|EDINBURG, November 13 - Rebirth! A new campus of The University of Texas will appear New Year’s Day, 2014.
You may already have heard of the pending merger of the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA), Edinburg, with the University of Texas-Brownsville (UTB). A new medical school will accompany the transformation. A new name is required.
The University of Texas (UT) System sent to faculty and students an email and video with five suggested names favored by the Board of Regents. They will have the ultimate decision. But first, they are asking for reaction to the various options and for possible new (“fresh, original”) recommendations. The decision must be made by December 6th, 2013.
The video is very sophisticated, with a “Siri” (who doesn’t answer back) who gently and briefly explains each name. Each is accompanied by a possible logo. The logo will be chosen by the new president with the advice of students and community. It must be orange (UT color) and aqua, the merging of the colors of blue and green of the two former universities. The video and explanation can be accessed at email@example.com.
The five suggested names are as follows:
1. University of Texas for the Americas
2. University of Texas Las Américas
3. University of Texas International
4. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
5. University of Texas South
You and I may suggest other ideas and/or comment on any of the five already submitted. I offer here some pros and cons about each name. Some are, for me, benign. Others are an anathema. I hope they will never be considered seriously. Some speculate the Regents have already decided. (Oh, you cynics.) But, let us take them at their word and, democratically, rise to the occasion.
Some advice: We must consider length, accuracy, and advantages or disadvantages of the acronym. Some believe we should consider the fact all the other UT campuses are cities (Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, etc.) or regions (Permian Basin). “Pan American” was the one outlier. We are dealing now with two major cities (and off-campus courses in other south Texas towns).
The run-away favorite here in the south Texas Valley surely must be “The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV).” Some might prefer a shorter version: simply, “The University of Texas Rio Grande (UTRG)”. The Regents’ suggestion is a bit too long and, technically, there is no notable, topographical “valley.” Pros? Promotion of a vital, unique region of the state and nation. Cons? The Rio Grande River is a thousand miles long and transcends our tip of Texas.
“The University of Texas South” has a nice ring (and the argument in the video is a cogent one). It is broader than just “Valley” and indicates the bridge this area provides between two great nations. It is short and sweet; the acronym is easy. “The University of Texas International” is intriguing. There is precedent (e.g., Florida International, Laredo International), though, again, it does not designate one city or specific region.
Some say all major universities are, by their nature, international, or should try to be (international subjects, students, professors, etc.). A few nay-sayers I have talked with inevitably bring up the acronym and the likelihood of jokes about “UTI” or urinary tract infection. Whether that would catch on is debatable, but, they say, why take the chance?
Do you like any of these? Do you have other suggestions? “The University of Texas Gulf of Mexico”? “The University of Texas Edinburg-Brownsville?” “The University of Texas Global?” “UT Renaissance?” We need to be very careful. “Pan American” was subject to derision for being confused with an airline. Let’s not adopt another name which might result in more derision.
That leads me to what many predict is the already agreed upon name. It was one of the first mentioned: “The University of Texas for the Americas.” The Spanish version—UT Las Américas—should not and I am nearly certain would not be selected. Can you imagine the negative press? Expect not only opposition from those vehemently opposed to bi-lingualism, but from many bi-linguals who would see this name as patronizing.
That leaves us with the 500 pound gorilla in the room: “The University of Texas FOR the Americas.” Let me begin by stating my research interests and reaffirming my love of Mexico and Latin America. I love all the Americas, from Canada down to the tip of Patagonia in Argentina.
I teach Mexican and Latin American Politics. I have taught in Mexico (La Universidad de las Américas) and in Spain (La Universidad de Salamanca). Please don’t foist this name on us. “Americas” or Las Américas (English or Spanish is not a city or region in Texas.) This name in any form would be unacceptable.
Why? Oh, so many reasons. There is already a University of the Americas (UDLA), in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. It is a fine, private school with which UTPA has had a convenio (agreement) in the past, to exchange students and professors. I taught there for two years, as did Professor Genaro González and others. UTPA dropped that relationship, unfortunately.
In fact more recently, UTPA cut out Latin American Studies itself and tried to eliminate Mexican American Studies! How’s THAT for commitment to “las Américas?” Let’s not be hypocritical. Let’s remember the past, lest we be doomed to repeat it. Let’s not be the outlier again.
FYI: Almost 40 years ago, there was a Vice-President for Latin American Affairs. Pan American University hosted an exciting Model OAS (Organization of American States). It planned major Latin American Week and International Week conferences, inviting prominent figures from Mexico and Latin America. The university held splendid ceremonies, presenting the vivid colors of the flags of the Americas. But, no more.
A few stalwart professors attempted to keep an informal network of Latin American Studies alive, but that has faded. Only those with no institutional memory would dare to pretend, then or now, we are dedicated to the Americas. We are not even dedicated (yet) to Mexico. The Study Abroad office does very little to promote those ties. Strange, for we have ties with institutions in Spain, France, Italy, Germany and other countries. And travel bans to Mexico have been lifted for some time now. I have returned with my students.
On my own, years ago, I took some of the first field trips to Mexico and Central America with my students (paid out of their own pockets). Many of them saw their first snow and had their first taste of Mexico City, at that time the largest city in the world. On occasion, they experienced their first earthquake.
That experience, of course, was profound, stimulating. It could be that way again, with proper planning and funding. But simply calling the new university “UT for the Americas” would not make it so. Now, it would be hollow, pretentious and embarrassing. Simply being a campus close to Mexico and Latin America does not merit the name “Americas.”
Such a reputation would depend on library facilities, new faculty, and financial commitment to building a strong, formal Latin American Studies program, grants, and student exchanges. There is no suggestion such an effort is forthcoming. UT Austin is the premier center for Latin American studies and will fight to retain that standing.
One post-script: If the above argument is not enough, one name, alone, should be persuasive to clinch the case of what NOT to name the new university: The infamous “School of the Americas,” (previously at Ft. Benning, Georgia). The U.S. Army “taught” methods of subversion, sabotage and torture to Argentinian soldiers, part of the “dirty war” targeting liberals in that country. The Army also trained remnants of Dictator Somoza’s brutal National Guard and agents of other Central American dictators.
There are allegations the Mexican cartel, the Zetas, received training there (George W. Grayson, The Executioner’s Men: Los Zetas, Rogue Soldiers, Criminal Entrepreneurs, and the Shadow State They Created; Transaction Publications, 2012). A list of the names of various “graduates” of the School of the Americas, including notorious General Pinochet, dictator of Chile, is provided by the School of the Americas Watch, 2013.
The taint of that name should not enter into our new university, committed, as it should be, to medicine, technology, social sciences and the arts. We cannot afford any confusion of names. The “School of the Americas” resonates very negatively throughout Mexico and Latin America.
Let us have a new, positive, natural, non-controversial name. Let us be reborn anew, not forced into a name suggesting vague promises or, worse, a name invoking bitter memories of a sordid past.
Dr. Gary Mounce is political science professor at the University of Texas-Pan American. His columns appear regularly in the Rio Grande Guardian.