McALLEN — Compassion and statesmanship were among the key notes hit in the remarks of the Rio Grande Valley’s state senators after University of Texas System regents approved more crucial steps for the region’s new university Wednesday.
The Board of Regents unanimously approved a $44.8 million deal in Brownsville that allows the UT System to buy and exchange property with the University of Texas at Brownsville’s neighbor, Texas Southmost College. The Valley’s new regent, McAllen attorney Ernest Aliseda, seconded the motion at his first board meeting. Two other regents were appointed by Gov. Rick Perry along with Aliseda earlier this year.
Perry signed Senate Bill 24 in June, making official a new era in the Valley that will feature a merged UTB and UT-Pan American complete with a four-year medical school, expected to spur educational, economic and healthcare transformation here.
Perry is set to hold two ceremonial bill signing events July 16 in Edinburg and Brownsville.
Guiding principles for the yet-to-be-named university were also unanimously approved by the board on Wednesday.
“This is a historic moment that as long as I breathe and live I will cherish forever,” state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said at the meeting followed by remarks from state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
In part, money from the Permanent University Fund, a source no Valley university had access to before the merger, will go toward the Brownsville land deal.
UT regents asked no questions when it came to the eight parcels of land in the deal with TSC. Three different leases — a total of up to $3.6 million — were also approved for Brownsville property on Alton Gloor Boulevard, Price Road and downtown on Madison Street.
The rocky end of the nearly 20-year partnership between UTB and TSC began in November 2011. Since then, the two entities have begun sorting out their assets.
In a news release sent immediately following the board’s vote, the UT System referred to the 15 bullet points listed as goals “as a sort of constitution, establishing fundamental precedents” for the development of the new institution.
The UT System chose to highlight three of the guiding principles that spoke to the bicultural nature of the new institution and its mission to promote access to education. Officials aim to make it the nation’s second-largest Hispanic-serving institution. Florida International University in Miami is the largest.
“If we are truly to transform South Texas and build a state-of-the-art university in the Rio Grande Valley, we have to think globally and that is exactly what we are doing,” Board Chairman Gene Powell said, calling the guiding principles the foundation of the new school.
The UT System said the board will next decide when to launch a presidential search for the new university and choose its name.
'AT THE TABLE'
After the board vote on Valley business, Powell invited Lucio and Hinojosa to speak.
Lucio, who often publicly cites the influence of his Catholic faith, said the compassionate character of Mother Teresa has taught him by example, explaining the initiative deemed Project South Texas shows the individuals behind it care for one another.
He and Hinojosa noted the creation of a Valley medical school has long been sought at the state legislative level.
Hinojosa acknowledged there wasn’t always agreement, as this session legislators were for a moment at odds about where the school’s different components would be located.
Now, it’s “a dream come true,” he said.
“It is in the best interest of our community and state,” Hinojosa said.
Along with UTPA and UTB leadership, Democratic state Reps. Terry Canales and Bobby Guerra — of Edinburg and McAllen, respectively — sat in on the meeting Wednesday. Edinburg city officials issued a news release to note their own delegation attended, led by Mayor Richard Garcia with, no relation, Agustin “Gus” Garcia, executive director of the Edinburg Economic Development Corp.
“In the past, we have been shortchanged,” Mayor Garcia said of South Texas in a statement. “But now, we are finally at the table, and we need to stay there. That’s what this is all about.”