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UH promises to rebuild trust with Victoria

By KBell
July 13, 2011 at 2:13 a.m.
Updated July 14, 2011 at 2:14 a.m.


WHO WAS AT THE MEETING?State Rep. Dan Branch called the meeting between leaders from the University of Houston and Texas A&M University.

State Rep. Geanie Morrison and state Sen. Glenn Hegar attended, and the two helped pick area leaders who have been vocal on both sides of the UHV switch.

Also in attendance were UHV Interim President Don Smith, Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor, Emett Alvarez, Dennis Patillo, Dorothy Alcorn, Roger Welder and Jan Jacob.

It's now or never when it comes to repairing the University of Houston's relationship with Victoria - and the outlook is promising.

That's state Rep. Dan Branch's takeaway after the meeting he called Tuesday between legislators, Victoria community leaders and representatives from University of Houston and Texas A&M University.

"If we go another six months and there's not some serious communication and action and rebuilding of trust and relationships, then I will not be optimistic," he said Wednesday. "I hope this meeting is a wake-up call for more proactive outreach by the UH system to Victoria and perhaps also for Victoria maybe to be a little more patient in growth plans."

State Rep. Geanie Morrison proposed a bill in the last legislative session that would move UHV from the University of Houston to the Texas A&M University System. The bill was in response to concerns among civic and business leaders in Victoria who thought UH was not on board with the community's vision for expansion and growth into a destination university.

"If there's a perception ... that there's not been enough effective communication and attention from the UH system to Victoria, then to me perception is reality," Branch said.

Branch, a Dallas Republican who's chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, said he thinks there's a window of opportunity to address problems between Victoria and UH, especially with the appointment of Philip Castille, the new UHV president. He said he hopes UH leaders, from trustees to the chancellor's cabinet, make an effort to visit the Victoria campus more often.

"A lot of people were taking notes, and then at the end, there was acknowledgement by the U of H leadership that they need to do a better job," Branch said.

John Antel, the vice president for academic affairs and provost at UH, said the meeting helped restore a damaged line of communication.

"The U of H System was there to listen, and we got a lot of good information," Antel said. "I thought for the most part, there's a real prospect in terms of moving forward."

The three-hour meeting on the UHV campus started out mostly vague, but soon details were flying.

"The constant refrain I got was better communication and improved student housing," Branch said.

One concern brought up was the lack of communication concerning the removal of UHV President Tim Hudson right before the 2010 school year - the first year the institution became a four-year university. Hudson had been vocal about his plans to grow UHV, and the community seemed to be behind his long-term vision.

Branch said state Sen. Glenn Hegar, who opposed Morrison's bill, has been encouraging the governor to consider appointing a Victoria-area regent to the UH board, which would hopefully contribute to the improved communication, as well.

Antel had the last word at the meeting, and Branch said he spoke at length about UH's commitment to rebuild the trust between the university and Victoria.

Antel said all UHV stakeholders will gather to work on a business plan for the university that will better collaborate Victoria's visions and UH goals.

He declined to elaborate with details but said, "I can tell you that the U of H system is committed to the downward expansion and the success of the destination university."

The soaring enrollment numbers at UHV excite the host system, but Antel said UH has to be realistic about how quickly the university can expand in tough budget times.

"Everybody agreed that (we'll) try to get off the negative and move forward," Antel said. "The history is history."

Branch said rebuilding the relationship will require trust, and gaining trust will require action from UH. It's now up to this group of leaders to continue the dialogue. Branch said he encouraged UH representatives to deliver their message back home in a hurry.

Branch said representatives from the A&M system were also at the meeting, taking their own notes.

"I got a strong sense that if the U of H system doesn't get in here and get their hands dirty in Victoria soil, that we're going to have a problem," Branch said.

Frank Ashley, Texas A&M's vice chancellor for academic affairs, was at the meeting but did not return requests for comment.

UH Chancellor Renu Khator is out of the country and did not attend the meeting.

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