The following article was published in the Brownsville Herald as part of a series that will run this week.
Part I – UTB/TSC is established in response to an urgent need
October 17, 2010
Upon the successful vote establishing the college district, a front page article of The Brownsville Herald reported: “The first two steps toward the accomplishment of the dream of expanding Texas Southmost College to a four-year school were taken last week.” It was written in November 1949. The article continued, “The recent plan calls for a separate union junior college district that was the beginning of a long range plan which will culminate with TSC as a fully-accredited senior college.”
Fifty years after the date of the community’s vote that dream had still not been achieved; however, our community continued to work together to make it a reality. The need for more higher education was critical.
In 1990, the state’s budget was suffering a serious deficit brought on in great part by the plummeting price of oil. The peso had devalued in Mexico, crippling a once vibrant and cosmopolitan downtown Brownsville, and two years of hard freeze had decimated the local fruit and vegetable agricultural industry. Notwithstanding, we were a mere 10 years from the new century, and all predictions were that the jobs of the new century would require educational skills beyond the two-year associate degree. And the population of the region continued to grow faster than most in the state, exacerbating the harsh effects of high unemployment and low educational attainment. The need to create a more educated workforce to grow local businesses and attract new industries for better paying and higher skills jobs had never seemed more urgent.
But in 1991, emboldened by the courage of a young senator named Eddie Lucio and a new state representative, Rene Oliveira, trustees of Texas Southmost College and regents of The University of Texas System were empowered by the legislature to establish an innovative new model of educational partnership. The new model would make more efficient use of scarce fiscal, physical and human resources, it would streamline curricula so that students could easily move from certificate to associate to bachelor degree programs, and it would eliminate all traditional transfer barriers between the community college and a university. It would merge the missions of the two kinds of institutions.
In the summer of 1991, Governor Ann Richards came to the border campus to symbolically sign the bill establishing the new university partnership. On September 1, 1991, the clock on the corner of the Arnulfo Oliveira Library chimed for the first time on campus to mark the establishment of the new community university.
It had never been tried before anywhere in the nation. There was no clear pathway to follow. Would it work? Only time would tell.
Part II – Impact of the new Community University
The first few years of the new university partnership were marked by a surge of experimentation that created challenges for faculty and staff. The work at hand was to design a new organization out of two separate ones that it had inherited; a community college and an upper level branch campus of UT Pan American.
New operational policies and procedures for everything had to be invented: how would students be registered; what colleges and schools would be formed; and what new tenure and promotion policies would be devised? One by one, each issue was studied, debated, and resolved. What kept people at the table during those difficult times was the focus on ‘what would be best for students.’ It worked every time to solve the most complex issues.
The new organization worked continuously to recalibrate to its environment. Each year brought new trustees, new regents and an ever changing political and regulatory environment causing the university to constantly adjust to take advantage of new opportunities.
By any measure, the innovative experiment worked. Almost 20 years later, it has awarded more than 32,000 degrees and certificates, added 73 new degree programs and more than doubled the size of the faculty. It routinely launches students to the best graduate and professional schools throughout the nation and transforms local talent into Carnegie Hall caliber performers.
It generates more than $7 million annually in research relevant to the health needs of the region and attracts $62 million annually for student scholarships and grants. It expanded our sports program to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and hosts national playoffs in soccer, volleyball and baseball. And this summer, it hosted the President’s Cup Tournament, the “final four” of chess.
The campus has grown from 49 acres to 470 acres, restored many important historical buildings and laid out a comprehensive master plan for future growth. It built a new library and renovated the original one, it added a new center for early childhood studies that cares for and teaches children and serves as a hands-on site for teachers-in-training. It built three new buildings devoted to math, engineering, biological sciences and the health professions and filled them with renowned faculty. It built a stunning Arts Center that in its inaugural year has served as a magnet for world-class performers.
While the partnership made it appear to students that there was only one institution, there were in fact two operating together. This appeared much easier than it actually was, and it is only through the extraordinary hard work and creativity of our employees that it was possible at all. But in the words of so many of them in the last few years, “there has to be a better way.”