Hegar, Sugar Land mayor oppose portion of UHV bill

Gabe Semenza

March 26, 2011 at 10:01 p.m.
Updated March 25, 2011 at 10:26 p.m.

State Sen. Glenn Hegar and a mayor in his district do not want the Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch learning centers to move with the University of Houston-Victoria to the Texas A&M University System.

State Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, introduced legislation to move everything and everyone under UHV's umbrella from the University of Houston System into the A&M System - including employees and students of the two learning centers.

A healthy portion of UHV's faculty, administration and students, in fact, work or attend classes via the UH at Sugar Land and UH at Cinco Ranch learning centers.

Hegar presides over a district that spans Victoria, Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch. He said Morrison's bill stems from Victoria-based frustrations.

"Constituents in Victoria asked to be moved to a different university system," Hegar said. "In listening to them, I am committed to addressing their concerns. However, the other communities in my district have neither engaged in this discussion nor asked to be moved, so I do not believe those communities should be forced to change systems."

Victoria leaders have detailed years of frustration they've had with the UH System, most of which center on what they call roadblocks to growth.

Sugar Land Mayor James Thompson understands Victoria's frustrations with the host system, he said.

"We, too, would like to see some things changed," Thompson said. "If Victoria wants to break away, that's fine. But I think Victoria's issues with the UH System and our issues are totally different."

Thompson said he opposes the transfer of the Sugar Land center into the A&M System because:

Morrison did not contact him about her bill, which she filed two weeks ago.

Despite frustrations, Sugar Land is making notable progress with the UH System.

He has easy access to the UH System chancellor and its board of regents.

"I don't think I would have that same opportunity with A&M," Thompson said. "This is nothing against A&M. It's a great system, and it might end up that we're with them. I just want to make sure we follow through on current opportunities before we jump off with another system."

Are Hegar and Thompson posturing politically in case Morrison's bill fails to make it to the senate? The men say no.

Supporters of the bill, meanwhile, say efforts to pass the proposed legislation continue.

Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong, businessman Dennis Patillo and political consultant Mike Sizemore all said they stand behind the bill as it's written and harbor no ill-will toward Hegar and Thompson.

Morrison said she won't change how she advocates for her bill.

"I truly believe we need to partner with a system that can better meet the needs of our community," she said.

Morrison said she did not discuss the bill with Thompson because she remained - and remains - in contact with Hegar and Rep. Charlie Howard, the legislators whose districts include Fort Bend County.

Howard did not return repeated phone calls and emails to his office this week.

What remains unknown: Does the A&M System want UHV without the two learning centers? How will negotiations with Morrison's bill pan out? Does a win-win-win scenario exist?

A&M cannot advocate for or against legislation, and it won't comment on such questions.

Morrison, however, notes a caveat that exists between UHV and the two learning centers.

UHV grants the vast majority of degrees in Victoria, as well as at Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch, she explained.

"UHV would maintain those degrees," Morrison said. "If Sugar Land was not part of the transfer, they would then have to find another degree-granting institution to provide those degrees. Currently, UHV provides 12 of the 18 bachelor's degrees and 10 of the 13 master's degrees."

Don Smith, the interim UHV president, said other UH System universities could step in and offer much of those programs, namely standard courses and business programs.

Those other schools, however, do not offer nursing and some computer science programs, Smith added.

Armstrong, the Victoria mayor, said complexities and some opposition from Sugar Land do not hamstring efforts to pass the bill. Rather, hurdles were expected all along, he said.

"This is all a work in progress and typifies the way the American system is supposed to work," Armstrong said.



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