By DAVID A. DIAZ
The Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday, March 19, reached another major milestone when the House of Representatives unanimously approved House Bill 1000, which would merge the University of Texas-Pan American with UT-Brownsville, a proposed system that would include the creation of a UT medical school.
An identical measure, Senate Bill 24, was approved by the Senate on Wednesday, March 13.
Under the legislative process, whichever bill – Senate Bill 24 or House Bill 1000 – that first receives final approval from the full Texas Legislature and by the governor will be the measure that goes into law.
Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, an author of HB 1000, emphasized the importance of both measures to the well-being of the more than 1.3 million residents of the Rio Grande Valley.
“The shackles that restrain the Valley from taking its place as the most dominant force in the Texas economy are the chains of educational disparity,” said Canales. “For generations, South Texas has not fallen behind, it has been left behind. The creation of this new university system and medical school will not only rectify the inequities of decades of not having access to the Permanent University Fund, but release us into a better world of economic and educational successes.”
Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, is the lead author of HB 1000.
“We need this super university, we need this medical school, and we need to give everyone a chance to grow and prosper inSouth Texaslike they do in the rest of the state,” said Oliveira, who was surrounded by the Valley state legislative delegation at the front podium in the House chambers.
In addition to Canales, Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, and Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, are authors of the legislation.
Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, are among the leading coauthors of HB 1000.
The companion (identical) measure, Senate Bill 24 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-Edinburg, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, was approved by the Senate on Wednesday, March 13.
“The possibilities are endless – more jobs, lower poverty levels, higher educational levels, more healthcare services, more doctors, more access to those doctors and more resources to serve the unique and critical needs of the people of the Valley,” said Hinojosa.
The name of the new university, which would be decided in the coming months by the UT System Board of Regents, would apply to all campuses, Oliveira noted.
Edinburg Mayor Richard H. García, who has been leading a delegation of Valley leaders in support of both measures, reflected on the impact of the legislation to his hometown and South Texas.
“With a projected enrollment of almost 28,000 students, the new university would rank as one of the two largest Hispanic-serving institutions in the nation,” said García. “It would be exceptionally well-positioned to capitalize on the area’s bicultural heritage, rapid population growth, and strategic border location, creating widespread economic benefits, addressing the Rio Grande Valley’ s critical need for health care, and strengthening the state’s ability to compete in an increasingly global economy.”
Detailed background on HB 1000
The House Research Organization, which is the research-arm of the Texas House of Representatives, provided this analysis of HB 1000:
The new university would include:
• An academic campus in Cameron County;
• An academic campus in Hidalgo County;
• An academic center in Starr County;
• The facilities currently operated by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC); and
• The medical school and other programs authorized for a University of Texas Health Science Center-South Texas by SB 98 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville (81st Legislature, regular session).
The UT board of regents would equitably allocate the primary facilities and operations of the university among Cameron, Hidalgo, and Starr counties. The new medical school’s medical and research programs would have a substantial presence in Hidalgo and Cameron counties.
The new university could award bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and medical degrees. The university would not be allowed to create a department, school, or degree program without the prior approval of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board except for those previously approved for UT-Pan American or UT-Brownsville or authorized by law.
Abolishing UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville
HB 1000 would abolish the University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Texas at Brownsville. The UT board of regents would determine the actual date to abolish the schools and would establish procedures to wind up each institution’s remaining business.
The new university would hire as many of the faculty and staff of the abolished schools as was practical. A student already admitted to or enrolled in one of the abolished schools would be entitled to admission to the new university.
Creation of a new university
HB 1000 would create a new university in South Texas within the University of Texas System. It would provide for the UT System to abolish two universities: the University of Texas at Brownsville and the Universityof Texas-Pan American.
The new university would include a medical school, a Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development and a Texas Academy for Mathematics and Science. If more than two-thirds of each chamber were to pass the bill, the new university would be eligible for appropriations from the Permanent University Fund (PUF).
The new university would be a general academic teaching institution under the governance of the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System. The UT board of regents would name the new university.
Medical school advisory group
HB 1000 would create a temporary medical school advisory group that would assist the UT board of regents in designing and establishing the new university’s medical school.
The advisory group would help with site selection, design, and development of the medical school and would solicit input from stakeholder groups. The UT board regents would select the advisory group members. The group would be dissolved once it reported findings to the UT board of regents and the regents determined the purposes of the group had been achieved.
Supporters of the legislation said:
HB 1000 would consolidate UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American, and the Regional Academic Health Center into a single institution, make the institution eligible for a superior method of funding, and attach a new medical school.
This reorganization would create efficiencies and bring educational and economic opportunities to the Rio GrandeValley that do not now exist there. A new comprehensive research university is necessary to address the needs of the rapidly growing Valley population, which is already educationally and medically underserved.
The new university would be an economic engine in its own right and, by training students, would lay the groundwork for other businesses and industries to flourish. It would give South Texans needed educational opportunities to fill and create the high-paying jobs of tomorrow.
The medical school would attract additional health care providers to a medically underserved region.
Access to Permanent University Fund (PUF)
With the passage by a two-thirds vote in the Senate and the House of Representatives, HB 1000 would make the new university eligible for support from the Permanent University Fund (PUF) and less reliant on state general revenue.
The PUF is an endowment fund that supports certain universities in the University of Texas and Texas A&M Universitysystems through investments made with state oil and gas royalties. Moving support for the university to the PUF from the general revenue-funded Higher Education Fund (HEF) would free tens of millions dollars for other HEF-supported institutions.
Universities already supported by the PUF have not objected to the new university being added, as the value of the PUF has grown dramatically because of record income from its oil and gas holdings. Although the percentage share of the pie would be reduced, the value of each slice has grown so significantly that already-participating universities still would see increases in the value of their shares. The university’s PUF share would come from the UT system’s share, leaving the Texas A&M system’s share unaffected.
The new university’s increased size and budget would bring it closer to emerging research university status, eventually allowing it to compete for additional UT system and state matching funds. The university initially would have 28,000 students, research expenditures of more than $11 million, and an endowment of $70.5 million.
HB 1000 would lead to savings on overhead and administration that could be spent on expansion, research, or new programs. Initial studies predict that consolidating the existing universities could save $6 million in administrative costs. According to the Legislative Budget Board, HB 1000 would not have a significant fiscal impact on the state budget.
The medical school attached to the new university would not disrupt the medical education system in Texas. The medical school is already authorized by statute and would be developed even without HB 1000. The Higher Education Coordinating Board already has accounted for it and incorporated it into its plans for higher education in Texas. Sufficient residency slots would be available for graduates of the medical school. At least 150 new residency slots are expected to be created in the Rio GrandeValley region as a result of local efforts and existing demand.
While Texas Southmost College District currently has a partnership agreement with UT-Brownsville to transition students to the university, HB 1000 should not stipulate a relationship between the new university and the district beyond current agreements. This would allow the relationship between the new university and the college district to develop as the not-yet-appointed leaders of the university see fit.
HB 1000 would give the new university statutory authority to administer the existing Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development and the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science so they could be continued at the new university.