EDINBURG, RGV – Some of UT-Rio Grande Valley’s loftier goals may take a little time to achieve – such as becoming a truly bilingual university.

This is the view of Dr. Victor Alvarado, a professor in educational psychology at UT-Pan American.

Alvarado is a big supporter of UTRGV producing students that are bicultural, bilingual and bi-literate. He wants to see the university offer degrees in English and Spanish in many fields.

“As a long term goal I think it is highly desirable for UTRGV to become a bilingual institution. The idea is terrific. I think it would make this place a very unique one,” Alvarado told the Guardian. “But, by the same token I think it is going to be extremely difficult to do it unless they begin to actively recruit faculty who come, perhaps, from other countries to be in charge those programs.”

Asked to elaborate, Alvarado said: “I really believe there are some serious obstacles to being able to do it. One is the lack of faculty members who are truly bilingual. We do not have enough and many that are bilingual learn Spanish at the colloquial level. They have never studied Spanish formally. So, there is a big difficulty there. The other problem is there are not enough students on campus that can take courses on campus totally in Spanish because they never learned it themselves either, except those who came from foreign countries, Mexico, South America or Spain.”

Alvarado said he has been excited about UTRGV developing into a bicultural, bilingual, university since it was first proposed by Dr. Julio León, special advisor to Project South Texas.

Dr. Julio León, special advisor for Project South Texas, and Dr. Victor Alvarado, a professor in educational psychology at UTPA, are both from Chile.
Dr. Julio León, special advisor for Project South Texas, and Dr. Victor Alvarado, a professor in educational psychology at UTPA, are both from Chile.

When the UT System announced Dr. Guy Bailey as the inaugural president of UTRGV it put out a news release stating that “Per the goals and guiding principles set by the regents, UTRGV’s long-term goal is to become a global leader in higher education, producing graduates who are bicultural, bi-lingual and bi-literate.” The news release pointed out that when it opens, UTRGV is expected to become the second-largest Hispanic-serving institution in the nation.

In an open forum at UTPA last Friday, Dr. Bailey took questions from faculty members. Alvarado asked Bailey if the goal of becoming a bicultural, bilingual university “is a real possibility or just PR?” Alvarado said being allowed to become a truly bilingual university may be difficult given that Texas’ official language is English.

Bailey responded that he does not think this is the case – that there is no official language of Texas. He said there certainly is no official language of the United States. In fact, Bailey said, the closest the U.S. came to adopting an official language was just after the Revolutionary War when German was proposed. It did not happen.

“There is no official language in the U.S. and there is no official language in Texas,” Bailey said. “I think we can get broad support, both legislatively and from the UT System for doing that (making UTRGV bicultural and bilingual). The face of the United States in the coming century is going to look a lot more like the Valley than anywhere else. So, I think it is not only a real possibility I think it is something we absolutely need to push forward on. I think there will be broad support for that.”

After the forum, Alvarado spoke with Barry McBee, vice chancellor and chief governmental relations officer for the UT System, to see if there any impediments to UTRGV professors teaching courses in Spanish. McBee told Alvarado and the Guardian that the relevant part of the Texas Education Code is section 51:917. Part of this section states that: “this section does not prohibit a faculty member from providing individual assistance during course instruction to a non-English-speaking student in the native language of the student.”

McBee said the UT System does not read Section 51:917 of the Texas Education Code as prohibiting the teaching of classes in English and Spanish. “We are going to look at this a little more closely. We may have to end up tweaking it (in the Legislature),” McBee said.

Alvarado hails from Chile. He came to the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar in 1967. He has been teaching at UTPA since 1972. “I have been here for 40-plus years and I plan to die here. I have been overseas, sent by the Department of State as a consultant to teach how to teach and how to do education reform in the universities in Latin America.” He said he has worked for the U.S. in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, his native Chile, Belgium, and other countries.

“I repeat, I definitely support making UTRGV a bilingual university. I wish we could have done it here at Pan American many years ago,” Alvarado said. “As I was telling Mr. McBee, I tried to teach a course at the request of one of the vice presidents in 1972 in Spanish. After five minutes I had to stop because the students had no idea what I was talking about. They did not have the technical vocabulary, they did not know how to write or take notes, except for the few who were from other Latin American countries. They were very happy to see somebody speaking in their own language, correctly and they could follow it.”

Alvarado said one idea might be to introduce some courses in Spanish as an experiment. “We could start very gradually,” he added.

Coincidentally, UT-Brownsville announced Tuesday that its School of Business will offer an online Master of Business Administration completely in Spanish starting with the fall 2014 semester.

UTB said that in previous years, the School of Business has offered a Diplomado, an Executive Certificate for students successfully completing six M.B.A. courses in Spanish. UTB said the new program, Maestría en Administración de Empresas, will target students who wish to gain Spanish fluency in the language of business in order to compete in Latin America.

“This innovative program provides UTB’s excellent M.B.A. coursework while engaging students in the lexicon appropriate to business in Latin America,” said Dr. Mark Kroll, Dean of the School of Business. “Faculty members of the School of Business, specifically Dr. Pablo Rhi-Perez [Associate Professor of Marketing] and Dr. Edith Galy [Associate Professor and M.B.A. Director of the School of Business] have worked tirelessly to prepare for the launch of this exciting new graduate degree.”

A Bicultural Working Studies Group comprised of faculty with UTB and UTPA was set up to prepare for UTRGV. Its co-chairs were Dania López García and Alfredo Mercuri. Their report says:

“By tapping into the language and cultural strengths of the people in the area and the regional strategic advantages, UTRGV will reshape the region; strengthen the state’s economy; and provide a bridge to the Americas. By producing graduates with bicultural and bilingual competencies and by partnering with global leaders in research, education, health and other high-growth industries, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will serve as a leaders fostering intellectual and economic development on local, national, and international levels.”