If you haven't picked up a paper during the last week, or missed a few here and there, you might have missed our full and ongoing coverage of legislation filed by Rep. Geanie Morrison.
Morrison filed HB 2556 last Tuesday. 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.
Following is a running list of all the questions and answers we've published in an ongoing series. Please feel free to post below the questions you want answered.
Would the switch increase tuition?
“No,” Morrison said. “Tuition is recommended by each campus regardless of system in an independent process that involves considerable input from students. It is then approved – or not – by system boards and varies from university to university in every system. UHV tuition is among the lowest in the state and would most likely remain so due to its particular budgetary realities, program mix, cost of doing business, enrollment patterns, etc.”
How would the switch affect student status?
According to Section 5 of Morrison’s bill: “... this Act does not affect the status of any student of the university.”
“All students would be able to continue their current majors,” Morrison said. Don Smith, interim UHV president, agreed.
“Now, if a student is a major in ‘XYZ’ and is within a year of graduating, will that degree say ‘A&M’ or will that degree say ‘UHV’ next year?” Smith said. “I don’t have the answer to that.”
If UHV switches systems, would A&M cut curriculum?
Jason Cook, a spokesman for the A&M System, said it is premature for the system to answer such questions, and that pending legislation prohibits him from discussing more specific topics.
Smith, however, said he does not foresee the A&M System cutting current UHV curriculum.
“It would be unconscionable to have a student enter college and then have a student halfway into a major and tell them they can’t finish that major,” Smith said. “That just wouldn’t work at all.”
Morrison reassured students by saying no programs would be cut immediately just because of a system switch.
“UHV’s ‘menu’ of degree programs would not change immediately,” she said. “However, it could be augmented over time based on need and possible collaborations with A&M universities. All universities constantly review their program mix based on numerous factors.”
If UHV switches systems, what happens to existing diploma holders?
Smith, the interim UHV president, said alumni of Victoria’s university should not worry. Although he is unclear about the arrangements that would be worked out, he has experience with university name changes.
“I imagine students would be offered the chance to keep their UHV diploma or to transfer to an A&M diploma,” he said. “I know in my experiences, alumni were offered the opportunity of being issued a new degree certificate or diploma with the current name of the university.
How would a switch affect employees?
According to Morrison’s bill: “... this Act does not affect the employment status or accrued benefits of a person employed by the university when the transfer takes effect.”
The bill later notes its intention is to switch systems “without disrupting the students, faculty, staff or programs of the university.”
How would it affect employment contracts signed in coming weeks?
“It won’t affect signing contracts because the bill provides that any contracts that are made by the institution, or any obligations incurred by the UH System, would be honored,” Smith said. “That much being said, we do have an obligation as an institution to let applicants know that this bill has been filed because it may or may not affect their consideration of the university – whether they are a student or potential employee.”
Is the switch a conspiracy to make a few families wealthier?
An Advocate reader last week summarized in an online post a longstanding rumor related to campus expansion:
“This is a concocted scheme to move a school, build a road and get the people, who own land near the new road, rich,” the reader wrote.
The rumor stems from multiple moving parts.
First, supporters of moving to a new system say UHV’s current landlocked campus is unable to meet student growth predictions.
To meet even conservative growth, UHV needs a new campus, they say. More than a year ago, Victoria resident Frank Buhler offered portions of his 1,500-acre tract – located in part halfway between the airport and Loop 463 – as ground for the university to build anew. He offered 100 acres for free and another 200 coupled with a 10-year option to buy at today’s prices.
Since then, supporters of a new campus unveiled a study that points to the area near the airport as prime ground for university construction. Then, the city and county showed support for the expansion by planning to extend Airline Road.
“A piece of property without access would not be helpful,” said Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong. “Just to show how enthused we were about expansion, the city and county unanimously voted to spend money to facilitate that property.”
If the university builds anew on the 100 donated acres, there exists little doubt the Buhler family stands to gain financially. The property value of the adjacent land likely would increase notably.
Would countless businesspeople, the city, county, chamber of commerce, economic development leaders and a state representative go through the trouble of switching systems just to benefit one or a few families?
Not even the most ardent public opponents of switching systems – Kay Kerr Walker, a former UH regent, for example – buy into this rumor.
Additionally, nowhere in Morrison’s bill does it say the university switch is contingent on A&M accepting Buhler’s donated land. The bill makes no mention of campus expansion.
Clearly, community leaders feel A&M offers a better option for growing the university to their liking. Still, Armstrong said his affinity for A&M is in no way linked to Buhler’s land.
“In all the meetings I attended – and I attended meetings with A&M and another system – accepting that land was never a pre-condition for changing the sponsorship for UHV,” Armstrong said. “I wouldn’t care if A&M wanted to put a new campus in Guadalupe or Mission Valley.”
A&M on Thursday did not reply to a general question about how the system researches potential new campus sites.
However, the system has in the past used its in-house Public Policy Research Institute to research such options. The institute analyzes a multitude of aspects related to such projects.
“Now, when A&M officially takes over, I would assume they would treat us like they have treated other new partners,” Armstrong said. “I’m sure they will do a complete analysis of the community, educational needs and land needs before any decisions are made.”
How has the UH system addressed UHV faculty and staff?
In an e-mail sent to UHV staff and faculty on Thursday – and obtained by the Advocate – UH System Chancellor Renu Khator addressed Tuesday’s proposed legislation.
“Events of this week must have created an unsettling environment for you,” Khator wrote. “I understand your anxiety and regret that we are going through these difficult times.”
Khator continued: “I want you to know that the UH System remains fully committed to UHV and to you as you continue to fulfill your mission. Your voice and opinion count and, therefore, if you know of any way that we can make things better for you, please do not hesitate to let your president and/or me know.”
Why did city leaders choose A&M?
For several months, Victoria leaders courted representatives from both the Texas A&M and Texas Tech University systems.Both systems found Victoria an appealing partner. Ultimately, community leaders went with the Aggies – but why?
A&M has a successful track record of joining with and growing rural institutions, as well as partnering with community colleges – two obvious components to Victoria’s higher education scene, Morrison said.
Additionally, the A&M system boasts hordes of alumni in the Crossroads and is located nearby, a convenience during the transition and for fostering strong relationships going forward, the representative added.
Donald Day, a Victoria businessman and realignment advocate, said leaders would have been happy with either system.
“We just thought in the end our success might have been a little bit improved with A&M because of geography,” Day said.
What would happen to funding UHV already secured?
State money allotted to UHV would remain with the school and its new host system, said Don Smith, interim UHV president.
According to Sec. 87.883 of Morrison’s bill: “All funds that, on the effective date of the transfer, have been appropriated or dedicated to UHV are transferred to the board of regents of the Texas A&M University System for the use and benefit of Texas A&M University-Victoria.”
How will this affect student recruitment?
Smith, said he’s uncertain how such news will affect student recruitment, but the university will inform prospective newcomers about the possibilities ahead. About 37 percent of the current freshmen class come from the Houston area, Smith said. Whether that Houston brand recognition draws those students here is difficult to say, he added.
“I don’t think the news will make things easier,” Smith said. “Whether it’ll make it harder or not, I don’t know. A&M is a very recognized name, so my guess is it won’t have a major effect on student recruitment at the freshman level.”
Will UHV have to change its mascot?
Texas A&M University-San Antonio, a school in the A&M System, already uses the Jaguar mascot.
If UHV switches into the A&M System, it is likely the university’s mascot would change, too, Smith said.
A change to the mascot would also require new athletics uniforms and other alterations, such as to the Jaguar Hall dormitory name and sign on Rio Grande Street.
Texas A&M University is renowned for its agricultural and engineering programs. Would the A&M System approve those programs here?
Jason Cook, spokesman for the A&M System, said it is premature to answer such questions. Since Morrison filed her bill, the system has released only a brief statement and declined to answer specific questions.
As for programs the system might approve, Don Smith, the interim UHV president, offered his take.
“I don’t know,” he said. “A&M could extend a program to Victoria or any other location if it were willing to do that, but the degree program would remain with College Station.”
If Texas A&M University-Victoria, on the other hand, desired to add programs already offered in College Station, the school would have to follow protocol.
The university would first have to receive approval from the A&M System, then a regional accrediting body and finally a state coordinating board of directors. The school would also have to hire specialized faculty.
“Nothing would automatically become a program here,” Smith said. “If, for example, the university looked at if a nuclear engineering program would work in Victoria, that program would have to be approved, and that would take years.”
This protocol reflects the exact procedure the school undergoes now to add academic programs.
Would students who are already accepted have to reapply if UHV switches systems?
Smith said students already admitted to UHV would also be seamlessly admitted to the newly named school.
If UHV switches systems, students already accepted would not have to reapply, he said.
Why did Morrison require in her bill that a state board handle disputes?
In her bill, Morrison requests the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to resolve all disputes – between the UH and A&M systems – during the system switch.
The state education board would serve as an intermediary, Morrison said, to ensure students, faculty and day-to-day operations are disrupted to the least extent possible.
“This is standard language and was included in the Angelo State bill,” she added.
The Angelo State bill, filed in 2007, was the first and only Texas bill to successfully achieve a university system switch in which the host system opposed the move.
Is Victoria the right place for a destination university?
Supporters of switching systems say a so-called destination university is one filled with face-to-face students and the bustle of a more traditional college setting. They want UHV’s campus to better reflect this vision, and to one day boast 5,000 to 10,000 students.
But why do they think Victoria is the proper place for such a school? First, Victoria is located between four major metro areas – Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Corpus Christi. Houston and San Antonio are two of the nation’s fastest-growing cities.
“Research done by UHV a few years ago showed students wanted to be two to four hours from home,” said Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp. “The students wanted to be far enough from home so they felt like they were on their own, but close enough that they could visit home, too.”
Victoria fits this attractive distance-from-home requirement for many students, including those in the Valley.
Secondly, a vibrant, expanded university would help to close the state’s education gap, especially among minority students, Morrison says.
Recently released U.S. Census Bureau data show the Hispanic population is booming in Texas and the Crossroads.
“Where are those young people going to go to school?” Fowler asked. “Whether they’re from the Rio Grande Valley or Houston, we’re positioned well to serve those markets. First-generation college students won’t feel intimidated to come to school in Victoria.”
That’s another reason supporters say Victoria is prime ground. Here, students from the metro areas could enjoy college in a less-hectic setting, and students from rural areas will feel right at home, too, they say.
“Major universities are crowded,” Fowler said. “We’re going to have to put those students somewhere. Why not in Victoria?”
Will UHV’s business school remain AACSB-accredited?
“AACSB” is an acronym for the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. The association accredits business schools that meet stringent requirements.
Only about 25 percent of the country’s business schools – including the UHV School of Business – boast the accreditation, said Don Smith, the university’s interim president.
“It’s prestigious,” Smith said. “It’s a great value to students to have that.” Amy Ponzillo, an AACSB International spokeswoman, said via e-mail the association talked to a UHV dean regarding the possible system switch. “We have no concerns about the change affecting the school’s accreditation status,” Ponzillo said. “The only conditions that could create concerns are those that affect the school’s mission, resources to achieve their mission, faculty resources, students served and/or major program portfolio impacts.”
-- Gabe Semenza, Advocate public service editor
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