After 4 1/2 years, UTPA President Nelsen to hang up the spurs Aug. 31 - The Monitor: Local News

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After 4 1/2 years, UTPA President Nelsen to hang up the spurs Aug. 31

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Posted: Monday, May 12, 2014 4:27 pm

EDINBURG — University of Texas-Pan American President Robert Nelsen announced Monday that he will step down Aug. 31 so a yet-to-be-chosen interim president can run the university until Guy Bailey comes in to lead the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley next year.

Nelsen made his announcement via an email to faculty, students and staff Monday, admitting the missive was “difficult to write.”

“I know this additional step was not part of the original plan, but sometimes plans have to change for the better of the whole,” Nelsen wrote in his Monday email to the UTPA community under the subject line “What’s Next For This Cowboy?”

Nelsen said he flew to Austin on Friday and told UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa — who is also stepping down from his position but will still serve as a special adviser to UT-RGV — of his plans to leave the UTPA presidency.

“It’s a change of management and it opens it up to the possibility of a smoother transition to take place and ensures that UTPA will have leadership that is totally dedicated to the new university,” Nelsen said in a phone interview Monday. He then added: “Not that I’m not dedicated to the new university, but they will be completely focused on that.”

Nelsen said he decided to release the email to the UTPA community to quash rumors about his future at the university when people heard he had been to see Cigarroa on Friday.

“It’s very important in transitions to overcommunicate,” Nelsen said. “When I began hearing some of the rumors, it became very important to me — I thought that people should understand we are going to have a smooth plan moving forward.”

The interim president will be chosen by Cigarroa and Pedro Reyes, the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, said Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, UT System spokeswoman.

“They will start that process as soon as possible and work to identify the best person to serve as interim president,” LaCoste-Caputo said, adding that the person may come from within UTPA or elsewhere.

Nelsen will have no input on who is installed as interim president between him and Bailey. Bailey, the former president of the University of Alabama and Texas Tech University, was chosen as the sole finalist for inaugural position at UT-RGV by the UT System Board of Regents on April 28.

When reached for comment Monday, Bailey said it was the first he was hearing of Nelsen’s plans to step down and he appreciated what Nelsen had done for UTPA so far. Bailey is set to visit both UTPA and UTB later this week.

Nelsen was selected by the UT regents Nov. 11, 2009, to be UTPA’s eighth and — it turns out — second-to-last president. He made $300,000 a year in salary.

He came to UTPA from Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, where he worked as associate vice president for academic affairs. Before that, he was at the University of Texas at Dallas, where he started the creative writing program and eventually served as vice provost.

Nelsen officiated UTPA spring graduation Saturday, which may be the last time he performs the duty depending on whether he or the interim president oversees summer graduation in August. At Saturday’s graduation, Nelsen gave a speech at each of the three ceremonies and said he was most proud of graduating 13,904 students throughout his 4 1/2 years at the university as well as the construction of new buildings on campus.

When asked Monday whether he had any regrets about his presidency, Nelsen was succinct.

“Not a one, not that I can think of,” he said.

Matthew Garcia, who worked with Nelsen while he served a year as Student Government Association president, said he appreciated the work Nelsen had done at the university over the past 4 1/2 years but found the choice to step down now strange.

“Now he’s checking out and it’s odd that it’s being done that way. I would think he would be the best person to be in that position while that transition is being made,” said Garcia, who graduated Saturday and is now starting work on a medical degree and a master’s degree in public health. “It seems odd to stick someone else in there for a little more than a year.”

As for the question Nelsen posed in the subject line of his email to the UTPA community — “What’s Next For This Cowboy?” — he did not actually answer it, saying that what he does and where he goes next is something that that he and his wife, Jody, will have to discuss. 

Staff writers Jacob Fischler and Daniella Diaz contributed to this story.

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