In a move with unknown consequences for UTB-TSC, the University of Texas System Board of Regents voted unanimously Wednesday to terminate its current partnership agreement with the Texas Southmost College Board of Trustees.
A four-year process will go into effect to phase out the compact between the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College by August 2015. The decision by the UT board is the latest volley in an 18-month battle over the creation of a new partnership between the two institutions. It came as a blow to TSC trustees who, in a unanimous vote last month, threw out a proposal for an agreement that was the product of 15 months of discussion between UTB-TSC senior representatives and the UT System.
The TSC board had agreed to develop a counterproposal of its own. But at Wednesday’s meeting, UT System leaders said they had not received a new document from the junior college trustees.
In statement released Wednesday afternoon, UT Regents said they came “to the conclusion that the current working situation is untenable, and therefore, the UT System will concentrate on advancing higher education in South Texas and at the University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) without a partnership with TSC.”
“We will not put our standards of excellence in higher education on hold,” the release states. “UT-Brownsville’s leadership team needs the opportunity now to redirect its time and energies to the future aspirations of the university. We cannot live under the status quo of an outdated agreement at the expense of putting UTB’s principles of accountability and transparency at risk.”
It is unclear what the termination of the partnership will mean for each institution or the students. Anthony P. de Bruyn, director of public affairs for the UT System, would not comment on whether the University of Texas System would work with the TSC Board of Trustees if it were to submit another proposal for a new agreement.
De Bruyn declined comment on how the two institutions would independently acquire funding or how they would share campus buildings and faculty.
In a letter addressed to TSC Board Chairman Kiko Rendon, UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa said the University of Texas would remain committed to working with Brownsville and TSC leaders through the transitional phase to “ensure and enhance the higher educational mission” of each institution and to secure the resources necessary so that each could exist independently from the other.
“As we embark on this new journey of higher education, we can look back with a sense of pride and a sense of achievement of what UTB and TSC have accomplished together,” he wrote. “I will remain focused on assuring that the future is even brighter.”
Trustees received the news with mixed feelings. Rendon said he was a little surprised by the termination of the partnership but believed it actually would be positive step, as it would allow Texas Southmost College to preserve its mission and offer competitive tuition rates.
“It is the best thing for our community because now we will have two institutions like everybody else does, a junior college and a four-year university,” he said. “Now we can actually reach out to more of the community.”
The TSC board chairman said trustees would discuss future plans for the junior college at their meeting next week. The board had not provided the UT System with a counterproposal because it has not had time to rework the previous proposal, which it had rejected.
“It takes time to prepare, but it seems they (the trustees) already had made up their mind beforehand,” Rendon said.
But Trustee David Oliveira said he would do everything possible to get UT regents back to the drawing board to forge a new agreement for UTB-TSC, as both parties agree the partnership between the two is outdated. Without a partnership with UT, Texas Southmost College would not be able to support itself financially, he said.
“I am extremely disappointed, but I can’t say I am shocked because I warned the other trustees that this was going to happen,” Oliveira said. “This could have disastrous consequences for our community and could set us back 50 years if the University of Texas Board of Regents follows through with this. I don’t know where we are going to get the funds to continue the programs we have, at the level we have, without raising taxes.”
UTC-TSC President Juliet V. Garcia declined to comment on the termination of the pact.
The agreement that TSC and the University of Texas at Brownsville currently operate under was signed in 1991 and was to last 99 years. Under the pact, UTB is able to lease space from TSC, including the historic Gorgas Hall, Tandy Hall, the Cavalry Barracks and dozens of other buildings.
Talk of a new partnership agreement stemmed from an escalating dispute over $10.8 million in unpaid rent owed to TSC by the University of Texas at Brownsville, which should have been paid by the Legislature.
A draft of a proposed agreement released in September drew fire from some TSC and UTB officials and city residents who say the terms would have allowed the University of Texas at Brownsville to absorb TSC while still requiring the junior college to collect about $16.6 million in taxes annually.
Under the terms of the proposed contract, TSC would have contributed to the partnership net capital assets worth more than $153.4 million, accumulated over the 75 years of its existence, to a trust, while UTB would have given assets worth about $139.6 million, amassed in the last 20 years since the original partnership was formed.
But trustees set aside that proposal amid the contentious debate. Now it seemed the board of regents “was tired” of the discussion, Oliveira said.
According to the UT System statement issued Wednesday, “since inception of the partnership, both UTB and TSC have experienced significant increases in student enrollment, course offerings, degrees offered, real property, and budget, including sponsored research grants.”