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As South Texas prepares for Tuesday, July 16 bill-signing ceremony for UTPA/UTB merger, Rep. Canales praises new vision for university

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Legislativemedia@aol.com 

A packed house is expected on Tuesday, July 16, in the Student Union Building at the University of  Texas-Pan American for a morning bill-signing ceremony, featuring Gov. Rick Perry, along with state legislators, UT System officials, and county and local leaders. 

The gathering, which is open to the public, will herald the merger of UT-Pan American with UT-Brownsville, and the creation of a full-fledged UT medical school, which will include a major component of the medical school in Hidalgo County, says Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. 

Perry will join Gene Powell of San Antonio, formerly of Weslaco and who is Chairman of the UT System Board Regents, Ernest “Ernie” Aliseda of McAllen, a member of the UT System Board of Regents, and Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., Chancellor of the UT System, for the event. They will unveil plans for the new university in South Texas. 

Perry and UT leaders will make remarks about the significance of a sweeping initiative that will unite UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville to establish a new university and a new medical school in the Rio Grande Valley, according to a UT System announcement. 

The event, which is open to the public, will begin at 9:30 a.m. Since summer classes are ongoing at the Edinburg campus, parking on campus will be scarce, the Edinburg lawmaker noted. 

“This is an historic event, and anyone who wishes to be a witness to history should arrive on campus early, because there is limited parking for the general public,” Canales noted. “Have a cab or a friend drop you off at the campus to be sure you can get into the Student Union Building, which could be overflowing because of the magnitude of this tremendous occasion.” 

• Canales: “The harder we worked, the luckier we got.” 

Canales, who was a joint sponsor of Senate Bill 24, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said the new higher education system being created will have profound effects for deep South Texas. 

“To say that this new UT university and UT medical school will revolutionize, for the better, our lives in the Valley, is an understatement,” said Canales, whose House District 40 includes UT-Pan American. “Over the next few years, thousands of direct and indirect jobs will be created, academic opportunities will dramatically increase, the delivery of health care will improve, and new generations of physicians, surgeons, and other high-skilled professionals, from all fields of study, will come from, and come to, the Valley.” 

Canales said the passage of the new law is the result of the work and contributions of hundreds of individuals from the Valley and statewide. 

“This has been a long time coming, but finally, the Valley has arrived. With the passage of this law, we are about to join the major metropolitan regions in Texas and in America in terms of higher education, economic development, and health care,” Canales said. “Some people may think the Valley got lucky by pulling off this monumental victory. There was no luck involved. The truth is, the harder we worked, the luckier we got.” 

Another major aspect of SB 24 is that the new law gives the UT System the authority to draw much-needed revenue from the Permanent University Fund, which uses money from more than $13 billion in assets to help pay for crucial construction programs throughout the UT System. 

Next steps in creating the new university include launching a presidential search and choosing a name, according to a UT System news release. The Board of Regents has not yet taken action on those two important measures. 

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, were joint authors of Hinojosa’s SB 24. 

In addition to Canales, also serving as joint sponsors for Oliveira on Senate Bill 24 were Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, and Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, were joint sponsors. 

• Institution of the 21st century 

On Wednesday, July 10, Canales, Hinojosa, Lucio, and Guerra attended the UT System Board of Regents quarterly meeting in Austin. The lawmakers were there to demonstrate their ongoing involvement in working with UT System leaders on the implementation phase of the new university and medical school. 

Of particular interest at the regents’ board meeting was the announcement by UT System leaders, who laid out their vision for the new university and medical school. 

Pedro Reyes Ph.D., Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the UT System, expressed his pride in stated goals for the new Valley institutions. 

“The chancellor, the members of the University of Texas System, have worked really hard, along with members of the board, to create a new vision for the university in South Texas. We have provided to you a list of very important principles that would create a totally different entity in South Texas,” said Reyes, a former resident of Pharr. 

“One of the most important issues is that we want to make sure this is an institution of the 21st century. What it means is that we will not just be an ordinary institution; we will be an institution that will help, not only the Valley, but also the state of  Texas and part of the world,” Reyes told regents and legislators. “We want to have a global reach and have a premiere program, not only in education, but in research and in health care education.” 

• Presidents Nelsen, García noted for their contributions 

The UT System chancellor noted the vital roles played by countless supporters of the legislation. 

“First of all, we wouldn’t be here without the tremendous work of our legislative delegation, and the entire Texas Legislature, to get this bill passed. Senate Bill 24 really makes this become a reality and no longer a vision,” Cigarroa emphasized. “The second part I would like to make is to reflect upon a meeting where President Nelsen and President García were with us, trying to assemble what this vision might look like.” 

Robert S. Nelsen, Ph.D., is president of the University of  Texas-Pan American. Juliet García, Ph.D., is president of the University of  Texas-Brownsville. 

“I remember Juliet and Robert making the statements as to how important it was to having relevance to the region. By having relevance to the region, we are going to have a global impact,” Cigarroa continued. “Also, how important it was to instill into the DNA of this new university a sense of being bilingual, biliterate, bicultural, and really utilizing Latin America as an opportunity to really expand the outreach of this university.” 

Cigarroa, a surgeon by profession, added, “I want to thank Robert and Juliet for their vision in helping us communicate to our regents what we feel is important, that allows you, Mr. Chairman, and our other regents, to set these guiding principles for us to follow.” 

In 2009, Cigarroa became the first Hispanic to be named chancellor of The University of Texas System. As chancellor, he oversees one of the largest public systems of higher education in the nation, which consists of nine universities and six health institutions. He is also vice chairman for policy on the Board of Directors of The University of Texas Investment Management Company. 

• Regent Stillwell: “Realistic and concrete vision” 

Regent Robert L. Stillwell of Houston expressed deep satisfaction with the recent history and positive future for the new university system and medical school for the Valley, 

“When I first saw them, I was thinking it was going to be a lot of Mom and Apple pie and not as much brick and mortar and substance. I am pleased to see how concrete and visionary and substantive these principles are,” Stillwell said. “I congratulate the thought that went into it from the legislative delegation, from the system’s implementation team, the chancellor. They represent a realistic and concrete vision.” 

The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Wednesday, July 10, approved goals and guiding principles for the new university and medical school to be established in the Rio Grande Valley. 

The new university will combine the resources of UT Pan American and UT Brownsville and, unlike those institutions, will be eligible for participation in the Permanent University Fund. It will automatically be the second-largest Hispanic-serving institution in the nation and promises to transform education, opportunity and the economy of South Texas. 

Regents have pledged to build a world-class university and pursue global excellence in teaching, research and healthcare. 

“These guiding principles are the foundation on which this new university will be built,” Board Chairman Gene Powell said at the July 10 Board of Regents’ meeting. “If we are truly to transform South Texas and build a state-of-the-art university in the Rio Grande Valley, we have to think globally and that is exactly what we are doing.” 

• Increase affordability and maximize student success 

The guiding principles serve as a sort of constitution, establishing fundamental precedents for the formation of the new university. They are: 

• Fully integrate next generation technology and customized learning to increase affordability and maximize student success; 

• Promote access to postsecondary education to a diverse student body to become one of the largest and most successful Hispanic-serving institutions in the USA.; 

• Employ the highest quality faculty members and staff who pursue global excellence in teaching, research, healthcare and service; 

• Streamline academic and administrative programs and re-design processes to increase productivity and promote a student- and service-centered mode of operation; 

• Promote arts and humanities programs to produce state, national and world leaders who are bicultural, bilingual, and biliterate; 

• Develop programmatic strength in the areas of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and health; 

• Develop a Medical School of the first class, with outstanding undergraduate and graduate medical education, public health, health professional degrees and clinical research, to improve the health of the community; 

• Become a global leader in higher education, health education, bio-medical research, emerging technology and preparing students to be lifelong learners; 

• Pursue applied and translational research to address critical local, state, national, and global needs; 

• Build on the excellent economic activity and strength of the State of Texas and benefit from the State’s leadership in the world; 

• Provide a leadership role in fostering economic and community partnerships to help solve local, state, national, and global problems; 

• Promote innovation and knowledge discovery with business and industry that will lead to job growth and improvements in the quality of the region’s workforce; 

• Build a hub for inventions and intellectual property that will lead to economic and community prosperity and an improved quality of life for the region, the State, the nation and our world; 

• Serve as a “Gateway to the Americas” by cultivating partnerships with global leaders in education, health, research and other strategic, high-growth industries; and 

• Leverage the size, strength, and excellence of the University of Texas System and its 15 institutions to shorten the time it takes to achieve these goals.

 

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