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Regents approve PUF for new university, medical school in South Texas

AUSTIN – Nearly $200 million from the Permanent University Fund will pay for new construction in South Texas for the first time, thanks to action taken by the University of Texas System Board of Regents Thursday. 

Regents unanimously voted to appropriate $196 million in PUF funding to construct new facilities in Cameron and Hidalgo counties as part of the UT System initiative to establish a university and medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.

PUF is a public endowment established in 1876 by the Texas Constitution and draws revenues from oil, gas and land leases to benefit the UT and Texas A&M systems. But state law prevents The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College and UT Pan American – located in South Texas – from accessing PUF revenue.

However, the university – approved by the Texas Legislature earlier this year – is eligible to receive PUF.

“One of the reasons this new university was created was so that South Texas could finally access PUF funding for the first time,” Regents Chairman Paul Foster said. “This new university will prepare students for global leadership positions in higher education, health care, bio-medical research and emerging technology, and will serve as a gateway to the Americas that will create partnerships with education, health and research leaders from around the globe.”

The new university is expected to enroll its first class in fall 2015, and a campaign is under way to seek community input on the new name for the institution.

Echoing Foster’s sentiment about the push to bring 21st century educational opportunities to the more than 1.3 million residents in the area, UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa termed the regent’s vote on the UT South Texas Project “a truly transformational moment for the region.”

“I am incredibly proud of the 83rd Legislature for authorizing the Board of Regents under the chairmanship of Gene Powell to create this new university, which is now PUF eligible,” Cigarroa continued. “I am also incredibly proud of this Board of Regents today under the chairmanship of Paul Foster for now allocating PUF to the new university in the Rio Grande Valley, making the dream become reality.”

The motion to approve the funding was made by Powell, who grew up in Weslaco and has worked tirelessly to make the new South Texas university a reality. Regent Ernest Aliseda of McAllen seconded the motion. 

Specifically, regents approved:

  • $70 million for a new science building in Edinburg that system officials promise will be the most modern of its kind in the region. It will contain about 120,000 square feet of research labs and classroom space for STEM disciplines, including biology, physics, chemistry, math, pre-med and environmental studies. The building will be designed with interactive technology to allow students to participate in classes no matter their physical location.
  • $54 million to fund a 140,000 square foot academic building in Brownsville in anticipation of higher enrollment and to accommodate classes now being conducted in space the university leases. Like the science building in Edinburg, this building will also be designed with interactive technology to allow students to participate in classes no matter their physical location. 
  • $18 million to pay a portion of the costs of the acquisition of several buildings and other facilities owned by Texas Southmost College, which previously had a partnership with UT Brownsville.
  • $54 million for the South Texas Medical Academic Building in Edinburg. The 88,000 gross square feet of space will be devoted to teaching facilities that promote faculty and student interaction at the earliest stages of medical school. The building will include an auditorium, digital library, clinical skills center, preclinical laboratories and an anatomy teaching facility. The building will make extensive use of online and distance learning as part of a region-wide medical school interacting with and complementing facilities at Harlingen and Brownsville as well as supporting continuing professional education in the region. The plan is designed to complete the building in time to achieve the ambitious goal of matriculating the first medical school class in the summer/fall 2016. 

In addition, regents also approved appropriating $3.2 million to hire an architectural firm to develop a master plan for the new university and to cover some of the transition costs.

UT System Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Pedro Reyes, who is leading the search committee for the new university president, said the regents’ vote is significant for two reasons.

“Not only is this the first PUF funding for new construction in South Texas, but it’s also the first time that funding has been appropriated for the new university for the entire valley,” he said.

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About The University of Texas System

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 2013 enrollment of more than 213,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $14.6 billion (FY 2014) including $3 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.

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