|RIO GRANDE VALLEY, December 13 - South Texas leaders have expressed their support for the new given to the region’s new university – UT-Rio Grande Valley.
The UT System Regents announced the name at a board meeting in Austin on Thursday. UT Regent Ernie Aliseda, a native of McAllen, offered the motion. “I’m proud to be part of this historic action and I’m proud to say that I’m from the Valley,” Aliseda said. The name UT-Rio Grande Valley was approved unanimously.
“Our new name signals that moving forward, our strength is derived from a cohesive regional approach,” said UT-Brownsville President Julieta Garcia, who was at the UT System meeting. “As UT-Rio Grande Valley, we are now positioning to compete with great advantage. It is a great day for all of us in the Valley. I’m thrilled!”
The new university is being formed through the merger of UTB and UT-Pan American. Because it is a new university the institution will be able to apply for construction dollars from the Permanent University Fund, a funding source UTB and UTPA were denied access to. The new institution will have a four-year medical school, something Valley legislators have long fought for.
UT System Regents conducted an extensive public outreach campaign, including social media, to get feedback on the name. At Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said this included walking the streets of Valley colonias to hear from families that might not have been able to email or send suggested names via social media. Randa S. Safady, UT System’s vice chancellor for external relations, said UT-Rio Grande Valley was the most popular name with Valley residents. In fact, 57 percent of those who offered a suggestion picked UT-RGV.
“The response has been outstanding,” said Paul Foster, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents. “We have heard from thousands across South Texas and from loyal alumni from around the country. We are truly grateful to have received such meaningful feedback for this important decision. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is a name filled with pride and tradition, both of which the Valley has in abundance.”
State Rep. René O. Oliveira, D-Brownsville, was House sponsor of the bill to create the new university. He said UT regents deserve a “great deal of credit” for creating ways for people to provide their input. He also commended the thousands of Valley residents who made their opinions known on the name.
“The new name signals a new day for higher education in the Valley - a new day with more promise and greater resources than ever before. The task now is the build the university and medical school the Valley deserves,” Oliveira said.
Oliveira said that while he was drafting the initial legislation, he knew the naming of the university would be a thorny issue, and pressed that legislators leave the decision to the UT System board.
“If you look at the back and forth that has been going on in our newspapers and social media, you begin to understand how important the new university is to the people of the Valley. If we had tried to include the name in the legislation, I think we would have jeopardized the true purpose of the bill, which was the bring Permanent University Fund money to the Valley,” Oliveira said. “The bill needed two-thirds of the House and Senate, and any division among Valley legislators would have made getting the votes much more difficult. My legislative colleagues from the Valley deserve a lot of credit for agreeing to let the Board make the decision.”
Oliveira said that while some people may have preferred another name for the university it was time to move on and support UT-RGV. “We have a great university and medical school to build, and we’ll need everyone’s help. More important than the name will be the programs we create, the services we provide, and the opportunities we create for our students,” Oliveira said. “We are advancing on an ambitious time table. As long as we keep focused on improving educational opportunity, everything else will fall into place.”
State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said Thursday was an historic and unifying day for the Valley. “I think UT-Rio Grande Valley is a good name that is obviously descriptive of the area. It is also a big step in moving forward with the university. What name we should have obviously had a lot of people edgy and I think it was a safe choice for the UT System. With a solid name it gets us further down the road towards the progress that needs to be made,” Canales told the Guardian and KMBH 88 FM.
Canales pointed out that the Valley is already benefitting from the ability to access PUF. “We are going to have close to two hundred million dollars of new construction. It is actually happening as we speak. Not only will this be a major boost to the university but a major boost to the economy. It is a job creator. The construction is going to reverberate for decades,” Canales predicted.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, co-authored the legislation in the Senate to create the new university and medical school.
“Today the UT Board of Regents gave life and breath to Project South Texas, a transformational plan that creates a new university and medical school in our community. It is no longer just a project - we are now UT Rio Grande Valley,” Hinojosa said.
“As we align as a community and embrace one regional Valley mindset, UT-Rio Grande Valley best exemplifies our unity and the long awaited transformation of the Valley through education. It encompasses all of the Valley and represents the many communities and cultures joining together with common focus and direction.”
Hinojosa said the new university provides “an historic opportunity that will provide endless educational and healthcare benefits” for Valley families. “It has turned a longtime dream into a reality. I am pleased that the new name reflects our communities and people of the Valley who have worked so hard to finally get the opportunity to prove that an investment in education and in the people of South Texas is an investment in the future for all Texans.”
State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, was another co-author of the legislation setting up the new university and medical school. He offered these thoughts on the name of the new university and what the future holds.
"Today is an important day for the people of the Rio Grande Valley and for the entire state of Texas. The new university, the creation of which was our delegation's highest priority during the 2013 legislative Session, finally has a name. Our entire region stands united behind the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley,” Lucio said.
"I would like thank the University of Texas System for its ongoing contributions to the people of the Rio Grande Valley. Specifically, thank you to the System for recognizing the emotional investment our residents place in a name, for appropriately involving the entire region in the deliberative process, and finally for selecting a name which is widely inclusive of all people who will live, work, and study under the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley banner.
"Forever more the profile of the Valley is elevated. And so we must now challenge ourselves every day. Today, we tell the rest of the state and country that our region is undergoing a radical transformation. The Rio Grande Valley will soon stand for global excellence in teaching, research, healthcare, and industry. The name The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley does more than simply state where we are; it tells the entire world that Texas values the Valley as an integral part of the state’s future.
“Today, The University of Texas System and the people of Rio Grande Valley are embarking on an unprecedented journey. I am proud to join my constituents on that journey, and look forward to representing the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in the Texas Senate.”
Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia said he supported the name UT-Rio Grande Valley because it unites the region. “This is the start of a new era for this area, one that brings a plethora of opportunities. It is most fitting that the instrument that will change the face of the Valley will bear its name,” Garcia said.
Mayor Garcia, Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, Jr., and Edinburg EDC Executive Director Gus Garcia attended the UT System Board of Regents meeting in Austin on Thursday to hear the new name announced. Garza, who is Hidalgo County’s liaison with the UT System on Project South Texas, predicted the new campus would “transform the region through education” while also having a major impact on the economy and the healthcare industry. “A project of this magnitude means thousands of jobs. All facets of the business world in this region stand to gain economically,” Garza said.
Garcia, of EEDC, said new university facilities and careful master planning with input from the City of Edinburg are part of the new institution’s development. He pointed out that in November UT System Regents allocated $70 million for a science building on the Edinburg campus and $54 million for a medical academic building for UT-RGV. According to UT System Facilities Planning and Construction Committee documents, the 88,000 square foot medical academic building will be adjacent to the existing Regional Academic Health Center medical research building near the intersection of Sugar Road and Schunior Street.
The UT System Board of Regents is currently conducting a national search for a president of UT-RGV. The president could be named as early as spring 2014. A mascot and colors for the university will be chosen later, under the direction of the new president with input from students, faculty, staff and the community. The goal is to have the inaugural class of UT-RGV enrolled by August 2015.
For more information on the new university, log on to the Project South Texas web site: http://www.utsystem.edu/news/topics/project-south-texas
Editor's Note: Mariana Marquez reported from Edinburg and Steve Taylor reported from Brownsville.