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Is UTB-TSC Getting Divorced or Separated?

El Fracaso in Brownsville
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Talk about a bad time to play chicken with the University of Texas Board of Regents. With an estimated $20 billion budget shortfall looming on the horizon, the board of Texas Southmost College in Brownsville thought they’d renegotiate their contract with the UT system to force them to pay more than $10 million owed in back rent. Instead the UT regents announced in mid-November they’d dissolve their 99-year contract with the university.

The University of Texas Brownsville-Texas Southmost College is a unique hybrid. It’s a community college and a four year university combined. In 1991, the community college, which is funded by local property taxes in Brownsville, forged a partnership with the UT system and signed a 99-year contract. The UT system rents many of the buildings from TSC and handles most of the administrative duties.

UTB-TSC president, Dr. Juliet Garcia summed up the impending divorce from UT as a “fracaso.” The UT Board of Regent’s announcement seemed to catch much of Brownsville’s citizens by surprise. I was completely flummoxed by it. Could there be a worse possible time to cut ties with the UT system?

Garcia tried to paint a less than bleak picture to staff and faculty after the UT Board of Regent’s announcement. She assured them that the UT system was still committed to building a four year university in Brownsville without TSC. Garcia equated UTB’s growth as passing through a “cocoon phase” like other universities such as the University of Texas at El Paso. The metamorphosis from homely caterpillar to butterfly, however, will be difficult during the state’s worst budget crisis in history. And Garcia is not speaking to the press about how the university might survive the legislative buzz saw in January.

In my experience as a former Capitol worker bee, the University of Texas System is notorious for being miserly with its satellite universities. The “mother ship” aka  UT Austin gets first dibs on funding and the rest of the universities fight for the crumbs. It’s up to the legislators from those areas to make sure their schools get their funding. It’s going to be a hell of a fight for Brownsville’s legislative delegation.

TSC Trustee David Oliveira had a darker spin on things than Garcia. “I am extremely disappointed, but I can’t say I am shocked because I warned the other trustees that this was going to happen,” Oliveira told the Brownsville Herald. “This could have disastrous consequences for our community and could set us back 50 years if the University of Texas Board of Regents follows through with this. I don’t know where we are going to get the funds to continue the programs we have, at the level we have, without raising taxes.”

It wasn’t long ago that Dr. Garcia got props in Time magazine for being one of the country’s top 10 university presidents. “We are a preview of what the rest of Texas and the rest of the U.S. is going to morph into,” García said of her university.  UTB-TSC’s student body is 93 percent Latino, largely bilingual and 91 percent of the school’s student body are first generation university students. In short, if UT reneges on Brownsville it’s reneging on Texas’ future. Nothing more, nothing less.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. Melissa is a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.