Email reflects tension in talks about UHV's future

Gabe Semenza

May 7, 2011 at 12:07 a.m.

An email sent by the University of Houston-Victoria's interim president highlights tension surrounding the school's future.

Don Smith, the interim president, wrote to university system higher-ups to ask whether he should submit a guest column to the Victoria Advocate. Smith considered trying to quell anti-university system sentiments.

"Whatever antipathies toward the University of Houston System of some local leaders, they do remain steadfast supporters of the university - even though the university is really not the local institution they consider it to be," Smith wrote in an email dated Oct. 14. "They are just full of resentment, along with illusions about the future."

Smith's characterization, revealed as a result of the Victoria Advocate's open-records request, seems to have only added salt to fresh wounds.

For months, many Crossroads leaders have publicized frustrations they have about the current host system - including the system's decision to reassign Tim Hudson, the former president who helped to quickly advance the school in many ways.

State Rep. Geanie Morrison, a Victoria Republican, filed in March a bill that would remove UHV from the UH System.

The crux of angst, held by those who wish to switch university systems, is the belief the UH System does not share the local vision for the school and neglects UHV's needs while attending to others in the system.

"I have known Dr. Smith for a long time, and I have a lot of respect for him," said Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong. "But Smith's views are consistent with the UH System's views. He wouldn't be working for the UH System if he didn't share the same management philosophy. Tim Hudson is proof of that."

Smith sent his email to Grover Campbell, the system's vice president for governmental relations. Campbell represents the system's interests before the legislature.

The Advocate obtained that email and 1,500 pages of other emails via an open records request filed recently.

"It seems to me that Dr. Smith's email validates the position we've long espoused: The UH System vision is different than Victoria's vision," said Dennis Patillo, a Victoria businessman and supporter of switching systems. "It is clear there is a wide gulf."

Smith wrote in his email that articles and opinions published in the Advocate exasperated him and seem uninformed, unfair and unrealistic.

"Thank you for the appropriate and measured response," Campbell, the system higher-up, wrote in reply to Smith's email.

By phone this week, Smith elaborated on his comments, particularly those in which he suggested supporters of change are full of resentment and illusions. Smith never submitted a guest column on the subject.

"'Illusions' may be too strong a word," Smith said.

The interim president emphasized his statements did not indicate he believes creating a so-called destination university is an illusion, or pipe dream. He supports that goal, he said.

"My concern was and really is that we grow the university in a responsible way," he said. "I thought some people in the community were resentful over what they felt was a dismissive attitude from whoever was down from the system. I also think there has been a certain over-optimism about how quickly a university can grow and how that growth can be accommodated."

The suggestion that supporters of change are over-optimistic about growth seemed to puzzle Patillo.

"What speed do you think we want this to be done in?" Patillo said. "I have not seen a deadline, nor has the Crossroads Commission on Education said there's a deadline. What the commission has asked for was growth based on performance metrics. Give us a plan. Let us know what student levels we need to get to, and we'll reach those student levels."



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