UT System plans to merge two South Texas universities, create med school

In December 2012, the UT System’s Board ofRegents unanimously approved a plan to merge two Rio Grande Valley universities—UTPan American (UTPA) and UT Brownsville.

With relatively small student populations of19,000 and 8,600 respectively and limited research capacities, the schools havehad difficulty allocating the required amount of state funding.

The schools are located near the border andhave been often overlooked by UT executives, despite reports fromadministrators of a pressing need for a medical school. The new entity wouldmaintain campuses in both Brownsville and Edinburg, Texas.

If unified, thenew university is expected to meet the Texas Higher Education CoordinatingBoard’s criteria for classification as an “emerging research” institution. Thiswill allow the recently developed university, which has yet to be named, tocompete for extra state incentive funds.

In a news release onthe Board of Regents website, Regents Chairman Gene Powell stated, “This is abold plan that, if accomplished, will put our Rio Grande Valley campuses onequal footing with other UT institutions.”

The legislation wouldalso allows the university access to the Permanent University Fund: asubstantial source of $9 billion that only select UT and Texas A&MUniversity System schools may use, as stated in the Texas Constitution.

A separate pieceof legislation that would establish a medical school in Harlingen, Texas ismaking its way through the lawmaking process. The UT System is requesting $20million for the school. In order to be approved, the plan requires a two-thirdsmajority vote in the state Legislature. However, university officials areconfident that both propositions will be passed.

On Jan. 23,proposals for $250 million in bond-funded projects for Rio Grande Valleyuniversities gained approval from UT System Regents, which, if cleared by thestate Legislature, will allow UT Pan American to add a new science building totheir campus.

Universityofficials said that the project will complement the new medical school plannedfor South Texas. The medical school would be known as the South Texas School ofMedicine.

Once completed,the South Texas School of Medicine will employ 1,500 faculty members androughly 3,700 staff for a projected 7,000 new jobs in the Rio Grande Valleyarea. However, UT officials said that the new establishment will also result ina downsizing of UT Pan American and UT Brownsville in order to avoid duplicatepositions.

Juliet Garcia, thepresident of UT Brownsville since its founding in the early 1990s, stronglyendorses the merge, as does UT Pan American President Robert Nelson.

“To be honest,none of us know what’s ahead of us,” Nelson told the San Antonio Express-News.“We’re embarking on a dream. But everybody knows this is the right thing.”