Nestor Lopez
Nestor Lopez

EDINBURG, RGV – People around the RGV have made their objection to the new mascot very clear.

However, this controversy has stolen the media’s spotlight and left other significant problems in the shadows. The Rio Grande Valley faces systematic problems embedded in the new university.

Some problems are affecting students today; others will take effect slowly. While the school mascot can be important to students, the community should focus attention on the threats posed by how the Regents’ and UT System have decided to handle the creation of the “new” university.

Since the announcement of the “merger” between the two UT schools, job security has become an immediate question. It can be expected jobs will be created and eliminated as the two schools become one. The questions rise: Who will keep their jobs? Will tenure in UTPA and UTB equate tenure in UTRGV? University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa was asked this very question by the president of UTB’s Faculty Senate, Bobbette Morgan.

Cigarroa’s response was simple: “No.”

The importance of tenure goes beyond job security. A factor vital to all institutions of higher education is academic freedom. Knowledge inherently is controversial, whether through research and discovery of new knowledge, discussion of evolving knowledge, or addressing current controversies within society. Without tenure and academic freedom, education is jeopardized. Professors become restricted to teaching orthodoxy. This means they, effectively, cannot teach, only mold students into something compatible with the existing paradigm; students cannot learn, only be conditioned. If tenured professors are in danger of losing their academic voice or losing their jobs, what can be expected regarding all other jobs?

UTPA and UTB employment are overarching. Aside from professors, staff and faculty, hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students also face the dangers of unemployment. Student employees of these institutions depend on employment for reasons extending beyond education. Many students’ socio-economic status requires they work. In certain cases, families depend on the student’s income to make ends meet. If jobs are lost and the income ceases, students will be forced to put their education on hold and search for work elsewhere. The stress caused by the lack of job security is unnecessary and diverts attention away from school. In an ideal situation, students would focus all of their time and effort towards their education. Unfortunately, the Regents’ maladministration will impede this from becoming reality.

This job security issue permeates through the entire university. The lowest group of the hierarchy receiving consequences involuntarily is the same group enduring their own economic pressure: The students.

Lecturers, who only have a Masters degree, and adjunct professors, who are employed part time, are limited in what courses they can teach. With some exceptions, they only can teach courses at the Freshman/Sophomore level. Additionally, they do not have the academic freedom and job security ensured by tenure. These factors result in a professor “leading” a class in a problematic fashion. They have to be much more cautious than tenured professors not to jeopardize their insecure job by addressing ideas potentially problematic to those of higher authority.

This is very problematic to academia.

The approaches professors are taking vary. Some are shifting their efforts towards research. Others are looking for positions at other institutions. The best will find faculty positions elsewhere. Will we be able to replace them with equally gifted professors? Or, is “hallowing out” the University the Regents’ intention?

Students increasingly are being “instructed” to seek outside help and have been required to “take advantage” of resources around campus. Many students in Freshmen/Sophomore level classes are being required to attend the University Writing Center or Learning Assistance Center. In addition to this, syllabi are being restructured to include more peer grading and self-evaluations. It is not a coincidence many of these changes are occurring in Freshmen/Sophomore level courses. A large majority of instructors of these courses are Lecturers, Adjunct Faculty or new professors without tenure and limited teaching experience. Unfortunately, the Writing Center is understaffed and underfunded, and the majority of those working there are under qualified and untrained. What does limiting teaching and delegating responsibilities to the Writing Center accomplish for the education of students? Education is diminished.

As class sizes are enlarged and professors are forced to teach more students, the quality of instruction is diminished, and students do not learn as much as they would if taught by higher quality, seasoned professors in classrooms small enough to allow meaningful interaction. Professors are preparing for the inevitable dangers lurking within the new institution. Is this the Regents’ intent? Is this an adequate philosophy to have driving a growing institution of higher education?

It is easy to place the blame on professors. However, it is important to note they are reacting to a situation they have been forced into and generally do not support. Rather, the ones at fault are the State Government for grossly underfunding higher education, and the members of the Board of Regents’ for creating this problem.

While this is a major problem, an even bigger threat to students’ ability to attain a genuine university education is significantly higher tuition. From the beginning, very little information has been given to the public regarding tuition and fees increases. However, on November 20, a task force, appointed by President Bailey, held an open forum at UTPA. The sole duty of this task force is to recommend tuition fees to the newly elected president. To do this effectively, the task force analyzed information regarding demographics and institutional statistics of sister universities. The message given to the public was simple.

Tuition will rise significantly.

The task force declared the increase in tuition depends on students’ classification and amount of hours enrolled; they argued students are taking too long to graduate. However, what the task force fails to see is students do not take long to graduate because of laziness or lack of motivation. The vast majority of students take longer to graduate for the sole reason they must work to attend college. Forcing students to enroll in more classes will stretch them too thin to devote adequate time to their studies. They will not learn as much as they should/would; and their grades will suffer, endangering any hopes they may have had of graduate school.

UTRGV will be in the heart of one of the poorest regions of the nation. UTPA and UTB were created with the goal to cater to the needs of this community for them to be represented in the workforce. By increasing tuition, UTRGV literally will price students “out of the market”, making them unable to afford to attend college. The increase in tuition systematically will push thousands of potential students away from furthering their education because of economic reasons, which was the very thing UTPA and UTB have stood against. Is this the Regents’ objective? Apparently so. This negation of higher education towards thousands of students will condemn most to a life of low wages with little hope of raising their standard of living or reducing poverty levels in the Valley. Is this the Regents’ objective? Apparently so.

This is the philosophy driving the Board of Regents. This is the philosophy being forced on UTRGV. This will be detrimental to the education and standard of living of citizens of the Valley. These are real problems that need to be attacked, fought, and protested by the community. The Vaquero won’t hurt our community. The Vaquero won’t prevent countless students from being able to achieve higher education. The Vaquero won’t pressure students and faculty and deviate attention from education. The Vaquero is not the real problem with UTRGV.

Nestor Lopez is a student at UT-Pan America.