EDINBURG, RGV – As UT-Rio Grande Valley students and faculty were in the President’s Office urging him to declare the university a sanctuary campus, President Bailey was acknowledging UTRGV has accreditation problems.
The two issues are not related but occurred simultaneously, thrusting UTRGV and its president into the statewide spotlight.
Regarding accreditation, Bailey told staff that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges had put UTRGV on probation for a year. He said more information would be forthcoming in a letter from the accreditation body in January.
“Please note that during this time, UTRGV remains fully accredited and the academic and administrative operations of the institution will continue as they have in the past,” Bailey wrote.
“We want to assure you that our primary effort throughout has been to ensure the success of our students; to facilitate the transition of legacy students to UTRGV; and to expand educational opportunities throughout the RGV,” Bailey.
Bailey later telephoned the Rio Grande Guardian to give more information.
“It is true, we have been put on probation by SACS, so we have some issues we have to work through. This probation lasts for a year. It does not affect our accreditation. We remain accredited. We anticipate being able to resolve the accreditation (issue) over the next year,” Bailey told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“The crux of the matter, the heart of the matter has to do with the timeframe in which we did this. It was a very complex operation with a lot of moving parts and a short time frame. And so, because of that, SACS believes that we weren’t compliant on several issues. We felt we were but that is irrelevant. We will work with SACS to get this resolved.”
Bailey said he has some experience on accreditation issues with SACS.
“I have some experience in this. Before I became president of Texas Tech, Texas Tech had been put on probation. We worked through the accreditation issues there together. We were able to get off the probation without any problems. And so, I think we will be able to do the same here,” he said.
Asked if the accreditation was any way related to the dissolving of a partnership between UT-Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, Bailey said: “That is part of the complication of the timeline. That partnership did not cause us to be put on probation. That is not the cause of it. That partnership and the dissolution of it and the timeline issues… there were things that complicated it for us. I want to be sure that people don’t blame our accreditation problems on Texas Southmost. They are not to blame. It is not anybody’s fault. It is just a real complex process and there was a short timeline in which a lot of dominos had to fall in place, one right after the other.”
Bailey said SACS officials had notified him in person. He said he has yet to receive a letter from the board.
“We do not have the official notification from SACS yet. I do not really know the details yet. We expect their letter, maybe January. We expect to hear more from them with very detailed issues,” Bailey said.
Asked if there was a message he would like to get out to the people of the Rio Grande Valley, Bailey said: ‘’My message issue is we are going to work hard and resolve the problems and in the meantime, nobody’s day to day lives should be affected at all, including our students. We look forward to working with everybody on campus to resolving these issues.”
With regard to making UTRGV a sanctuary campus, Bailey issued this statement:
“As I first stated in an email to our DACA students on Nov. 16, UTRGV fully supports our DACA students and will continue to do so as we go forward. At this time, after monitoring the situation at the federal and state levels carefully, we do not feel that declaring UTRGV a sanctuary campus is wise. In fact, we think it might be counterproductive and harm the students we are trying to support. We will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure the safety and success of our DACA students.”
DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. UTRGV has over 950 undocumented students, more than any other university in Texas.
Undocumented students and supporters, including some faculty members held a news conference at the Edinburg campus on Tuesday to press Bailey to declare the UTRGV a sanctuary university. A petition they organized takes issue with President-Elect Donald Trump’s comments about DACA and other undocumented students.
“Given the recent U.S. presidential election, our location on the U.S.-Mexico border, the number of students and their families who fall directly in the crosshairs of the recent president-elect’s proposed agendas, we the students and faculty affiliated with the UTRGV Center for Mexican American Studies cannot remain idle and silent during these unpredictable times,” the petition states.
“We support our peers and students, especially our most disenfranchised, and petition that our University administration stand in solidarity with the calls on at least 130 other universities nationwide and declare UTRGV a sanctuary campus.”
The petition states that students, families and community members are fearful and therefore need University leadership and locally elected officials to provide public support for undocumented students.
“We are asking for assurance that campus police will not question anyone’s religious affiliation or immigration status, nor allow ICE to question anyone’s immigration status. We ask the university to make a public commitment to not release any records regarding the immigration status of students and their family members to ICE.”
Abraham Díaz Alonso, an undocumented student, kicked off the news conference. He came to the U.S. at the age of eight from Monterrey, Mexico. Asked if ICE had been on campus, Diaz told the Rio Grande Guardian: “Not very long ago, less than a month ago, at a local baseball park in La Joya, a mother and children were detained by Border Patrol and later released. Imagine if I go to the Vaquero baseball game and Border Patrol stops by. My family is undocumented. It could happen to them when they go to a basketball game or a baseball game on campus.”
The Vaqueros is the name of UTRGV’s sports teams.
Asked to explain his personal situation, Díaz Alonso told reporters: “Being undocumented in the Rio Grande Valley and in our education system has been tough. We are not comfortable.” Asked if he feared being picked up, told the Rio Grande Guardian: “Yes. It does take a large toll on me. I am fearful. It is reality. It is something that needs to be done. If it has to be me, for our future generations, then let it be me so that the other students who have yet to come here do not go through the same thing.
Stephanie Alvarez, an associate professor who teaches Mexican American Studies at UTRGV also spoke at the news conference. She said UTRGV must remain a “hate free” campus. In 2015, Alvarez was named a U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
The Center for Mexican American Studies at UTRGV issued this statement:
“We, as the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, affirm that we recognize that U.S. society carries historical biases that have persistently disenfranchised, silenced, vilified, and perpetuated violence against individuals and communities based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, ability, class, immigration status, and geographical location. These are our communities, and they have been made more vulnerable by the recent U.S. presidential election.”
Later, President Bailey announced he has co-signed a letter with 510 other university presidents across the nation in support of DACA. The letter reads:
The core mission of higher education is the advancement of knowledge, people, and society. As educational leaders, we are committed to upholding free inquiry and education in our colleges and universities, and to providing the opportunity for all our students to pursue their learning and life goals.
Since the advent of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, we have seen the critical benefits of this program for our students, and the highly positive impacts on our institutions and communities. DACA beneficiaries on our campuses have been exemplary student scholars and student leaders, working across campus and in the community. With DACA, our students and alumni have been able to pursue opportunities in business, education, high tech, and the non-profit sector; they have gone to medical school, law school, and graduate schools in numerous disciplines. They are actively contributing to their local communities and economies.
To our country’s leaders we say that DACA should be upheld, continued, and expanded. We are prepared to meet with you to present our case. This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity. America needs talent – and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community. They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.
We call on our colleagues and other leaders across the business, civic, religious, and non-profit sectors to join with us in this urgent matter.
Editor’s Note: Reporter Luis Montoya assisted with this story from Edinburg, Texas.