The UT System Board of Regents approved the creation of a new university in south Texas with an accompanying medical school that will be made up of UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center.
The proposed university, which has not been officially named, was referred to as the University of the Americas in the Rio Grande Valley and would consolidate UT-Brownsville and UTPA but would maintain both campuses functioning for academic and research purposes. The new medical school will be known as the South Texas School of Medicine. An official timeline for the establishment of the school has not been announced because of pending legislative approval.
The proposal received unanimous support from the regents during a meeting Thursday.
UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa presented the proposal to the board and said existing resources at UT-Brownsville and UTPA will make establishing the larger university and medical school possible.
“I think we were thinking too small,” Cigarroa said. “There are challenges in the UTPA region. The new structure will help reshape this.”
If created, the new university would enroll more than 27,000 students and employ 1,500 faculty members and 3,700 staff with projections to create almost 7,000 new jobs in the Rio Grande Valley. UT System officials said establishing the proposed university would require streamlining administration at UTPA and UT-Brownsville in order to consolidate duplicate positions.
Research expenditures for the university would total $11.4 million, and the university would also have an endowment of $70.5 million.
The university would become one of the largest institutions serving primarily Hispanic students in the nation, Cigarroa said.
Gene Powell, chairman of the board, said the new proposal represents a transformational opportunity for the System.
“This is an important step and a bold, innovative plan to change the landscape in south Texas,” Powell said. “These are undeserved parts of the state despite growth. We are taking steps no one has done in a hundred years.”
Powell said the proposal has received support from legislative leaders including Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
The new university will require approval from the Legislature during the upcoming legislative session with an additional parameter to make the new school eligible to receive funding from the Permanent University Fund, a state endowment funded by the investment of lease sale profits and revenue from production on state-owned land.
The endowment funds several institutions in the UT System, but UT-Brownsville and UTPA are not eligible because of stipulations in the legislation passed when they were originally created.
Scott Kelley, executive vice chancellor for business affairs, said the creation of the new university would not affect current funding from the endowment for other universities.
The regents will appropriate endowment funding for the new university after existing institutions receive the amount the regents would usually allocate to them from the endowment.
The regents also approved $100 million over the next 10 years to fund the new university and accompanying medical school whose administration would be headquartered in McAllen.
Kenneth Shine, executive vice chancellor for health affairs, said health institutions in the area have committed to almost quadrupling residencies to 127. There are currently 33 residencies in the area.
The annual $10 million that will be given from the board will be used to hire a new dean and core faculty to set up a curriculum for the proposed medical school.
“No additional dollars will be required by the state to help support this institution,” Kelley said.
Both UT-Brownsville president Juliet García and UTPA president Robert Nelsen expressed support for the new university.
Before the vote, Nelsen spoke passionately about increasing education and medical access in south Texas and the Rio Grande Valley.
“What is being offered to you today is that you have an opportunity to save our children,” Nelsen said. “If we don’t get it right in south Texas and in the Valley, we’re not going to get it right anywhere.”
An emotional Nelsen said a south Texas medical school would also unify the Valley, where individuals sometimes wait six hours to see a doctor because of the lack of medical professionals in the area.
“Your vote will keep them in the Valley,” Nelsen said. “We need them there.”
Nelsen’s remarks brought many of those present, including board chairman Powell who grew up in south Texas, to tears.
Printed on Friday, December 7, 2012 as: Regents OK joint S. Texas university