Center for Mexican American Studies may become its own department

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The Center for Mexican American Studies may become its own department if plans are approved in November and an advisory committee finds adequate funding sources.

The center would become the Department of Mexican-American and Latino Studies. Domino Perez, associate professor and director of the center, said the major obstacle to implementing the center’s plan is finding funding. 

“We understand that in order to become the nation’s premier department of Mexican-American and Latino studies and for our future growth, we will need substantial funding,” Perez said in an email. “Therefore, we need to be entrepreneurial in locating resources to fund these efforts.”

Perez said the departmentalization committee conducted its first meeting Friday to discuss funding efforts. 

The center could departmentalize by 2015 if its plan is approved in November. Perez said that the change would coincide with the center’s planned move to the Geography Building from its current home in Burdine Hall. The center moved into Burdine in July.

The UT System Board of Regents approved a second expansion of the Geography Building and increased the total cost of the construction project to $15.5 million in August, making room for the center to move into the building upon its completion in March 2015.

Perez said the regents have since cut the construction project by $1 million earlier this month.

“They cut the budget of the expansion after determining that the overall combined cost per square footage of both the renovation and expansion was too high,” Perez said in an email. “There are other buildings on campus with much higher per square footage costs.”

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the regents, who have held two special meetings this month, have not taken any action on the building project since they approved its expansion in August.

The center received a blow in June when Gov. Rick Perry vetoed part of a bill authored by state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, that would have given $1.5 million to the center. The bill would have offset some large cuts to its budget from the 2011 legislative session. Perez said Perry’s veto has not trampled departmentalization efforts.

“It was never going to be the primary source of funding for our efforts. What it did do inadvertently was spark interest, locally and across the country, in our departmentalization efforts,” Perez said. “People are watching UT closely, hoping it will to lead and shape future conversations and research about the fastest growing demographic in the country.”

The center is currently funded and taught by multiple departments. After its proposed departmentalization, the program would be part of the College of Liberal Arts. 

Richard Flores, College of Liberal Arts associate dean, said the college is working toward this end despite funding issues. The center received $138,578 through the College of Liberal Arts during the 2012-13 academic year, according to the University’s Budget Office’s website.

“[Departmentalization] remains a priority of the college; the only question is how to fund it,” Flores said.