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UHV/A&M switch: What happens to Sugar Land, Cinco Ranch centers?

By Gabe Semenza
March 17, 2011 at 7 p.m.
Updated March 24, 2011 at 10:25 p.m.




In the eighth part of an ongoing series, the Advocate answers questions related to HB 2556, legislation filed last week by Rep. Geanie Morrison.

If passed, the bill would change the University of Houston-Victoria's name to Texas A&M University-Victoria, and move everything and everyone under its umbrella into the A&M system.

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BILL?

Contact Advocate Public Service Editor Gabe Semenza at gsemenza@vicad.com or 361-580-6519.

Jill McMurrey is enrolled at the University of Houston-Victoria, but she takes classes online via the Sugar Land center.

Regarding a possible university system switch, McMurrey has questions, one of which the Advocate features today.

If UHV switches systems, what happens to Cinco Ranch, Sugar Land campuses?

UHV, other University of Houston System schools and Wharton County Junior College share the facilities to teach classes in Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch, which are located southwest and west of Houston.

The UH System at Sugar Land and the UH System at Cinco Ranch are considered multi-institution teaching centers.

Face-to-face and distance learning students enrolled in UHV programs at Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch - students such as McMurrey - are counted toward UHV's total student population.

The majority of faculty members who teach and students who attend classes via those centers, in fact, are UHV affiliated.

If Rep. Geanie Morrison's bill passes, what happens to those students and faculty, as well as the buildings used there?

Morrison's bill clearly states the system switch would not affect the status of any student, faculty member or staffer. They would maintain their respective position, only at the newly named Texas A&M University-Victoria, according to the bill.

Morrison's bill also notes that all land, buildings, facilities, equipment, supplies and property belonging to and constituting UHV would transfer to the A&M System, as well.

A quick look at property records, however, shows the UH System owns the buildings in Cinco Ranch and Sugar Land. Ultimately, the state of Texas is the owner.

Richard Bonnin, a spokesman for the UH System, said the Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch buildings would remain with the UH System even if the bill passes.

What happens then remains unclear. If UH owns the buildings, could A&M-Victoria faculty teach students there? Or would the newly-named university offer classes only at its main Victoria campus?

Nowhere in Morrison's bill does it specifically address these questions. However, Morrison does note her general intent, which the legislature would assume if it passes the bill:

"It is the intent of the legislature that the transfer ... be made without disrupting the students, faculty, staff, or programs of the university," Morrison's bill notes. "If those boards of regents are unable to agree as to any matter relating to the transfer, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board shall resolve the disagreement consistent with the intent of this section and the provisions of this act."

Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the coordinating board, said Morrison's bill reflects language used in similar legislation. In 2007, Angelo State University was successfully - via legislation - moved into the Texas Tech University System.

"This isn't common, but it's not totally foreign to us," Chavez said. "If for some reason the two systems cannot reach agreement on issues, the bill would insert the coordinating board as mediator."

Because the UH System will not say now what its strategic plan is, it remains unclear if it would:

Try to bar the A&M System from using the Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch buildings.

Allow the A&M System to continue using the buildings as UHV does now.

Offer to sell the buildings to the A&M System.

"I suspect that'll be part of the negotiation process," Chavez said. "From the coordinating board's standpoint, we would want to see as little disruption to the students as possible. That intent is spelled out clearly in the bill. The issues in this case are so unique I can't begin to tell you how we'd address them."

If the bill passes and both systems agree on the issue of building usage, the coordinating board would not be needed.

Morrison's spokesman, Justin Unruh, offered a final word.

"There is nothing that prohibits another institution from using those facilities," he said. "For example, Wharton County Junior College currently is utilizing part of the Sugar Land campus."

Corrected March 20, 2011

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