EDINBURG — About half an hour after the University of Texas Board of Regents voted to name a former University of Alabama president as the sole finalist to become the inaugural president of UT- Rio Grande Valley, a tweet emanated from Austin.
“I did not get the UTRGV presidency,” said the tweet from UT Pan American President Robert Nelsen. “Guy Bailey will be the founding president. Let's give him our support.”
And with that began one of the most epochal transitions that a university is this area will ever see. Not only will Nelsen, a beloved president and active community leader, end his tenure as president of UTPA, he will be the school’s final president.
Nelsen, a native of Montana, became president of UTPA in 2010 and quickly became a part of the fabric of the region. “Thanks for your commitment to this institution,” tweeted back Erika Esqivel. “You were one of the best things to happen to #UTPA.” Former student Alex Garrido tweeted to the president, “You are amazing Dr. Nelsen.”
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa said that Bailey has “big shoes to fill” after Nelsen.
“He has been great to identify with the students and the community,” Hinojosa said. “He is well-liked and provided great leadership… He’s been such a key role in passing this legislation for UT-RGV and the medical school. He is not afraid to speak out for students and the educational community in the Valley.”
Lisa Cardoza, Nelsen's chief of staff, emailed a statement to The Monitor about the change in leadership for the community.
"There has been a tremendous outpouring of support from the community since Dr. Nelsen first decided to be considered as president of UT-RGV," the statement said. "I have no doubt that Dr. Bailey will dutifully take on the responsibility with which the Regents have entrusted him, that he will take the reins that Dr. Nelsen hands over, and that he will do a fine job serving our Rio Grande Valley community."
In a brief telephone interview with The Monitor, Nelsen admitted he does not know what he will do next in his academic career.
“I still need to run the University of Texas - Pan American for a while until we get the accreditation of (UT-RGV) accomplished,” he said.
UTPA held a watch party for the students and staff when the name for UT-Rio Grande Valley was decided by the regents; however, for this decision the university didn’t host a watch party or make a public announcement.
“I don’t know if I’m ready for the change in presidents, but I’m definitely excited,” said UTPA student Andrea Mendiola after learning about the new president. “I’m very proud of the fact that we’re merging, and it’s going to be bigger and better. I don’t know if the RGV has experienced anything like this before.”
In contrast, some students surveyed were upset that UTPA President Robert Nelsen was not selected for the role to lead the new university. Chemistry major Mark Espinoza, 21, worked closely with Nelsen as an aid in his office last year and believed he deserved to lead the new university.
“It’s really sad, first and foremost because we’ve gotten used to (Nelsen) and he’s done a lot for the university,” Espinoza said. “He’s one of the reasons why this (merger) is occurring and for him not to be the president following into this, it’s sad.”
Mass communication major Lea Juarez, 21, shared the same sentiment. She said she worked closely with Nelsen as an editor of the UTPA newspaper, The Pan American, where the student reporters followed his actions on campus closely.
“I was disappointed when I heard because I know how much Nelsen cares about the university and the students, and how he does consider all of the students on campus his children,” Juarez said. “He’s always been a father figure and I know how much hard work that he puts into improving the university.”
“I don’t know much about (the new president),” Juarez added. “But in some cases it might be good to have someone come in with a clean slate, but as far as expectations, I really don’t know, we’re just going to have to wait and see.”