Let’s hear it for the ‘Guy’

Newly appointed UT-RGV president speaks out about position

| June 19, 2014

With a doctorate degree in English linguistics, the University of Texas System’s newest employee Guy Bailey said his education background will help him communicate effectively with students at the soon-to-be University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

Bailey was officially assigned the role of inaugural president of UT-RGV May 20 and became an official University of Texas System employee Monday.

In a visit to UTPA May 16 Bailey talked about UT-RGV being the first university to be created in the 21st century and how happy he was to be selected as the person to head the new institution.

“This is the most exciting opportunity I have ever had and the most important thing I’ll ever do,” the expert in sociolinguistics said. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for all of us.”

Bailey received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English at the University of Alabama and his doctorate in English linguistics at the University of Tennessee. He said that his extensive experience and research in the field of sociolinguistics, the study of sociological aspects of language, will guide him as president of the new university.

“There are two aspects of my research that are really important in what I’ve done administratively. First, if you’re a social linguist it means you interview people, and to be a good interviewer you have to be a good listener, so that’s the first thing I learned through my research, was to listen more than I talk,” Bailey said. “The other thing is that I learned quite a bit about quantitative analysis and how to analyze data.”

While discussing his time at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas Tech and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Bailey pinpointed one thing that made the institutions he worked at good ones.

“The first and most important thing I’ve learned is that there is no success at an institution apart from the success of its students. What makes any university good or great is what happens to students,” he said. “You think of Harvard as a great university because of its students and former students (who) have done great things.” 

Bailey said his time as a student at UA was very important for him because he was the first in his family to attend college. Because of this, he holds a special place in his heart for first-generation students. 

“I was a first-generation college student myself,” Bailey said. “I have a particular interest in the success of first generation students, it’s kind of a personal thing.” 

Campus involvement will add to the success of students, according to Bailey, who added that a student who works on campus is better equipped to enter the workforce after graduating. He feels that the opportunity to do work-study is beneficial to all students and plans to expand this area at UT-RGV.

“If you look nationally at the success rates of students, the single group of students that is most successful is those who are working on campus and I think we want to build a significant part of our financial aid around opportunities to work on campus,” the former Alabama president said. “The more we get you on campus the better chance you have of making good grades and graduating and going on with something great in your lives.”

Aside from putting emphasis on student success and financial aid, Bailey hopes that the new university will have positive effects on health care issues in the Valley.

 According to the Hidalgo County website, the Rio Grande Valley has a diabetes prevalence rate of 26 percent, more than three times the national average. This statistic, combined with the fact that the RGV has a 35 percent poverty rate according to USA Today, gives Bailey some ideas about the new university’s goals and priorities.

 “Part of our role and function is to help improve health care and to help the Valley. (UT-RGV) is set up to address some of those problems and health care is one of them,” the former UTSA provost said. “The other thing we’ll do, we’ll work very carefully and closely with school districts who want to be partners to build the education pipeline. If you think about it, good help and good education are the keys to easing poverty.”

Alongside trying to decrease the high poverty rate, research on diabetes is another goal Bailey said the new university will aim at. 

“The medical school will also practically look at ways to enhance health care. One of our first areas of strength will be diabetes research,” Bailey said. “We’re built to address these problems and we see that as our mission.”

While admitting that these problems are difficult to ignore, Bailey said that the Valley is his favorite part of the state. He said that this area, in his opinion, is an “underutilized area to study” and that the people of this area are eager for higher education.

Bailey also said that he and his late wife had made plans to retire in the Valley prior to her death in 2013. When the opportunity to apply for the RGV position arose, Bailey said that it piqued his interests and felt right.

 “To be able to start a university up from the beginning and to shape it around the problems that are most important in an area, and to be the first university in Texas along with the one in Austin to combine the medical school and the general academic,” Bailey said. “I thought, ‘this is a chance for me to apply everything I have learned in my administrative career in an area of the state that I like.’”

 Bailey’s previous position was as the president of Alabama. His time there began in the summer of 2012 but he resigned by September of that same year because his wife’s health condition had worsened just after he began the presidency. This was the reason behind his less than three month stay at the university.

 “After I got to Alabama, very quickly, within three weeks or so, (my wife) took a significant turn for the worse and it was clear to me at that point that she would not survive much longer, so I stepped aside to spend the rest of her life with her and really doing the health care for her.”

 Bailey’s wife died one year later—Sept. 13, 2013. He described it as “probably the single most difficult day of my life.” No more than three months later, he received a phone call from a University of Texas System search firm saying he had been nominated for the presidency of UT-RGV.

 “My daughter, who is doing her postdoc at Duke, said ‘dad, you’re too young to retire.’ She might have been saying, ‘dad, you’re in my hair too much.’ I don’t know,” Bailey recalled. “I thought, this sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime.”

 Bailey, along with University President Robert Nelsen, Georgia Regents University President Ricardo Azziz and former Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera, became finalists in the spring for the position of UT-RGV president. Bailey was named the sole finalist for the spot April 28. Three weeks later he was officially dubbed the inaugural president. Monday marked Bailey’s first day as an official UT System employee.

 While Bailey admits that some students and staff may be upset to see former president Nelsen leave UTPA, he feels that he will be able to build strong relational ties with faculty and students alike.

 “Over time, they will get to know me,” the inaugural UT-RGV president said. “I’ve had very good relationships with faculty and students and I don’t expect it to be any different here (in the Valley).”

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