevard Library, which will be useful because TSC has converted the old Arnulfo L. Oliveira Library into its student services center.
Garcia said administrators were aware of what students were feeling during discussions.
“We didn’t want our students to lose,” Garcia said.
Though the partnership between TSC and UTB has been dissolved, there still exists a symbiotic relationship between the two. That’s something that administrators for both institutions were aware of, according to Garcia.
“Everyone pulls their own weight so no one takes advantage of the other,” she said.
In the case of the Arts Center, the space would be better used by UTB music students while TSC does not yet have the capabilities to maintain the facility. The performing arts center is now referred to as the TSC Arts Center and will play host to Gov. Rick Perry for a symbolic signing ceremony of Senate Bill 24, the legislation that created the UT System’s new university in the Rio Grande Valley by merging UTB and the University of Texas-Pan American.
Though on the surface it may be difficult to decipher the complexities of the dwindling partnership between TSC and UTB, Garcia said the most important thing to understand is that TSC now has autonomous authority in all of its dealings whether it’s the programs TSC will teach or TSC’s budget commitments.
The discussions were fraught at times, but Garcia said in the end the talks helped develop a stronger relationship between the two institutions.
“You develop trust and also compassion for what they are going through and for what it’s like to start a community college from scratch,” Garcia said. “We had to get into each other’s shoes a little.”
TSC will gain the Science, Engineering, Technology Building and UTB’s contract to purchase the National Guard Armory on Ringgold Road. The community college will also gain cash settlements worth more than $28 million for the difference in value of the buildings exchanged.
For their part, TSC Board of Trustee members have touted the land deals as a new, different kind of partnership between the two schools, one where community college students will have the benefit of lower tuition.
Also approved during the UT System Board of Regents meeting were leases for space that UTB will use to accommodate offices while the university builds structures on campus in the future.
- For $425,700 over a three-year period, RRV Klein Church Ltd. will lease 17,200 square feet of space at 1601 E. Price Road that will be used for general office, business incubator, workforce training and professional development, economic development activities, as well as UTB’s Language Institute.
- For $370,320 over a four-year period, the city of Brownsville will lease two buildings to the UTB, one at 1301 E. Madison and an adjacent lot located at 1335 E. Madison. Those buildings will be used for office and educational purposes.
- For $2.8 million over an eight-year period, J. & M. Zamora Family L.P. will lease 16,298 square feet of space at 451 E. Alton Gloor Blvd. for office and educational purposes. This lease will be the home to the Community Counseling Clinic where master’s student counselors provide services for free to the community.
Bicultural, Bilingual and Biliterate
Without much fuss from regents, the board unanimously approved guiding principles for the new university in South Texas that combines UTB and UTPA.
Guiding principles adopted state the new school will “produce state, national, and world leaders who are bicultural, bilingual, and biliterate.”
When the meeting proceeded to other agenda items system Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa backpedaled to address changes to education in the Valley.
The school’s location will allow it to utilize Latin America “to expand the outreach of the university,” Cigarroa said.
“When I first saw them I was thinking that it was going to be a lot of mom and apple pie and not enough brick and mortar substance,” Regent Robert L. Stillwell said of the guiding principles.
However, he added, he was delighted to see the guidelines are substantive.
Included among the principles is the full integration of “next generation technology,” access to postsecondary education to a diverse student body, and to pursue research to address problems involving local, state, national and global needs.
Nelsen said he is delighted with the new route his school will take. For now, he said he is preparing for the governor’s visit on Tuesday.
“We’re working with the UT System on an FAQ (frequently asked questions) list that will go up within a week or so, so the people will know about what’s going on,” Nelsen said.
He said it’s time to start putting together a transition team to guide the school’s transformation into a regional university.
He said UTPA’s community has a lot of questions about what the future holds.
“I think they want to know what their role is and it’s very important that they have a strong role in this,” Nelsen said. “The faculty always, as we establish programs, wants a say in that. I think they also want assurances about their jobs and about their future.”
The establishment of the new university was felt for the first time because, Garcia said, the money used for the transactions with TSC came out of the Permanent University Funds, a cash cow that historically UTPA and UTB have been prohibited from using.
“There are lots of happy people today,” Garcia said.