Facing uncertainty, University of Texas at Brownsville professors met with Texas Faculty Association representatives on Saturday to discuss options for their future.
The apprehension among faculty members comes from the language found in the law that will consolidate UTB with its counterpart in Edinburg, the University of Texas-Pan American.
“We are concerned there’s not built-in protections in the legislation creating UTRGV,” said Terence Garrett, president of the Texas Brownsville United Faculty, the local chapter.
Senate bill 24, which was approved during the last regular session, states the UT System Board of Regents shall employ faculty and staff of the “abolished universities as is prudent and practical,” at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
During a meeting in February, UT Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa confirmed that a tenured professorship at UTPA and UTB does not equal tenure at UTRGV.
“Legally, that is a true statement, but the intention here is to grow the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley,” Cigarroa said then.
Faculty on campus are concerned and apprehensive, said Garrett, a professor in the government department.
The issue isn’t taken lightly at UTB because of the separation from TSC that ended in mass layoffs at every level, Garrett said.
“They’re concerned about what happened with the TSC split and that the same thing will happen again,” he said.
About 40 professors are part of the TFA affiliate in Brownsville, Garrett said. That includes professors from both UTB and TSC. Currently, a group of TSC professors who refer to themselves as the “framers” are beginning to put together their own Constitution to separate from the UTB organization.
Karen Fuss-Sommer, who was laid off by UTB and later hired by TSC, said it’s important for faculty members to protect their rights as professors.
Fuss-Sommer held administrative and faculty positions with UTB and said she had to return to the basics and start teaching again in order to remind herself that she enjoyed her job after two years of turmoil.
Fuss-Sommer, who was present at the meeting with UTB professors and TFA, advised UTB professors to protect themselves from what could happen in the future.
TFA has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Fuss-Sommer for alleging age discrimination in her termination from the institutional partnership.
Because of the way the reduction-in-force process was set up at then UTB-TSC, Fuss-Sommer, who is a nursing professor, said it was inevitable for cracks to form between long-time friends who have worked side by side.
Those who lost jobs were chosen by a committee of fellow faculty members within their departments, she said.
“They did it because they had to,” Fuss-Sommer said.
It may prove even more difficult for professors from UTB and UTPA to work together because the two campuses are spread so far apart, she said.
TFA Executive Director Mary Aldridge Dean told professors that — when the system announces the new president of UTRGV — faculty members need to organize and push back. The presidential candidates are down to four after Georgia Regents University President Dr. Ricardo Azziz dropped out of the running, the Monitor reported Friday. The UT System has said they will make an announcement before April 24 when there will be a symposium to discuss the future of UTRGV.
“The key for folks at UTB is that they can’t have an us-versus-them mentality,” Fuss-Sommer said.
The local TFA chapter will hold a meeting for faculty interested in joining on at 1 p.m. April 25 at Kaeros Restaurant in Brownsville.