Academic Program Working Groups take first step toward transition to new university
Posted: 10/15/2013
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Faculty members from The University of Texas-Pan American and The University of Texas at Brownsville embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Oct. 4 when they met at the Academic Program Working Groups Kick-Off to begin the process of recreating the academic programs for the new university in the Rio Grande Valley.

Pictured left to right at the Academic Program Working Groups Kickoff held at UTPA recently to create the academic programs for the new university in the Rio Grande Valley are Dr. Alan Artibise, UTB provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, UTPA president; Dr. Julio León, special adviser to the UT System vice chancellor for Academic Affairs; Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, UTB president; and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, UTPA provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.
More than 129 faculty members, who gathered at the UT Pan American campus in Edinburg, will serve on 13 discipline-based working groups to envision the academic programs for what will be an emerging research institution of the first-class that will also include a medical school. Both universities' top administrators and college deans also attended the first meeting.

Each working group has equal faculty representation from UTPA and UTB. They are charged with being innovative in making recommendations on the types of academic programs that will best serve the needs of students and the Valley community and best reflect the guiding principles for the new university approved earlier this year by The University of Texas System Board of Regents.

"Step out of the 20th century mold and break it. We are looking for new ways of doing things ," said Dr. Julio León, a special adviser to The University of Texas System's executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, who was hired to guide the transition to the new university, dubbed Project South Texas.

To set the stage for thinking outside the box, León presented a video from a recent conference supported by Time Magazine, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in which prominent national leaders in education gathered to discuss and present revolutionary solutions to the critical problems of cost, access and quality in higher education. The conference panel's presentation in the video was "Reinventing the University for the 21st Century."

At the meeting, working group members were also given a welcome letter from the UTPA and UTB provosts, membership lists for each Academic Program Working Group, and the charge and guidelines for the working groups' recommendations, all posted at the Project South Texas website.

They also heard from UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen and UTB President Juliet V. Garcia who talked briefly about the tasks the groups have been presented and their visions of the new university.

Nelsen said the faculty chosen have the ability to think in new ways and be transformative.

"We believe in you and trust you to actually create something new, something that will revolutionize the Valley," said Nelsen, who asked them to obtain input and collaborate with their departments on what they will recommend.

Garcia said she wanted the faculty groups to not think that they had to have all the answers.

"Our work is long term. You have to just stir your creative juices and imagine where we want to go," she said.

During the meeting, the faculty also heard from Provosts and Vice Presidents for Academic Affairs Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, UTPA, and Dr. Alan Artibise, UTB; UTPA Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Dr. Kristen Croyle; and UTB Associate Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Dr. Janna Arney. They reviewed the responsibilities of the working groups, meeting logistics and reporting and the need for collaboration, coordination and communication.

Breakout sessions held by each group in which their leadership and next meeting date were determined was followed by a reception.

Dr. Diana Dominguez (MA '93), UTB associate professor of English and a member of the Trans-Disciplinary Working Group, sees the creation of the new university as a game-changer that will benefit the Valley.

"I love this place and I see this as an opportunity to really change how people look at us and the opportunities we can give the people here, especially the students," she said. "It really excites me to be able to create these global connections ... and help our students understand that they are part of a global world. This is a chance for them to expand their horizons beyond what they ever dreamed of."

As a member of the Bicultural Working Group, Dr. Sonia Hernandez (BA '98, MA '01), UTPA associate professor of history, described the transition as a challenging but exciting time. She said her group has been given an earlier deadline than others to develop a vision of how being bicultural will work for the new university and to share that with the other groups.

"We have a lot of strengths. We need to think about what we offer, what UTB offers and what we or UTB don't offer. We see this as an opportunity to craft something that will make us not only unique and different but will also serve the needs of the community ... and transform our community and beyond," she said.

To learn more, view the Academic Program Working Groups Kickoff video.