Brownsville

OpenCalais Metadata: Latitude: 
25.9014
OpenCalais Metadata: Longitude: 
-97.4972
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Edna Ledesma | Daily Texan Staff

Forty people filled the Goldsmith Hall Main Jury Room on Friday afternoon, all working to turn an abandoned rail corridor into a new city infrastructure.

Architecture students from the Texas Southmost College in Brownsville visited UT on Friday to present their pavilion designs for the West Rail Trail, an abandoned rail corridor in the city of Brownsville that will potentially be converted to a hike-and-bike trail. In addition to the students, many representatives from Brownsville, such as community activists and government officials, attended the presentation to provide feedback.

“(Coming to UT) helps us grow within our architecture perspective,” TSC architecture sophomore Cristian Solis said. “Now, we see how awesome UT is compared to what we have in Brownsville, and we learn a lot.”

The purpose of the visit was for a midterm review for a semester-long project by UT and TSC architecture students to redesign the corridor.

Prior to this project, the city was divided between converting the corridor into a toll road or a hike-and-bike trail. Students from the two institutions were assigned to propose designs for the trail, incorporating the two opposing sides.

TSC architecture sophomore Karina Alcala said the collaboration brings light to an important issue.

“Working with UT students will get more attention to the issue,” Alcala said. “Personally, we want a bike trail, but there are some people who want a road. I hope that (other people’s perspectives) will influence their decisions.”

The UT team consists of students from architecture lecturer Edna Ledesma’s class.

Ledesma said she is impressed with the TSC students’ work and the teamwork between the two institutions.

“Having gone through architecture school, I don’t think I could say that the stuff they were able to produce graphically was something I was able to produce after a year in school,” Ledesma said. “They’re essentially local experts, so they’ve been really helpful for my group.”

Architecture senior Mitch Flora, a student in Ledesma’s class, said working with TSC students provided him with a new perspective regarding architecture.

“Their project right now is looking at pavilions, and something like that can easily transform into a real project that the city can build,” Flora said. “It’s exciting to see a group of students be so rooted in the community and rooted in actually making change through their studio classes.”

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Rep. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) filed a bill Thursday to raise minimum wage in Texas from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour.

The minimum wage for federal contract workers increased to $10.10 per hour after President Barack Obama passed an executive order in January.

Houston Tower, Rep. Lucio’s legislative director, said Lucio aimed to follow a national trend.

“Right now, roughly 75 percent of the public, according to some polls, is in favor of a raise of the minimum wage, and, while that may not say exactly the amount, we’re running off the what the federal government has done, as well as other states,” Tower said.

Plan II and economics sophomore Alexander Chase said he works at Which Wich and earns $7.25 per hour. Any increase in minimum wage would help him cover more of his expenses, Chase said. 

“I feel like raising the minimum wage to $10.10 … is not only reasonable, but has been needed for some time,” Chase said. “The fact of the matter is that wages have to keep up with rising costs of living.” 

Chase said he has worked in the food industry for two years, and the minimum wage has not increased during that time. The money he currently makes does not adequately help him pay his bills, Chase said.

“Given [the] costs of living, … any jump up at all is necessary,” Chase said. “$10.10 is not only reasonable, but probably a good starting point for discussion.” 

The bill is aimed at helping those who continually work hourly jobs, Tower said. 

“Down in the district, there are quite a few folks that are just working minimum wage jobs,” Tower said. “There’s all types of hourly jobs, and just putting a raise to the minimum wage would obviously put more money in their pockets, while at the same time … not losing jobs.” 

A rise in the minimum wage could possibly increase unemployment among low-wage earners if businesses do not find it profitable to hire more workers at a higher wage, according to economics professor Matthias Kehrig.

“My understanding is that this is a state-wide wage, and such a uniform measure is rarely appropriate,” Kehrig said. “$10.10 might be an appropriate minimum wage in places like Austin, but too high for small towns [and] rural areas. So workers in rural areas that have few job prospects already will most likely suffer.” 

Tower said Lucio expects resistance but plans to work with stakeholders on both sides to reach a solution.

“If you look at the national debate on [minimum wage], you can probably see quite a bit of how it’s going to play out,” Tower said. “There will be some resistance, and we understand that, and that’s to be expected. However, something like this is an issue that’s going to help the middle-to-lower class, lower income folks, and that’s really who he’s trying to help out.”

The Texas House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Tuesday to establish a new UT System university in the Rio Grande Valley.

Lawmakers voted 149-0 to combine UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen into one institution and allow that institution to access the Permanent University Fund, a $1.3 billion state endowment that funds the UT and Texas A&M systems. The Regional Academic Health Center, which currently offers residency programs, would gain a medical school that offers medical degrees under the proposal.

Tearing up after the vote, UT-Pan American President Robert Nelsen said the university would provide new educational opportunities to students in the Valley and allow them to attend what may become a tier-one research university.

“When you live in the Valley and you see the need and you see how education changes lives, you can’t help but be emotional,” Nelsen said. “Every child we educate takes one more family out of poverty.”

UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American are the only UT System institutions that do not currently have access to the Permanent University Fund.

Speaking on the House floor before the vote, Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said the new “super university” would improve the Valley’s economy, allow students to stay in the region to attend college and help address the statewide doctor shortage.

“The passage of this bill isn’t just good for South Texas, it’s good for all of our state,” Oliveira said.

Oliveira said there are 33 medical residency positions available in the region but an additional 115 slots are expected to be available by 2016 when the medical school is projected to open its doors.

Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, said she wanted to emphasize that adding new slots in the Valley would not completely solve the statewide doctor shortage.

“My concern is that I don’t want anyone in this House chamber to think that because of this new medical school, we’re in any way going to solve the doctor or physician shortage that we have in this state,” Davis said.

Upon its establishment, the university would have about 28,000 students, research expenditures of more than $11 million and an endowment of $70.5 million, according to a report by the House Research Organization.

The institutions involved in the consolidation could save $6 million in administrative costs, according to the report.

The new university would automatically admit students who currently attend the institutions involved in the consolidation.

The UT System is currently committing $100 million over 10 years for the prospective Valley medical school and will seek $10 million in annual state funds for the consolidation.

The bill now moves to the Senate, which approved a similar bill last week by a vote of 30-1. Each house must approve the measure by a two-thirds vote for it to take effect.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said legislation establishing the new university may be on Gov. Rick Perry’s desk within the next few weeks.

During his State of the State address in January, Perry said he supported allowing UT System schools in the Valley to access the Permanent University Fund.

Lucio said 70 to 75 percent of medical students will seek employment in South Texas if they complete their residencies there.

“Ultimately, that is our goal — for them to stay in the Valley,” Lucio said.

Published on March 20, 2013 as "Texas House votes for new UT school". 

Texas lawmakers will consider consolidating UT System institutions in South Texas after two legislative committees unanimously approved it Wednesday.

The bills, approved separately by the House and Senate Higher Education Committees on Wednesday, would combine UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen into one institution and allow that institution to access the Permanent University Fund, a $1.3 billion state endowment for institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems. The Regional Academic Health Center would become a medical school under the proposal. 

“We’re very pleased with the support legislators have shown toward this transformational plan for South Texas,” UT System spokesperson Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said.

The UT System is currently committing $100 million over 10 years for the prospective medical school and will seek $10 million in annual state funds for the consolidation.

Senate committee approves consolidated UT System school, moves to full Senate

A bill to consolidate UT System institutions in the Rio Grande Valley will go before the Texas Senate after a committee unanimously approved it Wednesday.

The bill, authored by state Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville; Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, would combine UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen into one institution.

"Today is an important first step in ensuring the Valley receives its first Tier One research university," Lucio said in a statement.

The bill would give the consolidated institution access to the Permanent University Fund, a $1.3 billion state endowment that allocates money to institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems. The Regional Academic Health Center would become a medical school under the proposal.

Currently, UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American are the only UT System institutions that do not receive money from the fund.

The Legislature must approve the new university by a two-thirds vote in both houses for the institution to gain access to the fund.

The UT System is currently committing $100 million over 10 years for the prospective medical school and will seek $10 million in annual state funds for the consolidation.

UT Government Professor James Henson and Texas State Representative Dan Branch hold a panel on education in the state of Texas at the downtown Hilton hotel on Monday afternoon. The panel was part of SXSWedu.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Higher education institutions can graduate more students by shifting the landscape of college classes toward innovative technological learning models, according to a panel of higher education officials who spoke Tuesday, the second day of SXSWedu.

UT-Brownsville president Juliet Garcia and Steven Mintz, executive director of the UT System’s Institute for Transformational Learning, were part of a panel on teaching new educational methods to old colleges. They discussed integrating technology into the higher-education model and making changes to the roles of faculty members.

The panel was part of SXSWedu, a four-day event that hosts education panelists and speakers and is part of the annual South By Southwest conference and festival. 

“When I advocate for online education, I’m not advocating for it instead of small seminars,” Mintz said. “I’m talking about courses like the ones I’ve taught with 592 students with no break out sessions, totally impersonal relationships between faculty and students and a 30 percent failure rate.”

The institute, which Mintz heads, was founded in 2012 as part of a System-wide initiative to enhance student learning in an innovative way and increase graduation rates.

Last October, the UT System Board of Regents voted to offer massive open online courses. Starting this fall, UT-Austin will pioneer this venture within the System and offer six free online courses through edX, a nonprofit distributor of interactive online courses.

Garcia said some faculty members are willing to use online platforms, adapt to technology in the classroom and accept their changing roles. This wave of technology also comes at a time when faculty who are resistant to change are retiring, according to Garcia. 

“The most important thing is that no one’s job will look the same in a few years,” Garcia said. “It’s going to be uncomfortable for a while, but that’s okay.”

Mintz and Garcia also spoke about increasing graduation and retention rates by offering nontraditional courses.

Garcia said retention rates can be increased by finding programs that work well and scaling them up with technology that didn’t exist before.

UT-Brownsville currently partners with nearby high schools to offer a math and science pathway for high school juniors and seniors, but the program is limited to 140 students each year.

Garcia said technology can help increase this figure and reduce the time it takes these students to graduate.

Online interactive courses and accelerated courses that don’t fit into the 18-week course calendar can serve as solutions, Mintz said.

Mintz said 50 percent of UT-Austin students will fail at least one science course and 20 to 25 percent of students will “fail out” by the end of their second year.

UT-Austin spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said these figures only apply to those students who take six years to graduate.

More than 80 percent of students at the University graduate within six years, while about 50 percent graduate in four years.

Published on March 6, 2013 as "SXSWedu panel urges education innovation". 

Consolidating UT System institutions in the Rio Grande Valley would greatly benefit the economy of South Texas, UT System officials and Texas lawmakers said Wednesday.

The Texas Legislature is considering passing bills filed in both houses that would combine University of Texas at Brownsville, UT-Pan American in Edinburg and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen into one institution and give that institution access to the Permanent University Fund. The fund, currently assessed at $1.3 billion for the 2014-15 biennium, allocates money to institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems.

UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American are the only schools in the UT System that are not eligible for inclusion in the Permanent University Fund.

UT-Pan American President Robert Nelsen told the House Higher Education Committee that his institution does not have the space to accommodate students that other universities in the System have. Nelson said UT-Pan American has 129 gross square feet per student as opposed to 203 at UT-El Paso and 355 at UT-Austin.

“Why do we have so little? Because we’ve never had access to [the Permanent University Fund],” Nelsen said.

UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American are not included in the fund because they were not originally established under the UT System.

To be included in the fund, the Legislature must establish a new university within the UT or A&M systems by a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

The Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen is part of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, which means it is already eligible for money from the Permanent University Fund.

Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, filed the House version of the bill and said the consolidation of the universities will create 7,000 to 10,000 jobs with an average salary of $63,000.

“I can’t think of anything I’ve ever offered in my 29 years of the Legislature that will have as much impact as this,” Oliveira said.

Oliveira said he believes it would take 18 to 24 months to abolish the existing universities and create the new institution if the bill passes.

The UT System Board of Regents approved spending $100 million of its own funds over 10 years to transform the Regional Academic Health Center into the proposed South Texas School of Medicine, which will be part of the consolidated institution. The System will also seek $10 million per year in state funds to assist the consolidation. Those appropriations would be separate from the Permanent University Fund.

Oliveira said the Permanent University Fund is projected to grow over the course of the decade, which will provide more money to each university included in the fund and negate any impact the new institution would have on how much other universities receive.

“We’re not going to be crowding [other universities] out,” Oliveira said. “We’re going to be part of the family, which we should have been a long time ago.”

Printed on Thursday, February 21, 2013 as: Legislature considers Rio Grande Valley university consolidation bill 

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Texas lawmakers heard testimony Thursday about the impact of a proposed consolidated UT System school in the Rio Grande Valley on a state fund intended for institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems.

Bills filed in both houses of the Texas Legislature would bring UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American in Edinburg and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen under the administration of one institution and give that institution access to the Permanent University Fund. The fund, established by the Texas Constitution, allocates money to institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems.

Sarah Keyton, higher education team manager for the Legislative Budget Board, told the House Appropriations Committee the fund will have $1.3 billion during the 2014-15 biennium.

Kris Kavanaugh, higher education team member at the Legislative Budget Board, said there would be fewer funds for other UT System institutions if the Legislature approved the consolidation. He said the Legislature would not approve how much the consolidated school would receive from the fund.

“That would be a Board of Regents decision,” Kavanaugh said. 

Two-thirds of the Permanent University Fund is allocated to UT System institutions. The remaining amount goes toward the A&M system. 

Kavanaugh said the fraction of the fund allocated to the UT System would not change if UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American gain access to the fund.

The UT System Board of Regents approved spending $100 million of its own funds over 10 years to help transform the Regional Academic Health Center into the proposed South Texas School of Medicine, which will be part of the consolidated university. The System will also seek $10 million per year in state general revenue funds to assist the consolidation. Those appropriations would be separate from the Permanent University Fund.

UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American are the only schools in the UT System that are not eligible for inclusion in the Permanent University Fund.

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the institutions were not previously included because they were not originally established under the UT System.

“The only way the Texas Legislature can allow UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American to be PUF eligible is to create a brand new university,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

LaCoste-Caputo said the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen is part of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, which means it is already eligible for money from the Permanent University Fund.

“Making the new medical school in South Texas part of the new university opens up many opportunities for synergies and partnerships with other academic departments and programs, much like we anticipate at UT-Austin with its new medical school,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

Published on February 8, 2013 as "State may open fund to proposed university". 

Historic moment for South Texas

On Monday, Feb. 3, two bills filed in the Texas House and Senate detailed plans for the creation of a Rio Grande Valley university by joining UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the UT Regional Academic Health Center, all institutions in South Texas. As one, these three institutions would benefit, if the new proposals become law, from access to the Permanent University Fund. One of the largest endowments in the nation, the Fund is, according to the Texas Constitution, only accessible to certain schools in the UT and Texas A&M Systems. Presently, that list of key-holders excludes UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American.

By granting South Texas institutions access to the Fund, a plan Gov. Rick Perry endorsed in his State of the State speech last week, the Texas Legislature has directed tightly-controlled resources to a region where they are most needed. Some might argue that those resources, which, after all, are substantial and exist for the sole purpose of enriching the UT and A&M University Systems, should be spread around the state more generously. But don’t dismiss the momentous historical occasion the Legislative, System-wide and gubernatorial support the development represents for the Rio Grande region, which is expected to experience explosive population growth in the coming decades. South Texas will benefit, as all localities do, from the introduction of higher educations which brings jobs, medical care and greater opportunities.

In many ways, the existence of UT-Austin is an important part of what makes Central Texas such a rich place to live. We can only hope the same for South Texas. “Our investment in the children of South Texas will be returned a thousand-fold,” Rick Perry said last week. We, uncharacteristically, applaud the governor.

 

Cruz takes no prisoners

Texas voters got what they asked for when they elected Ted Cruz to the U.S. Senate: a debater and point-maker. But they did not get, so far, a winning debater and point-maker. Since he took office in January, Cruz has earned a place as the only current U.S. Senator to lose every vote he has cast.

“Senator Cruz promised the voters of Texas he would take principled stands when it comes to fiscal responsibility and protecting America’s sovereignty,” his spokesman, Sean Rushton, recently told The Washington Times. “He didn’t come to Washington to make friends; he came to help save the country. Senator Cruz is proud of his votes and will continue to stand up for America and the Constitution.”

Cruz apparently subscribes to the notion that voting against every measure that crosses his Senate desk can be equated with courageous and principled leadership. The opposite is true; it would be courageous of Cruz to seek advancement of our country’s interests in the face severe ideological divisions. It is much easier for Cruz to loudly reject ideas than to have the courage to compromise.

Cruz has opposed minor procedural changes in the Senate, the $50 billion Hurricane Sandy relief package and President Barack Obama’s appointment and the resulting confirmation of Sen. John F. Kerry to the post of secretary of state.

Right or wrong, Cruz has not gotten his way once. And whether you believe in Ron Paul’s brand of political stubbornness or President Obama’s compromising attitude — sometimes deemed over-solicitous by his supporters — Cruz’s initial senatorial appearance as a poster boy for conservative lost causes makes us long for his more practical predecessor, former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Bills filed in both houses of the Texas Legislature on Monday would lead the UT System to consolidate its institutions in the Rio Grande Valley into one entity.

The bills would bring UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen under the administration of one institution and give that institution access to the Permanent University Fund. The fund, established by the Texas Constitution, allocates money to the UT and Texas A&M systems.

It is unclear how much the initiative will cost, but the regents approved spending $100 million over 10 years to help transform the Regional Academic Health Center into the proposed South Texas School of Medicine, which will be part of the consolidated university.
The bills would direct the UT System Board of Regents to establish a temporary advisory group that would design, develop and choose a location for the proposed medical school.
“We believe the students of South Texas deserve access to a first-class education and that this new, PUF-eligible university will have a magnificent impact on the educational and economic opportunities in the region,” Board Chairman Gene Powell said in a statement released Monday.

In January, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa told the Senate Finance
Committee that the System will seek $10 million per year in state general revenue funds to assist the consolidation and the establishment of the medical school. 

The UT System is not currently seeking state funds to pay for the UT-Austin
medical school, which will use revenue from the regents, the regional Seton Family of Hospitals and property tax revenue collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district. At the Senate Finance Committee meeting, Cigarroa said the Rio Grande Valley does not have the tax base necessary to support such an arrangement.

Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, who filed the bill, said the city may have to create a special taxing district that would help fund the medical school but that the school would have to seek revenue from additional sources such as philanthropic funds.

“We cannot raise the kind of money you could raise in Austin or El Paso or Houston or Dallas, so we are going to have to be creative about other kinds of funding packages,” Oliveira said.

Oliveira said the bill filed by Rep. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, to establish a UT System law school in the Rio Grande Valley is not related to the consolidation bill but said the proposed law school could be part of the consolidation.

According to each bill, students already enrolled at UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville before the bill takes effect would be allowed to enroll at the new university. The bills state that the new university will hire as many faculty and staff as possible from the abolished universities.

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said it is too soon to tell how the proposed school’s administration would include administrators at UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center.

“There will be some consolidation but it is premature to discuss details, as a bill to create the university still has to be passed by a two-thirds vote of both chambers in the Legislature,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

The House bill is authored by nine representatives including Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee. 

The Senate bill is authored by four senators: Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville; Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

The initiative has support from outside of the legislative branch and the UT System. 

During his State of the State address last week, Gov. Rick Perry said he supported allowing the schools to have access to the Permanent University Fund.

“This area of the state is critical to our state’s future,” Perry said, “and our investment in the children of South Texas will be returned a thousand-fold.”

Printed on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 as: Bill proposes merging Valley schools