As UTSA President Ricardo Romo nears the completion his tenth year in office, he can look back at a university that has changed in size, shape and academics throughout its 39 year history.
San Antonio native Romo was appointed president in May 1999, the first Hispanic president in the young university’s history.
“The institution has grown phenomenally in so many ways: number of students, amount of research, amount of space on campus to serve our students and faculty, and its stature in the community as a university of first choice,” Associate Vice President for Communications and Marketing David Gabler said. “Since 1999 the institution’s enrollment growth has increased by 50 percent; it’s gone to 28,000 students,” Gabler said.
Within this time, the university has experienced expansion of the University Center (UC) and the Recreation and Wellness Center, the addition of Laurel Village housing complex, construction of the Main Building (MB) and the dedication of $84 million dollars to the Biotechnology, Sciences and Engineering building.
“Romo has a charisma that only (former UTSA president) Templeton had,” UTSA distinguished Professor of Borderlands History Felix D. Almaraz said. “(It’s) something the other presidents didn’t have.”
Almaraz explained certain leadership styles of a president can determine the course of a university.
UTSA in its entirety was only a dream during its founding of the university by Governor Preston Smith in 1969.
The first president, Arleigh B. Templeton, secured the construction of seven university buildings at a cost of approximately $41 million. Templeton also hired UTSA’s first faculty and staff and brought in 38 degree programs.
He served as president for two years before he became president of UT El Paso.
Peter T. Flawn was UTSA’s second president in 1973. As construction continued for UTSA’s 1604 site, classes were held at the Koger Executive Center.
When President Flawn left his position in 1978, he returned to teaching at UT Austin, where he later served as president from 1979-1985.
“President Templeton and President Flawn set the foundation for building an institution of first class in San Antonio; they addressed the need that the legislature realized and that was the need for a university,” Gabler said.
James W. Wagener was appointed UTSA’s third president in 1978. During his tenure, the alumni association was formed, and the next year 9,400 students enrolled in the university. The University Center opened, The Institute of Texan Cultures joined UTSA and Chisholm Hall, the first dormitory, opened.
Wagener left his position in 1990 to return to teaching.
“This happens around the country,” Gabler said. “University presidents generally come from the faculty, and some presidents after awhile seem to take an ‘Okay I’ve done what I can, I want to return to the faculty.'”
Kirkpatrick, currently the executive professor at the Bush school at Texas A&M, became UTSA’s fourth president in 1990. He saw several changes: the constructing of the Engineering/Biotechnology building, additional degrees, Phase I of University Oaks and the opening of the Downtown campus.
Each president appeared to leave after advancing the university. Romo, however, remains at the helm.
When Romo took office in 1999, his mission was to make UTSA a top college by increasing advising, faculty involvement and student feedback.
“I would like everyone to view UTSA as their top choice for a university,” Romo said in a 1999 Paisano interview.
However, university presidents are leaving office to return to their former positions or start anew somewhere else, what does that mean for UTSA’s current president?
“He’s a visionary,” Almaraz said. “But presidents have really only about five years in which to accomplish what they want to do. Romo is unusual because he’s got 10 years, but in those 10 years he’s been able to do far more and has exceeded the record of all those behind.”
Are there disadvantages associated with UTSA’s fast growth under Romo’s leadership?
“The negative, if you could call it this, is that our institutional resources will always lag behind the new vision,” Associate Professor of Literature and Creative Writing, English Department Ben Olguin said. “This is natural, since we are pushing the boundaries of the past paradigm. And the purse strings are held by Coordinating Board Trustees and legislators in Austin. We need more buildings. But to his credit, President Romo has steadily cultivated a team of industry and political supporters who realize UTSA truly is on the verge of something great.”
Romo is driven by his desire for UTSA to become a research institution that will be in national ranking like other universities such as UT Austin.
“I have heard some critics claim that UTSA will never reach the status of UT Austin. But my response always has been that this same skepticism that greeted other visionaries who sought to make UCLA comparable to UC Berkeley,” Olguin said.
Olguin said that UC Berkeley was once held as a flagship institution in California, but there are now five flagship universities: UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz and UC Irvine.
Romo hopes to see UTSA follow a similar path.
“We move on, we work at it,” Romo said referring to the UTSA’s success. “It’s all in phases like climbing a mountain. But you don’t get to the top of the mountain. In the business we’re in, you don’t get to the top.”
You’re never finished if you strive for excellence; you’re just never done,” Romo said. “In a few years, maybe I’ll think ‘That’s about all I can do.’ But it won’t be because I’m finished, it won’t be because I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do, it’ll be because that’s about all I can do at this time.”
Some faculty, like Olguin, thinks Romo’s vision for UTSA needs more time to become reality.
“If President Romo’s administration were to end today-which I hope it does not as we still need another decade of his leadership to keep building-the path he has set for UTSA will continue,” Olguin said.