South Texas School of Medicine

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

Bills in Texas Legislature would consolidate UT System schools in Rio Grande Valley

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

The bills would bring the University of Texas at Brownsville, the University of Texas-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, a fund established by the Texas Constitution to allocate money to the UT and Texas A&M systems.

The bills would direct the board of regents to establish a temporary advisory group that would design, develop and choose a location for the proposed medical school.

At their Dec. 6 meeting, the UT System Board of Regents voted to allow UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to work with the Texas Legislature to establish the 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,” Regents Chairman Gene Powell said in a statement released Monday.

It is unclear how much the initiative will cost, but the regents approved spending $100 million over ten years to help transform the Regional Academic Health Center into the proposed South Texas School of Medicine.

In January, 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 establishment of the medical school.

This is unlike the arrangement that will fund the UT-Austin medical school, which will use revenue from the board of regents, Seton Family of Hospitals, a regional hospital network, and property tax revenue collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district. At that meeting, Cigarroa said the Rio Grande Valley does not have the tax base necessary to support such an arrangement.

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.

The House bill is authored by five representatives including state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, who filed the bill, and state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee. The bill also has five co-authors.

The Senate bill is authored by four senators including 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.

For the System to establish the school, both houses of the Legislature must approve the measure by a two-thirds vote.

In a statement, Branch said the bill gives the Legislature and UT System an opportunity to enhance education, research and business activity in the Rio Grande Valley.

“It's our vision that the Rio Grande Valley will one day rival Silicon Valley as an intersection of education and innovation," Branch said.

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, and our investment in the children of South Texas will be returned a thousand-fold,” Perry said.

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