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A&M emails show system switch high on radar

By BY GABE SEMENZA
May 24, 2011 at 12:24 a.m.
Updated May 25, 2011 at 12:25 a.m.


Since State Rep. Geanie Morrison filed House Bill 2556 - to realign Victoria's university with the Texas A&M University System - a key question has loomed.

Does the A&M System want the University of Houston-Victoria?

More than 100 pages of Aggie system correspondences, requested and received by the Advocate, offered no clear cut answer but do show UHV is high on its radar.

Crossroads leaders who have talked to A&M higher-ups say the system shows strong interest. Still, no one in College Station will confirm or deny it, at least publicly.

A&M administrators say state employees cannot lobby for or against state legislation - such as the bill filed in March by Morrison, a Victoria Republican. Thus, no one there will discuss the system's wishes.

Highlights from the correspondences, however, show the bill is much talked about.

n The Advocate requested all Victoria- and UHV-related correspondence sent to or from the A&M System from Sept. 1 to May 5. The system returned 106 pages.

n Several emails show the system is tracking this newspaper's coverage of Morrison's bill, as well as community reaction.

For example, Jason Cook, the system's spokesman, wrote April 13 to Stanton Calvert, the vice chancellor for governmental relations. "I wanted to make you aware that system-switching supporters in Victoria have set up a webpage - www.Tamuv.org," Cook wrote.

n A&M Chancellor Mike McKinney emailed Calvert on April 10 about a story that published in the New York Times. The story detailed Morrison's bill.

"Nothing to it. The mayor has the right attitude," McKinney wrote.

The story quoted only one mayor, Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong. Armstrong said in the story that it is an understatement to say the UH System fails to share the region's vision for UHV. "(Switching systems) is the absolute No. 1 highest priority that we've ever had that I can remember," Armstrong said.

Armstrong, however, later was quoted as saying he is willing to give the UH System a second chance.

n After Morrison filed her bill, the system began the procedural process of reviewing the switch's effects.

"I'm going to issue a request to key A&M System folks this week to begin to prepare the estimates for a fiscal impact note for their respective areas for HB 2556," B.J. Crain, the system's chief business officer, wrote to Calvert.

n State Sen. Glenn Hegar, a Katy Republican, called for a May 10 meeting of himself, McKinney, UH System Chancellor Renu Khator and State Rep. Dan Branch. Branch is a Dallas Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education.

Morrison's bill was the subject of the meeting, emails show.

McKinney and Khator attended the meeting, Hegar's office confirmed. Branch, however, did not, according to Candice Woodruff, his chief of staff.

Hegar could not be reached to discuss the specific topics or conclusions of the meeting. As the legislative session wraps, he is working 15-hour days, seven days a week, Melissa Hamilton, his spokeswoman, said.

"He's not saying 'no comment,'" Hamilton said. "He'd be happy to talk. He just doesn't have time until after the session."

Neither Morrison nor Armstrong expressed concern about the meeting. Such meetings are common, they said.

"It doesn't bother me that they had some issues they wanted to discuss together without us," Armstrong said.

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