Lawmakers held an emotional first hearing Wednesday on a proposal to merge the University of Texas-Pan American and UT-Brownsville into a new mega-university for South Texas.
The House Higher Education Committee heard support from South Texas leaders on the prospect of bringing a regional medical school to the Valley and getting access to the multi-billion dollar Permanent University Fund. House Bill 1000 would carry out the merger, take the first steps toward establishing the medical school, and—if approved with a two-thirds vote—give the new school access to the fund.
UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American are the only two schools in the UT System that currently do not receive that money.
UTPA President Robert Nelsen offered an emotional endorsement of the bill, his face turning red as he spoke. “I don’t have that capability to be able to do what I need to do,” he said. “Why do we have so little? Because we’ve never had access to PUF.”
It’s particularly important, he said, because South Texas’ population is growing so fast.
“Every two months we need two new elementary schools and one new middle school in The Valley,” Nelsen said. “This bill is about educating those kids that are currently in those middle schools.”
“It’s [about] the mothers. It’s the daughters. It’s the sons. It’s the future. You representatives have a chance, a chance to bring your own magic down there and help them,” Nelsen said, choking up. “We have to do it for the children. We have to do it.”
Rep. René Oliveira (D-Brownsville), one of the nine authors of the bill, said the problem isn’t limited to UTPA. All of South Texas currently lacks the training ground a medical school could provide.
Today’s was just the first of many hearings the Legislature will hold on the merger, which enjoys broad support at the Capitol. The bill is backed by South Texas legislators from the House and Senate, and House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch (R-Dallas) is among the bill’s authors. All 15 UT System presidents have also endorsed the plan.