UHV rocked by potential loss of revenue

Carolina Astrain By Carolina Astrain

March 15, 2014 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated March 14, 2014 at 10:15 p.m.

The University of Houston-Victoria's future is clouded by the anticipated loss of a key revenue source - the programs it offers in Sugar Land.

For the past 20 years of its 40-year existence, UHV has grown by offering higher education to Fort Bend County residents in Sugar Land.

At its Feb. 26 meeting, the UH System Board of Regents voted to strip UHV of its ability to offer programs in Sugar Land and to transfer the university's nursing school to the UH System.

Claud Jacobs, a Crossroads investment and financial planner and longtime donor to the university, described the move by the UH System as "another slap in the face to Victoria."

"It was our money that started that program," Jacobs said. "They continue to show us that we are not a priority in their system and that they really don't care about us."

The move was made based on a UH-Sugar Land Task Force composed of UHV and UH-Sugar Land representatives, including the Sugar Land mayor and a Fort Bend County judge.

"The city of Sugar Land has been very supportive of UH-Sugar Land," said Sugar Land Mayor James Thompson. "We've got a significant investment in the campus with over $7 million that has been spent on the buildings."

No elected officials from Victoria County were included on the task force.

State Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, said she had no prior knowledge that a task force had been put together until after the regents approved its plan.

"My concern is centered around not knowing anything about the recommendations from this task force before they were approved and not having input from any elected officials from the Victoria community," Morrison said. "I have no problem with the thought that Sugar Land should have its own campus and UHV its own, but there is no recommendation on how this will all be achieved or information on how it will not impact UHV negatively."

Victoria supporters also counter that they helped start the nursing school. Of the $3.8 million donated to the UHV School of Nursing since 2006,$1.7 million came from Victoria-area donors, according to UHV.

Why UH made the move

UH officials say they made the move to meet Sugar Land's needs for UH programs and to allow UHV to focus on creating a destination university at its Victoria campus.

Before 2010-11, UHV was an upper-level institution, meaning it offered classes only to juniors, seniors and graduate students. Responding to a community push for growth on the Victoria campus, the Legislature approved a bill in 2009 making UHV a full four-year university.

"It's been proven that it was something that was very needed in our community, according to the demands in our area," Morrison said. "UHV has served and proven itself as vital to the community."

The first freshmen arrived during the 2010-11 school year in Victoria. Three residence halls have opened since then.

Omar Rachid was one of three Sugar Land task force members representing Victoria.

"During the transition plan, we'll be working on what is going to be necessary for UHV to carry on, and that comes with the assurance from the UH System that Victoria will be given all that it needs to become a destination university," Rachid said. "As a Victorian, I'm looking at the overall, bigger picture for the future growth at UHV."

All recommendations proposed by the task force were voted on unanimously, said Welcome Wilson Sr., former UH regent and UH-Sugar Land Task Force chairman.

"Students in Fort Bend County don't help the city of Victoria," Wilson said. "Victoria made it very clear - loud and clear - that they wanted a destination university in the city of Victoria and that they wanted to teach four years of college instead of two, which is exactly what the board of regents did and provided many millions of dollars to allow for facilities for students to stay there, and it's been growing."

How UHV works

Before UHV expanded in 2010-11 in Victoria, it relied even more heavily on Sugar Land and on its online course offerings.

Today, 31 percent of its face-to-face teaching occurs in Sugar Land.Fifty-three percent of the UHV's faculty offices are in Sugar Land.

Sugar Land's importance to UHV is focused primarily in nursing and business. The two schools make up 53 percent of UHV's operating budget allocated for academic programs.

Although both schools also offer courses in Victoria, the location of faculty offices show where most of the students and programs are - 89 percent of business and 88 percent of nursing faculty are in Sugar Land, based on the spring semester faculty roster.

Rachid said the business school will continue to have a presence in the Houston area at UH's campus at Cinco Ranch in Katy.

"They hold classes at Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch right now, and actually, the majority of those students are from Katy," Rachid said. "The Cinco Ranch campus will be closer to students taking business classes right now."

In a statement issued when UH made the Sugar Land change, officials said UHV would not be harmed but offered no specifics about how that would be accomplished.

Jarvis Hollingsworth, board of regents chairman, wrote in a column submitted to the Advocate that UHV will "be furnished with adequate funds to carry out its important mission to become a destination university in the city of Victoria."

UH officials point to an implementation task force being formed and say it will provide those answers. UH Chancellor and President Renu Khator refused repeated requests for an interview, as did UHV President Phil Castille.

"Chancellor Khator will create and name members to a UH-Sugar Land Transition Committee," UH System officials wrote in an email statement. "The committee will include UHS, UH Sugar Land and UHV leadership, along with selected UH, UH Sugar Land and UHV faculty and students."

Two public meetings, one in Sugar Land and one in Victoria, will be conducted by the UH-Sugar Land Transition Committee.

The UH System created a website dedicated to the transition.

No meeting dates have been set.

UHV's plans for growth

UHV's master plan extends to 2020 and was written based on the Sugar Land programs being a part of the university.

UHV's former president, Tim Hudson, pushed for the UH System to accept a donation of 300 acres east of Victoria to build a new campus.

The new site would allow UHV to grow into becoming a destination university, he argued then, and rely less on Sugar Land.

However, UH officials rejected the land donation and ousted Hudson before the first freshmen arrived in 2010.

Dr. Buddy E. Lee, a Victoria dentist and community leader, said what Hudson did for UHV was magnificent for Victoria.

"He showed us what was possible, and then he got canned for it," Lee said. "From what I understand, they did that to him because he wasn't a team player for them, but he was a team player for us."

The ouster prompted an outcry among Victoria community leaders and led Morrison to introduce a bill in 2011 to switch UHV to the Texas A&M System.

That bill died in committee, and in November 2011, UH announced it would start offering programs in Sugar Land. At that time, though, officials said UH's move would not affect UHV's ability to offer courses in Fort Bend.

UH Regent Roger Welder said then in a news release issued by UH: "This represents more UH - not less UHV."

Welder refused repeated requests for interviews for this story.

In February 2013, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp said the Aggies were still interested in the UHV campus. He was less enthusiastic when contacted last week about the Sugar Land controversy.

"The last time I talked to Roger Welder, he said he was happy with the University of Houston and didn't want A&M in Victoria," Sharp wrote in a text. "So until that changes we are on the sidelines."

Former UH Regent Kay Kerr Walker recalls when UHV started offering higher education 20 years ago in Sugar Land.

"That is quite the contribution that we have made in that area," she said. "I think what is happening to UH-Sugar Land is just a part of their evolution."

She said she expected the transition to UH in Sugar Land and said some were overreacting to the change.

"I think we are positioned to be a destination university. ... I think this is part of our evolution as well."

She said she trusted the UH System to work out the details.

"We have to recognize that the system has put millions of dollars into Victoria in the most recent years in the development of downward expansion," she said.

But other community leaders such as Lee expressed much less confidence in the UH System and said they feared UHV would not be able to realize its dream of becoming a destination university.

"If I were living in Sugar Land, this would make sense to me, but I live in Victoria, so what I'm concerned about is Victoria," Lee said. "I want a university town that is a great place to live for our kids, for our future."



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