College cuts ties with UT System after rent dispute

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The 19-year-old agreement between Texas Southmost College and the University of Texas at Brownsville that allows students to transfer from the junior college to the four-year university will phase out by 2015, the UT System Board of Regents decided Wednesday.

A dispute began between the UT System and TSC earlier this year over $10 million in building rent that UTB owed the junior college. The disagreement came to a head when the UT System proposed combining the UT campus and the community college into one legal entity governed by the UT System Board of Regents.

The TSC Board of Trustees rejected the proposal, and after waiting three weeks for a counterproposal, the regents decided to end the agreement no later than 2015.

Since 1991, TSC students have been automatically admitted to UTB from the community college by maintaining a high grade point average. The separation will mean students will have to apply and will not be guaranteed admittance.

In an October TSC board meeting, trustee René Torres said the trustees should have a right to determine the future of TSC while it collects local taxes. Juliet Garcia, president of UT-Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, said over the years UTB brought $100 million in state funds to the campus that also serves TSC community college students, and the state dollars outweigh the debt owed.

Board of Regents Vice Chairwoman Janiece Longoria said the current partnership agreement does not meet the fundamental requirements to have a productive relationship.

“In our repeated good faith efforts to negotiate an acceptable partnership agreement, we have been both ignored and rebuffed,” Longoria said. “We cannot afford to be held hostage by unreasonable and unrelenting demands of new members of the TSC Board of Trustees.”

Francisco Rendon, chairman of the TSC trustees, said he was surprised when he heard the news of the separation Wednesday, but it may prove beneficial for both institutions. Rendon said the change will create a transfer process between TSC and UTB that students will have to traverse, but it should be no more difficult than the requirements already in place.

“The junior college mission is very different than the UT System mission,” Rendon said. “Over the last 20 years, we did what we needed to in order to bring higher education to South Texas through the partnership, but UTB has gotten big enough that they feel we should go our separate ways.”

He said the disagreement stemmed from fundamental differences in opinion about the rent UTB owed TSC for use of
its buildings.

“Instead of paying the rent, they proposed, ‘Well, why don’t you give us all your assets and we’ll take them over,’”
Rendon said.

Board of Regents Chairman Colleen McHugh said UTB cannot put its standards of excellence in higher education on hold.

“We cannot live under the status quo of an outdated agreement at the expense of putting UTB’s principles of accountability and transparency at risk,” McHugh said.