UT System Chancellor James Millikin addresses the media after a tour of the UTRGV campus Thursday in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — University of Texas System Chancellor James B. Milliken visited UTRGV’s Edinburg campus Thursday as part of a three-day tour. The visit comes after a small percentage of students returned to campus for their first in-person classes since spring.

During his visit Milliken toured the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s testing program, inspected the configuration of socially distanced classrooms, talked about different learning models with administration members and even spoke with a group of students.

“They’re very much hoping for an in-person graduation, but we’ll have to see how that goes,” Milliken said.

The chancellor said he was impressed by what he saw Thursday, and especially impressed by the consistent adherence to mask and social distancing rules he saw on campus.

“That’s so important right now,” he said. “You can put all the rules in place, but at the end of the day it’s students and the other members of the university community respecting each other and taking responsibility, and I’m very pleased with what I see here and very proud of our students.”

Most of what Milliken discussed with members of the news media Thursday focused on the pandemic and the challenges it poses to UTRGV. Only 5% of classes at the university are currently being offered in-person, he said, noting the institution was prioritizing keeping the community safe from COVID-19 while ensuring students’ education stayed on track.

“Those two things are really important to us, and the way that it’s being managed here to engage the students with the campus occasionally, but also give them the ability to study remotely, is an important combination, and I think they’re doing things right here,” Milliken said.

Other challenges include a decrease in international student enrollment because of visa difficulties and the constant need to monitor the health of students and staff on campus.

If the pandemic worsens, Milliken said, that 5% of classes being offered could be reduced or eliminated outright, a decision that will likely be made by leadership at UTRGV rather than at a systemwide level.

“Each place is unique, so we’re not going to make an across-the-board standard,” he said. “We’re going to continue to monitor with the leadership of each institution, what their experience is there.”

The UT System will play an active role continuing to represent UTRGV at the state and national level.

UTRGV began distributing $1,000 cash grants to eligible students through federal virus relief funds this month. Milliken said the system will continue working to get federal funds to the university and its students.

UT System Chancellor James Millikin addresses the media after a tour of the UTRGV campus on Thursday in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

“I’m really pleased,” he said. “We provide a lot of flexibility to the institutions on how to use that funding, and I really think that UTRGV used it in a wise way in taking a lot of it and providing it as student aid to make sure that they didn’t have a great deal of disruption during this period and lose a lot of students.”

He also said promoting the institution’s value to the community would be important in the upcoming legislative session.

“Of course, we’re in a whole different position now with UTRGV and the medical school and its clinical operations across the Valley,” he said. “It’s absolutely critical that we get as much support as we can.”

UTRGV President Guy Bailey, who noted that the university was achieving record enrollment despite the pandemic, said Milliken’s visit was important to the institution.

“He does a wonderful job of making sure all of us are included, and that everybody has access to him and to system resources, so it’s very important,” he said.