Hidalgo County commissioners early last month pledged to donate at least $1 million per year toward the establishment of a medical school that will be part of the merged University of Texas campuses in the Rio Grande Valley. County Judge Ramon Garcia said he was trying to get similar financial commitments from area cities.
A week later the Commissioners Court passed a resolution calling for the UT system to build the med school — at least the facilities where students will spend their first two years — in Hidalgo County.
Surely the timing of the two events is coincidental. We trust the officials have the best interests of the university and Valley students in mind, and wouldn’t reconsider their financial commitment if the UT Board of Regents decides to place the school elsewhere.
Garcia left that issue in doubt.
"If we’re going to get involved (financially), we want the first and second years here because that’s where the research dollars and economic development dollars are going to be spent," the county judge told our reporter.
Of course, taxes to support the school will cover the entire Valley, not just Hidalgo County.
Let’s also hope that neighboring Cameron County resists the urge to respond in kind.
Regional bickering in the 1990s stalled the establishment of the Regional Academic Health Center, the Valley’s precursor to the full-fledged medical school that now is being discussed. Local legislators offered competing bills that would establish the RAHC in their respective backyards, prompting then-Lieutenant Gov. Bob Bullock to warn them that he would not allow the entire state Legislature to hammer out the compromises that should be made at the local level. Bullock said he would only accept one bill that all Valley lawmakers supported.
Certainly, the proposed medical school will be a valuable jewel for whatever site that gets it. The research money Garcia mentioned is just part of the windfall that also includes the prestige that can attract further development and private investment.
UT officials, beginning with Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, seem to be committed to allocating resources of the new university and medical center throughout the Valley, even with the merger of the two existing universities. They plan to maintain the current campuses of the UT-Pan American in Edinburg and UT-Brownsville, but have announced that the merged institution’s administrative offices will be in McAllen, the Valley’s largest that does not currently have a UT facility.
To be sure, there are many good reasons to have the primary medical school in Hidalgo County, including the tax base and existing medical facilities. Cameron County also can make a strong case for the site, including strong historic support among the private medical community. The regents could decide to build the school at a central location, providing easier access to more Valley students.
Regardless of the final site, this commitment from the UT System deserves, and needs, the full support of the community, with no strings attached, such as the pledges several local cities already have made to a scholarship fund Cigarroa established to help more students achieve their dreams of becoming medical professionals.
The medical school will benefit the entire Rio Grande Valley. Regardless of where the classrooms are built, the institution will feed interns and residents to hospitals and other medical centers throughout the Valley.
UT officials so far have given every indication that they will be fair in parceling out the resources of the joint university and medical school. They deserve support — financial and otherwise — that is unconditional.