Advocate editorial board opinion: UH needs to communicate openly, honestly about Victoria campus' future

By the Advocate Editorial Board
March 8, 2014 at 3:05 p.m.
Updated March 7, 2014 at 9:08 p.m.

Any therapist will tell you communication is essential in building trust.

The University of Houston System needs to learn this fundamental lesson about relationships. Many in the Crossroads don't trust the recent actions UH has taken to take away the ability of the University of Houston-Victoria to offer programs in Sugar Land.

We don't trust UH because the system has a history of failing to communicate openly, honestly and fully about its plans for the Victoria campus. The most recent move illustrates well this pattern that has played out since Crossroads community leaders started pushing several years ago for a greater focus on the campus here.

The latest example began in November 2011, when the UH Board of Regents acted to put the Sugar Land teaching center under the control of the system. In its press release about the change, UH officials emphasized UHV would still offer all of its programs on the Sugar Land campus.

"It is expected that UHV will benefit from additional visibility and student traffic at the campus," Marshall Schott, UH associate vice president for university outreach, told our reporter in an email then.

Fast forward a little more than two years to this month. The regents voted to remove UHV completely from the Sugar Land campus and transfer its nursing school facilities there to the UH System. They took this move without including anyone from the UHV administration on the task force, even though it has huge financial implications for UHV.

About one-third of UHV's total student enrollment comes from the Sugar Land campus. This enrollment has helped UHV grow its budget and its program offerings as it has expanded in Victoria, too.

Crossroads leaders' push for UHV to grow on the Victoria campus led to the addition of freshmen and sophomores in 2010-11. This was the start of what people refer to as a destination university in Victoria. By this, they mean a full-service, thriving university complete with residence halls and the ability for students to complete all four undergraduate years and earn post-graduate degrees on the campus here.

UH's resistance to this vision and its ouster in 2010 of the man who championed it, UHV President Tim Hudson, broke the trust the community had with the system. Community leaders, frustrated by the deteriorating trust and lack of a long-range vision from the UH System, responded by urging state Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, to introduce a bill to transfer UHV to the Texas A&M System. While the legislation died, the community remained wary.

Since then, UHV has opened new dorms, broken ground for a new academic building and bought additional land for campus expansion. These are all encouraging signs that perhaps UH is committed to creating a destination university in Victoria. Many Victoria leaders have backed off on criticism of UH and have been genuinely excited about what they were seeing.

However, UH's latest action raises many unanswered questions about how UHV can keep moving forward, let alone be headed for a thriving destination university. You can't take away a third of any business' revenue without dramatically hurting its operations.

UH didn't include UHV's new president, Phil Castille, in its Sugar Land task force that recommended these changes, and the three people the system designated as Victoria representatives didn't communicate with the community about the process and the goals. The system appeared to hope this change would occur without Victoria even noticing. The lack of communication in this decision alone is enough to shatter any fragile trust that had been rebuilt over recent months. It is certainly enough to give pause to any potential donors to UHV.

In a press release issued only after the Victoria Advocate reported on the Sugar Land Task Force report, UH wrote that the system wants UHV to "be furnished with adequate funds to carry out its important mission to become a destination university in the city of Victoria."

What exactly does this mean? How does the system define adequate?

If UH officials want our community to trust the system is looking out for our interests, then Chancellor Renu Khator and other leaders need to directly and personally answer the many questions raised by this latest move. They also need to deliver a master plan, complete with specific benchmarks for growth, that will move UHV forward for the next 25 years. The current plan maxes out enrollment growth within six years and looks no further.

The Advocate is working on an in-depth news story examining the many questions about UHV's future. We ask that UH make the chancellor and other UH and UHV officials available for personal interviews rather than rely on the emailed statements we have received thus far.

If UH is sincere about building trust with the community, its leaders must communicate more often and more openly.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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