Bill to move UHV marks 'monumental day' in city's history


March 9, 2011 at 12:02 p.m.
Updated March 8, 2011 at 9:09 p.m.

TOP: Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria speaks at the House of Representatives for Victoria Day on Tuesday, March 1st at the Capitol building in Austin.

TOP: Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria speaks at the House of Representatives for Victoria Day on Tuesday, March 1st at the Capitol building in Austin.

AUSTIN - Victoria residents hugged, cheered and shook hands Tuesday afternoon at the Capitol.

Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, announced plans to file a bill Tuesday that would move the University of Houston-Victoria into the Texas A&M University System. She filed the bill mid-afternoon.

"Today's a monumental day," said Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong, who was in Austin on Tuesday for the announcement. "It's time for Victoria to partner with another university system."

The bill - House Bill 2556 - is 11 pages long and refers to Victoria's university as Texas A&M University-Victoria.

"We've had a great relationship with the University of Houston System, but our vision is different," Morrison said. "Our current system wants to be the best metropolitan system in the nation, and I think that's fabulous. But I'm not sure a metropolitan system with an emphasis on having a Tier 1 institution ... that we quite fit there."

The University of Houston-Victoria has been a freestanding institution within the University of Houston System since 1983. During the past three decades, however, Victoria civic and business leader became increasingly frustrated by what they call impediments to growth imposed by the system.

Many of Victoria's business leaders have said they want to align with a university system that shares the community's goals for campus growth and creating a so-called destination university.

"I think this move can be transformative not only to the Victoria area but all the surrounding areas," said Dennis Patillo, a Victoria businessman and education advocate who advocated for Tuesday's bill.

Morrison's bill was filed after months of behind-the-scenes work by many to court a complementary university system that would replace UH.

The Texas A&M University System 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.

The university realignment would not cost any money, she said. Additionally, the Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch student and staff populations - of which fall under the Victoria university's umbrella - will also move into the new system, Morrison said.

"Basically, the bill physically takes all of UHV and puts it into the A&M System," Morrison explained. "We're taking the operations and just changing the name."

Carroll Ray, the University of Houston System board of regents chairwoman, and Chancellor Renu Khator said state agencies are prohibited from advocating for or against the passage of legislation.

Khator and Ray issued only a brief written statement: "We believe the UH System remains the best partner for UHV and its students," they said.

Because of what is at stake, it seems likely the host system will fight the legislative realignment efforts.

Only once in the state's history has a university switched systems when the host system opposed it. Like Victoria's university, Angelo State University began as a two-year school and later expanded to four years.

San Angelo business, civic and municipal leaders grumbled that the host system failed to give the school proper attention and funding.

So, leaders realigned the school with a new system - the Texas Tech University System - in 2007.

To achieve a similar transition, Morrison's bill must first pass out of committee, then the Texas House of Representatives and Senate, and finally be signed by Gov. Rick Perry. If successful, the legislation would become effective in September.

What are A&M's plans to grow the Victoria university? What curriculum or athletics programs would it add?

The answers remain unclear. The Texas A&M System abided by the same laws that govern Khator and Ray, and thus offered only a brief statement.

"We are not seeking to persuade or entice members of other university systems to join The Texas A&M University System," Jason Cook, an A&M spokesman, said in an e-mail. "If it is the will of the Legislature to add the University of Houston-Victoria or any other institution to the A&M System, we will certainly do our utmost to serve the students, faculty, staff and community of the university and be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us."

The task ahead of swaying legislators will be difficult, no doubt. Sen. Glenn Hegar, a Katy Republican whose district includes Victoria, said Victoria's university can be a much more vibrant destination university than it is today.

"That takes a full partnership of everybody," he said.

This legislative effort will require hard work, lobbying and help from influential leaders. Ray Sullivan, the governor's chief of staff, said Perry listens when Morrison calls.

"We've listened and we're looking at the options, and I wouldn't want to go beyond that," Sullivan said. "We have to see if that is the best thing for the respective systems, and the local campus and the taxpayers."

As for the local campus, Morrison said a switch now would benefit generations of students.

"The students are coming. We are attracting first-generation, under-served students who want an education," she said. "I think we will grow and flourish. That is exactly what we need to do in this state to close the gaps."



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