BROWNSVILLE — Almost $200 million from the state’s Permanent University Fund will be funneled to the new University of Texas System school in the Rio Grande Valley with unanimous support from UT System regents.
The funds will go toward construction projects on both the UT-Brownsville campus and at UT-Pan American in Edinburg. An additional $69 million will go to other UT schools in the state.
UTB, which officials say is in need of extra space because of its separation from Texas Southmost College, will receive $54 million for a 140,000-square-foot academic building. An additional $18 million will pay for UTB costs related to the end of its partnership with TSC.
The UTPA campus will receive $70 million for a science building and an additional $54 million, which is being administered by the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, for a building that will ultimately belong to the new medical school after its accreditation.
As regents prepared to approve the Permanent University Fund money Thursday, many commented on the work it’s taken to find a way to share PUF with UTB and UTPA, which historically have been excluded from the fund composed of oil and gas revenues from property the System owns in West Texas.
“This is obviously a historic day in South Texas,” Regent Ernest Aliseda of McAllen said during the meeting. “These are projects that are critical to a new regional medical school and new university.”
Vice Chairman of the Board Eugene Powell, who was raised in Weslaco, said it’s been almost 13 months since the initial idea for a new university in the Valley was proposed by Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa.
The announcement of the new university came in December 2012, gained approval from the Legislature after compromises, and was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in July. A search committee for the new school’s president has been convened, and there is a search under way for a dean to lead the new medical school. Earlier this week, the UT System released five possible names for the new university and has asked community members for suggestions.
UTPA President Robert Nelsen, who was at the meeting, said the decision by the regents took his breath away.
Nelsen said his students will now have enough space to take their science lectures with labs concurrently. The science building was a project Nelsen had hoped would be funded by the state through tuition revenue bonds, but an effort to secure them failed during the Legislature’s session this year.
“The amount of research that will begin to happen will be exponentially greater,” Nelsen said.
Although UTB President Juliet V. Garcia had initially asked for almost $100 million toward capital improvements, she said she is satisfied with the amount of money UTB will receive.
“I hoped it would be more, but I also understand that there are lots of competing needs in the UT System and I trust the chancellor to have made the best recommendation he could, given all of the competing needs,” said Garcia, who was also present for the meeting. “This is not the last, this is simply the first installment. I’m actually quite inspired by it. I’m inspired by the fact that we got $54 million. I’ve never gotten $54 million before from the UT System, so how could I be disappointed?”
An additional $3.2 million from the Available University Fund will also be used for costs related to the university merger.