In his State of the State address before a joint session of the 83rd Texas Legislature today, Governor Rick Perry called for the Legislature to pass a bill giving South Texas access to Permanent University Funds – a vision that The University of Texas System leaders are working hard to make a reality.
“This area of the state is critical to our state’s future,” Perry said in his speech. “And our investments in the children of South Texas will return to us a thousandfold.”
The UT System Board of Regents in December unanimously approved an initiative to authorize Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa to work with the Legislature to establish a new, PUF-eligible university that includes the University of Texas at Brownsville, the University of Texas-Pan American and the future South Texas School of Medicine. The result would be a single institution that spans the entire Rio Grande Valley, with a presence in each of the major metropolitan areas of Brownsville, Edinburg, Harlingen and McAllen. The board also approved the allocation of $100 million over the next decade to accelerate the pace of transitioning the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen to a school of medicine.
“We are very proud that Governor Perry supports the concept of creating a new emerging research university through the allocation of PUF that will, for the first time, put Rio Grande Valley campuses on equal footing with other higher education institutions in the state,” said Regents Chairman Gene Powell. “This is the right thing to do at the right time. This move will create extraordinary educational and economic opportunities for all of South Texas.”
Bishop Daniel E. Flores of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville said higher education is critically important for the young people of the Rio Grande Valley and it is an issue that he discusses with residents across South Texas.
“This initiative for a new university in South Texas is important to help unify and solidify the opportunities for our young people,” he said. “They get discouraged very easily about the possibility of getting a good education and we need them to be educated so they can contribute to the greater good of the entire Valley. I’m very happy to hear the governor express his support and particularly to highlight the unique potential of the Rio Grande Valley to contribute to the success of the entire state.”
Since December, Powell, Cigarroa and other UT System leaders have been meeting with state legislators and leaders in the Rio Grande Valley about the possibility of a new university. Currently, UT Brownsville and UT Pan American are not eligible for revenue from the Permanent University Fund, a public endowment created by the Texas Constitution. A new university would be eligible for PUF funding - a major catalyst for building a world-class research university, complete with a school of medicine. As an emerging research university, the new institution would also be eligible for more funding sources such as the National Research University Fund, the Texas Research Incentive Plan and matching UT System money.
South Texas leaders have enthusiastically supported the plan from the beginning. Hundreds turned out at UT Brownsville and UT Pan American for visits from Cigarroa and Powell the day after the Regents’ vote and the presentation of the new initiative drew multiple standing ovations.
Several key groups have passed resolutions supporting a new university in South Texas and many more have resolutions and letters of support in the works. Those that have already passed a resolution include the Commissioners’ Courts of both Cameron and Hidalgo counties, the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, UT Brownsville’s Faculty Senate, UT Pan American’s Faculty Senate and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
State and community leaders applauded Governor Perry for his passionate support of South Texas and his dedication to investing in its children.
“This is No. 1 on our legislative agenda and we’re very pleased to have the governor’s support,” said Julian Alvarez, president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. “We certainly support his efforts and we’re thrilled that he addressed this on such an important stage.”
Nolan Perez, a South Texas doctor and community leader, said creating a new, PUF-eligible university in South Texas is “a game-changing opportunity for this region.”
“I think the governor said it best in terms of the investment in this area that it will have a huge multiplier effect,” Perez said. “This is a historic opportunity for the state of Texas to really provide the opportunities for this region that are prevalent in other areas of the state but have been lacking in South Texas.”
In order to create a new university that is PUF-eligible, a bill must be approved by two-thirds of the Texas Legislature in both chambers. Legislation is expected to be filed this week.
Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and a fall 2012 enrollment of roughly 216,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and educates nearly three-fourths of the state’s health care professionals annually. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $13.9 billion (FY 2013) including $3.1 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 87,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.