University of Texas at Brownsville President Juliet V. Garcia sat surrounded by reminders of the school’s past Monday as she talked about the steps that have been taken to unveil a master plan for UTB’s future.
Her office in the biomedical building, she says, lacks a large window with a beautiful view because it was really meant to be a sleep lab. It was built for the school before the dismantling of its 20-year partnership with Texas Southmost College. What was supposed to house one of the associate degree programs that were eliminated became her office, and she moved into it in December 2012.
“This is our home now,” Garcia said.
Behind her is a dry-erase board with notes and reminders of the progress on TSC’s accreditation, with which Garcia said UTB is helping.
The president recently unveiled a master plan for UTB, even as the university began 2013 unsure of whether it would remain at its downtown location or at a new site north of town near Rancho Viejo and state Highway 100, where land is cheaper.
“It was very enticing for that reason,” Garcia said. “You get out of the problem with the community college. You get away from them; you get away from the dangerous border and you’ll be better positioned to bring in people from Harlingen, Los Fresnos, South Padre Island and Brownsville, so you actually increase your market. It was very, very appealing.”
But after many hours of negotiations, UTB has amassed 285 acres downtown that Garcia said she hopes to develop with an infusion of $58 million from the Permanent University Fund. With that money, Garcia said she hopes to build a multipurpose classroom building next to the Main Building.
Work on the master plan began about a year ago prior to the official creation of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Garcia said.
“When we started this adventure we were simply separating from TSC and I was charged with building the 21st century model at UT Brownsville,” Garcia said.
Garcia said UTB’s counterpart in Edinburg, UT-Pan American, should be putting the finishing touches on its master plan soon, at which point the UT System will combine the two master plans for UT-RGV.
“We are both (UTB and UTPA) so under-built that we are not going to have redundancy,” she said.
UT-RGV will be a distributive model of education. Though the school will have one university president, each site likely will have an onsite dean or director, Garcia said.
“When we became UT Brownsville, you know what I felt like? ... I felt like we were holding up the facade of a university,” Garcia said.
UT-RGV officially opens its doors in 18 months, but it’s helpful that the schools aren’t starting from scratch, she said.
The predicament of the separation with TSC was a catalyst for the creation of UT-RGV, she said, adding that the UT System Board of Regents could have decided to close down UTB and consolidate it with UTPA instead.
“To say thank God (the UTB-TSC separation) happened, you just can’t,” Garcia said. “There were too many people that have been affected by it.”