Lack of Brownsville facility darkens UTRGV graduation

Receiving a university degree is one of the most significant, and memorable, events in a person’s life. It culminates nearly 20 years of dedicated study — for some students, even more.

For many fall graduates of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the event will be memorable for another reason: UTRGV isn’t holding commencement exercises for them. University officials say these students can participate in one of the ceremonies planned for Friday at the Harlingen Convention Center or Saturday at Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg.

UTRGV spokesman Patrick Gonzales said the only Brownsville location large enough to hold the event is the 1,500-seat Jacob Brown Auditorium, and it’s booked the day the university planned its ceremony — by Texas Southmost College graduation.

This should embarrass both the university and the city.

UTRGV, which has held classes in its current incarnation only since 2015, can be forgiven for not having its own facilities. For more than 20 years it shared a campus with TSC, which owns most buildings at the historic Fort Brown campus.

In fact, TSC also owns Jacob Brown, which the city deeded to the college several years ago. Unfortunately, the city left itself without a large facility to hold major events.

It has been noted that until recently, commencement ceremonies for TSC and UT Brownsville, which predated UTRGV, were held on the Student Union Lawn. Gonzales said a student poll indicated that a majority of students preferred an indoor ceremony.

But because those ceremonies were held outdoors, an alternate date was always picked, to address weather conditions. Could the university not have similarly picked an alternate date when Jacob Brown was available?

The lack of such a facility in the Valley’s largest and oldest city has been a sore point among many Brownsville residents for years. When a major entertainment event comes to the area, whether it be Jennifer Lopez or Cirque de Soleil, local residents have had to drive to the only places build for such events, which are in Hidalgo, McAllen and, most recently, Edinburg. There’s no telling how many events, and the revenue they bring in, have been lost because Brownsville had no place to hold them.

Gonzales said that in the future, “we will consider all locations that have facilities large enough to house our ceremonies, including Brownsville.” He noted, however, that without its own building the university depends on the availability of an adequate facility.

UTRGV would benefit greatly from having its own large-capacity building, especially if it’s flexible enough to house events as diverse as concerts and sporting events — or a national collegiate chess tournament. On idle dates it could be leased out for private concerts or high school tennis or gymnastics tournaments.

Perhaps Brownsville and the UT System could consider a joint project that might benefit both. Also, new universities always offer new opportunities for alumni and other benefactors to help finance campus facilities — and perhaps offer naming rights.

In the meantime, we hope UTRGV’s future decisions will help allay growing concerns that its eastern campus, and its students, are little more than an afterthought.