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Did Morrison fail to consult UHV about realignment bill?

By Gabe Semenza
March 18, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.
Updated March 17, 2011 at 10:18 p.m.


Answers to Questions

In the ninth 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.

Q: Did Rep. Geanie Morrison consult with UHV faculty, administration and students?

A popular question among some newspaper readers is whether Rep. Geanie Morrison consulted with the University of Houston-Victoria faculty, administration and students before filing HB 2556.

Don Smith, UHV's interim president, said, "As far as I know, nobody at the institution or the centers in Sugar Land or Cinco Ranch were consulted about the change."

This week, Morrison responded to the question via her spokesman, Justin Unruh. Morrison was unavailable during long stretches of legislative committee meetings, Unruh noted.

"We have been looking at education in our area as a whole for more than a year now, and we have talked to a broad cross-section of the community to gather their input," Unruh said. "During the meetings of the Crossroads Commission on Education, the public was always invited to attend and express their views, which many did. Now that the bill has been filed, we are continuing to listen to the input of all interested parties, both those in favor of the change and those who are opposed to the change."

In addition to Morrison's public solicitation of input, Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong and other business leaders made it known publicly in June that efforts to switch systems might become eminent.

Armstrong told the UH System that if both sides can't agree on a vision for UHV's future, Victoria leaders would seek a new partner. During the following months, much was discussed publicly regarding this debate.

Q: Was A&M University System aware the bill would be filed? Does it support efforts?

Victoria leaders discussed realignment with the Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University systems. In the end, leaders chose A&M because of geography - the system is located nearby - and because of its agriculture and engineering strengths, they say.

The abundance of A&M alumni in the Crossroads, as well as its legislative clout, likely also played a role.

But did the system know Morrison would file a bill to move UHV under its umbrella?

For months, several Victoria leaders met with the A&M chancellor and other system representatives.

"I was there with the chancellor and there were six or seven of us from Victoria," Armstrong said. "We talked extensively, so I can't imagine this came as a surprise to him. When we left there, there wasn't any doubt in my mind we were wanted."

The A&M System, meanwhile, declined to confirm or deny such meetings. State agencies are prohibited from advocating for or against the passage of legislation. Thus, it won't say if it supports Morrison's bill.

Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi, who also met with the A&M chancellor, said if Victoria leaders didn't feel A&M was a viable option, they wouldn't have supported a move to join its system.

"I think it stands to reason that everyone felt like this was the direction we needed to take," Pozzi said.

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