The University of Texas-Pan American may soon change.
The University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously voted to merge the University of Texas at Brownsville and UTPA, with the addition of a new medical school in Harlingen.
“This is more important than passion or emotion. This is literally about saving lives, about the future of America,” UTPA President Robert Nelsen told the Board of Regents Thursday morning. “We will create bi-cultural, bi-literate researchers. We will transform the Valley with your vote today.”
Right now, the university is being referred to as The University for the America’s in the Rio Grande Valley, but the name has still not been decided, according to Nelsen.
This merger would consolidate the RGV universities into one, according to UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s presentation to the board this morning. The new consolidated universities would have locations in Edinburg, Harlingen and Brownsville, plus an administrative headquarters in McAllen.
However, the decision is not official until two-thirds of the Texas state Legislature approves the proposal in the next session in January.
It is very likely that the Texas Legislature will approve this new university, according to Nelsen.
The current enrollment at UTPA stands at about 19,000 students, but the predicted enrollment of this new University is about 28,000 students. Altogether, it would also have 1,500 faculty and 3,800 staff positions.
The Board of Regents will allocate $100 million total over 10 years for the development of the health science center in Harlingen, specifically the four-year medical school. The medical school will be open to the first class of students tentatively in 2015, although Nelsen said in a phone interview after the announcement with The Pan American that he would like to see it open earlier, possibly in 2013.
Additionally, UTPA will not move the programs it already has, such as the Physician’s Assistant program.
This university will be considered an emerging research institution on par with The University of Texas at Arlington, The University of Texas at Dallas, and The University of Texas San Antonio, according to Cigarroa.
The merger will save about $6 million in total, for both universities and the new health science center, according to Nelsen. Additionally, he expects the merger to result in more university jobs than layoffs.
“There have been no talks about (layoffs) at all,” Nelsen said. “I see it growing under this really, because we are going to have access to more students, have more buildings, more research and we are going to need more faculty.”
Nelsen also added that he did not expect the merger to affect UTPA tuition in any way.
“Instead, this is bringing in funds so we don’t have to increase the tuition,” he said.
UTPA currently only receives Higher Education Resistance Funds from Texas, but if the new university is established in the Valley, then it will qualify for Permanent University Funds. The Permanent University Fund is a public endowment included in the Texas Constitution in 1876 that provides financial support to institutions in the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems. A two-thirds vote by the Texas Legislature is required for a new university to access the PUF.
“We have support of the delegation (of state legislators),” Nelsen said. “And more importantly, there is no fiscal note with this legislation, meaning it doesn’t cost the state anything.”
Permanent University Funds are a larger quantity of money than Higher Education Resistance Funds, so this new University will have more resources.
“We’ve known from the very beginning we had to get the PUF funds for the Valley,” Nelsen said. “Now we will be able to.”
Nelsen said that the administration started planning on how to get PUF six months ago, and two months ago is when they finalized the plans of how they were going to do it.
UTB President Juliet Garcia told reporters in a press conference held after the announcement that PUF funds would put the new University for the Americas on the same academic level as the other UT schools.
“It hurts President Nelsen and I when we see ourselves on the charts with the other universities and Nelsen and I see that but there’s not an asterisk saying ‘They don’t do as well because they don’t get PUF moneys,’” she said. “It’s like we’re barefoot, but give us the same pair of tennies like everyone else and watch us run.”
Cigarroa will visit the Valley Dec. 7 to hold town hall meetings at UTPA and UTB, and press conferences to discuss the new university and the health science center with Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell, Executive Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs Pedro Reyes, Nelsen and Garcia. There will be a townhall meeting in the UTPA Student Union at 1:45 p.m.