Is UHV/A&M switch just a complex conspiracy?

Gabe Semenza

March 10, 2011 at 6:03 p.m.
Updated March 9, 2011 at 9:10 p.m.

In the second part of an ongoing series, the Advocate answers questions related to HB 2556, legislation filed Tuesday 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.

Q: Are these efforts part of a conspiracy to make landowners wealthier?

An Advocate reader on Wednesday 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 Buhler Family heirs offered portions of their 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."

Q: How has the UH System chancellor addressed UHV staff, faculty?

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."

Corrected March 12, 2011



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