|McALLEN, April 2 - A likely new university in the Rio Grande Valley may prove to be a turning point for regional cooperation, according to UT-Pan American vice president and former state representative Veronica Gonzales.
Speaking about the new university project at a meeting of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s governmental affairs committee, Gonzales said she has been very impressed with the unity being shown by the various communities that make up the Valley and their leaders.
Gonzales said it was a “perfect storm” of various elements coming together, and especially various communities in the Valley working in tandem, that has pushed the establishment of the new university to this point.
Gonzales gave an update on where the legislation for a proposed new university is in the Texas legislature, and where things go from here. The legislation has currently passed the Texas House and Senate with near unanimous support.
“Just like Dallas-Fort Worth is known as the Metroplex, we can become a Borderplex,” Gonzales said. “I’m very proud of the fact that all of our cities have been super supportive. They have all been talking to each other and that’s how you get things done.”
However, those locales need to stay united once the big decisions shift away from Austin and come back to the Valley, Gonzales said.
“I hope that when decisions are being made, those who want to be involved will be allowed to give their input, and that we can actually have some community forums and get the input of the community because this is impacting our local communities,” Gonzales said. “They (communities) should have a say and an opinion, which should be voiced and considered to determine where we go.”
Specifically, Gonzales was referring to upcoming decisions that will determine the name of the new university, the location of its administrative offices, the location of the medical school component, and the possibility of setting up a taxing district to help fund the medical school. The UT Board of Regents will have the ultimate say about these decisions, but will seek input from all communities in the Valley.
The UT Regents have established a Blue Ribbon Panel to make recommendations on where the best resources are locally to accommodate the medical school. Among those decisions that will be have to determined is the selection of one president for the new university, and an executive vice president for each campus.
“The idea is that we are going to be regional, and not where everything will be located in one part of the Valley,” Gonzales said. “When the UT System came up with this idea they said ‘this has to be something that is regional, and not only something that will reach across Texas, but something that will reach down into the Americas. With all the online learning, we have the ability to attract students internationally to come to this university.”
Last December, the UT Board of Regents unanimously authorized its chancellor, Francisco Cigarroa to work with the legislature to establish a new, PUF-eligible university for the Valley. The result would be a single institution that spans the entire Valley, with a presence in Brownsville, Edinburg, Harlingen and McAllen.
The House version of the bill HB1000 passed the House unanimously 149-0, and passed the Senate 30-1. Under the legislative process, whichever bill first receives final approval from the full Texas Legislature and by the governor will be the measure that goes into law.
For the proposed medical school, accreditation will be sought in 2014 and is expected to be granted in 2015. The Board of Regents has already approved $100 million over ten years to go towards the medical school.
Once established, the new South Texas University will be the second largest Hispanic serving institution in the nation. It will be the first when it comes to Hispanic undergraduate students. Its tentative student population will be about 28,000.
“I think the Rio Grande Valley can become known as a real economic engine for Texas, and a producer for some of your best engineers, teachers or any other field,” Gonzales predicted. “It’s going to all the different communities, a coalition of our mayors, our city commissioners to work together. We have already started to see that.”