As The University of Texas-Pan American and The University of Texas at Brownsville move forward in uniting, The University of Texas System Chancellor Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa stressed that the new university will be a joint project between the UT System, its Rio Grande Valley institutions and the community.
"I immensely respect shared governance," Cigarroa said during his visit to UT Pan American Thursday, Oct. 24.
Cigarroa held two discussion sessions -- one with UTPA faculty and staff as well as the Valley community and one for just students -- to update them on the progress of Project South Texas, which will create a new institution in the Valley with a medical school. Prior to the meeting at UTPA, Cigarroa visited La Joya High School.
The chancellor praised officials from both universities, as well as Dr. Julio Leon, who is serving as a special adviser to the UT System to oversee the transition to the new institution. Cigarroa said he was proud of the working groups -- comprising representatives from faculty, students and staff from UTPA and UTB -- that were established to facilitate the changes.
"I'm inspired by the progress that I've been updated with, but even more important, I'm inspired by the fact that you understand that this is really important work and that you do have a real important opportunity to basically mold the foundation of this new university," Cigarroa said."I know the hard work you are doing and I'm eternally grateful for what you're doing, because I can't do it, System can't do it, this is the work that needs to be done here."
Cigarroa told attendees about the search committees established to find a president for the new university and a dean for the new medical school. He also said that he will be requesting more from the UT System Board of Regents to begin the next stage of the process, including hiring a master planner.
There also will be a list of suggested names for the new university brought to UTPA, UTB, alumni and the community for people to provide their opinions before it will go to the governing board for final approval.
"We're all excited that we have the opportunity to innovate but it's not like we're actually turning an entirely new page," Cigarroa said. "We have our past, we have our culture, we have our identity, and in a sense, it would be a mistake if we just said we're turning a new page and this is an entirely new university. It's not."
Liana Ryan, planning and assessment coordinator for UTPA's Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness and chair of the Staff Senate, noted there is already a lot of information that has been made available to the public about the new university but she appreciated Cigarroa's visit to the Valley.
"The transparency is really important," she said.
Ryan, who is a member of the Change Management Working Group that will address the blending of the two universities' cultures and provide employee support through the transition to the new university, said there will be a lot of time dedicated by staff, faculty and students to their working groups' tasks.
"I think it would be nice if they did take the working groups' recommendations very seriously in Austin. We are going to do a lot of work, so we hope it comes to fruition," she said.
Matt Ruszczak, city manager of Rio Grande City, said having updates of the new university's progress is helpful. He is also impressed with Cigarroa's commitment to the region.
"His frequent visits to the area and keeping his hand on the pulse is definitely a sign of how important this is to not only him individually but to the whole UT System," Ruszczak said. "I think it (the new university) is a beautiful development, when you look at the whole region and the benefits it can bring to us but also from the perspective that we really, really matter on the state level in all areas - from education, to business, to anything else -- we matter and that's a great development."
Students who attended the second session said they appreciated how the chancellor set aside time to update them on the progress of the new university and seek their input.
"I think his responses to us were fairly direct to our questions," said Matthew Garcia, a senior with a double major in biology and political science who serves as a senator-at-large for UTPA's Student Government Association.
Garcia, who asked how influential the working groups in developing the new institution will be, said he wishes students had more time to talk with Cigarroa about their concerns.
"He really pushes his idea that they are listening to us, so I hope that remains to be the case," said Garcia, who plans to attend medical school. "My question was very specific mainly because there is student input within those committees. I liked what he had to say, I just hope now that what he says now is going to be fact in the future."
Pamela Chavero, a senior majoring in biology who plans to attend medical school, said she is looking forward to the opportunities the new university and medical school will provide.
"One benefit is we would get to that point where we're a Tier I university but we also get to keep our community base," Chavero said.
For more information, visit the Project South Texas website.