Blogs » Crowdsourcing » Full list of UHV FAQs: Does A&M support bill?


I've added the most recent UHV/A&M frequently asked questions -- and related answers -- including two questions slated for tomorrow's paper.

The following should be a full list of questions and answers I've compiled since last week.

HookEm earlier today asked for a running list, so here goes:

Was A&M University System aware the bill would be filed? Does it support efforts?

Victoria leaders discussed realignment with the Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University systems. In the end, leaders chose A&M because of geography – the system is located nearby – and because of its agriculture and engineering strengths, they say.

The abundance of A&M alumni in the Crossroads, as well as its legislative clout, likely also played a role.

But did the system know Morrison would file a bill to move UHV under its umbrella?

For months, several Victoria leaders met with the A&M chancellor and other system representatives.

“I was there with the chancellor and there were six or seven us from Victoria,” Mayor Will Armstrong said. “We talked extensively, so I can’t imagine this came as a surprise to him. When we left there, there wasn’t any doubt in my mind we were wanted.”

The A&M System, meanwhile, declined to confirm or deny such meetings. State agencies are prohibited from advocating for or against the passage of legislation. Thus, it won’t say if it supports Morrison’s bill.

Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi, who also met with the A&M chancellor, said if Victoria leaders didn’t feel A&M was a viable option, they wouldn’t have supported a move to join its system.

“I think it stands to reason that everyone felt like this was the direction we needed to take,” Pozzi said.

Did Morrison consult with UHV faculty, administration and students?

A popular question among some newspaper readers is whether Rep. Geanie Morrison consulted with the University of Houston-Victoria faculty, administration and students before filing HB 2556.

Don Smith, UHV’s interim president, said, “As far as I know, nobody at the institution or the centers in Sugar Land or Cinco Ranch were consulted about the change.”

This week, Morrison responded to the question via her spokesman, Justin Unruh. Morrison was unavailable during long stretches of legislative committee meetings, Unruh noted.

“We have been looking at education in our area as a whole for more than a year now, and we have talked to a broad cross-section of the community to gather their input,” Unruh said. “During the meetings of the Crossroads Commission on Education, the public was always invited to attend and express their views, which many did. Now that the bill has been filed, we are continuing to listen to the input of all interested parties, both those in favor of the change and those who are opposed to the change.”

In addition to Morrison’s public solicitation of input, Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong and other business leaders made it known publicly in June that efforts to switch systems might become eminent.

Armstrong told the UH System that if both sides can’t agree on a vision for UHV’s future, Victoria leaders would seek a new partner. During the following months, much was discussed publicly regarding this debate.

Would the switch increase tuition?

“No,” Morrison said. “Tuition is recommended by each campus regardless of system in an independent process that involves considerable input from students. It is then approved – or not – by system boards and varies from university to university in every system. UHV tuition is among the lowest in the state and would most likely remain so due to its particular budgetary realities, program mix, cost of doing business, enrollment patterns, etc.”

How would the switch affect student status?

According to Section 5 of Morrison’s bill: “... this Act does not affect the status of any student of the university.”

“All students would be able to continue their current majors,” Morrison said. Don Smith, interim UHV president, agreed.

“Now, if a student is a major in ‘XYZ’ and is within a year of graduating, will that degree say ‘A&M’ or will that degree say ‘UHV’ next year?” Smith said. “I don’t have the answer to that.”

If UHV switches systems, would A&M cut curriculum?

Jason Cook, a spokesman for the A&M System, said it is premature for the system to answer such questions, and that pending legislation prohibits him from discussing more specific topics.

Smith, however, said he does not foresee the A&M System cutting current UHV curriculum.

“It would be unconscionable to have a student enter college and then have a student halfway into a major and tell them they can’t finish that major,” Smith said. “That just wouldn’t work at all.”

Morrison reassured students by saying no programs would be cut immediately just because of a system switch.

“UHV’s ‘menu’ of degree programs would not change immediately,” she said. “However, it could be augmented over time based on need and possible collaborations with A&M universities. All universities constantly review their program mix based on numerous factors.”

If UHV switches systems, what happens to existing diploma holders?

Smith, the interim UHV president, said alumni of Victoria’s university should not worry. Although he is unclear about the arrangements that would be worked out, he has experience with university name changes.

“I imagine students would be offered the chance to keep their UHV diploma or to transfer to an A&M diploma,” he said. “I know in my experiences, alumni were offered the opportunity of being issued a new degree certificate or diploma with the current name of the university.

How would a switch affect employees?

According to Morrison’s bill: “... this Act does not affect the employment status or accrued benefits of a person employed by the university when the transfer takes effect.”

The bill later notes its intention is to switch systems “without disrupting the students, faculty, staff or programs of the university.”

How would it affect employment contracts signed in coming weeks?

“It won’t affect signing contracts because the bill provides that any contracts that are made by the institution, or any obligations incurred by the UH System, would be honored,” Smith said. “That much being said, we do have an obligation as an institution to let applicants know that this bill has been filed because it may or may not affect their consideration of the university – whether they are a student or potential employee.”

Is the switch a conspiracy to make a few families wealthier?

An Advocate reader last week summarized in an online post a longstanding rumor related to campus expansion:

“This is a concocted scheme to move a school, build a road and get the people, who own land near the new road, rich,” the reader wrote.

The rumor stems from multiple moving parts.

First, supporters of moving to a new system say UHV’s current landlocked campus is unable to meet student growth predictions.

To meet even conservative growth, UHV needs a new campus, they say. More than a year ago, Victoria resident Frank Buhler offered portions of his 1,500-acre tract – located in part halfway between the airport and Loop 463 – as ground for the university to build anew. He offered 100 acres for free and another 200 coupled with a 10-year option to buy at today’s prices.

Since then, supporters of a new campus unveiled a study that points to the area near the airport as prime ground for university construction. Then, the city and county showed support for the expansion by planning to extend Airline Road.

“A piece of property without access would not be helpful,” said Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong. “Just to show how enthused we were about expansion, the city and county unanimously voted to spend money to facilitate that property.”

If the university builds anew on the 100 donated acres, there exists little doubt the Buhler family stands to gain financially. The property value of the adjacent land likely would increase notably.

Would countless businesspeople, the city, county, chamber of commerce, economic development leaders and a state representative go through the trouble of switching systems just to benefit one or a few families?

Not even the most ardent public opponents of switching systems – Kay Kerr Walker, a former UH regent, for example – buy into this rumor.

Additionally, nowhere in Morrison’s bill does it say the university switch is contingent on A&M accepting Buhler’s donated land. The bill makes no mention of campus expansion.

Clearly, community leaders feel A&M offers a better option for growing the university to their liking. Still, Armstrong said his affinity for A&M is in no way linked to Buhler’s land.

“In all the meetings I attended – and I attended meetings with A&M and another system – accepting that land was never a pre-condition for changing the sponsorship for UHV,” Armstrong said. “I wouldn’t care if A&M wanted to put a new campus in Guadalupe or Mission Valley.”

A&M on Thursday did not reply to a general question about how the system researches potential new campus sites.

However, the system has in the past used its in-house Public Policy Research Institute to research such options. The institute analyzes a multitude of aspects related to such projects.

“Now, when A&M officially takes over, I would assume they would treat us like they have treated other new partners,” Armstrong said. “I’m sure they will do a complete analysis of the community, educational needs and land needs before any decisions are made.”

How has the UH system addressed UHV faculty and staff?

In an e-mail sent to UHV staff and faculty on Thursday – and obtained by the Advocate – UH System Chancellor Renu Khator addressed Tuesday’s proposed legislation.

“Events of this week must have created an unsettling environment for you,” Khator wrote. “I understand your anxiety and regret that we are going through these difficult times.”

Khator continued: “I want you to know that the UH System remains fully committed to UHV and to you as you continue to fulfill your mission. Your voice and opinion count and, therefore, if you know of any way that we can make things better for you, please do not hesitate to let your president and/or me know.”

Why did city leaders choose A&M?

For several months, Victoria leaders courted representatives from both the Texas A&M and Texas Tech University systems.Both systems found Victoria an appealing partner. Ultimately, community leaders went with the Aggies – but why?

A&M has a successful track record of joining with and growing rural institutions, as well as partnering with community colleges – two obvious components to Victoria’s higher education scene, Morrison said.

Additionally, the A&M system boasts hordes of alumni in the Crossroads and is located nearby, a convenience during the transition and for fostering strong relationships going forward, the representative added.

Donald Day, a Victoria businessman and realignment advocate, said leaders would have been happy with either system.

“We just thought in the end our success might have been a little bit improved with A&M because of geography,” Day said.

What would happen to funding UHV already secured?

State money allotted to UHV would remain with the school and its new host system, said Don Smith, interim UHV president.

According to Sec. 87.883 of Morrison’s bill: “All funds that, on the effective date of the transfer, have been appropriated or dedicated to UHV are transferred to the board of regents of the Texas A&M University System for the use and benefit of Texas A&M University-Victoria.”

How will this affect student recruitment?

Smith, said he’s uncertain how such news will affect student recruitment, but the university will inform prospective newcomers about the possibilities ahead. About 37 percent of the current freshmen class come from the Houston area, Smith said. Whether that Houston brand recognition draws those students here is difficult to say, he added.

“I don’t think the news will make things easier,” Smith said. “Whether it’ll make it harder or not, I don’t know. A&M is a very recognized name, so my guess is it won’t have a major effect on student recruitment at the freshman level.”

Will UHV have to change its mascot?

Texas A&M University-San Antonio, a school in the A&M System, already uses the Jaguar mascot.

If UHV switches into the A&M System, it is likely the university’s mascot would change, too, Smith said.

A change to the mascot would also require new athletics uniforms and other alterations, such as to the Jaguar Hall dormitory name and sign on Rio Grande Street.

Texas A&M University is renowned for its agricultural and engineering programs. Would the A&M System approve those programs here?

Jason Cook, spokesman for the A&M System, said it is premature to answer such questions. Since Morrison filed her bill, the system has released only a brief statement and declined to answer specific questions.

As for programs the system might approve, Don Smith, the interim UHV president, offered his take.

“I don’t know,” he said. “A&M could extend a program to Victoria or any other location if it were willing to do that, but the degree program would remain with College Station.”

If Texas A&M University-Victoria, on the other hand, desired to add programs already offered in College Station, the school would have to follow protocol.

The university would first have to receive approval from the A&M System, then a regional accrediting body and finally a state coordinating board of directors. The school would also have to hire specialized faculty.

“Nothing would automatically become a program here,” Smith said. “If, for example, the university looked at if a nuclear engineering program would work in Victoria, that program would have to be approved, and that would take years.”

This protocol reflects the exact procedure the school undergoes now to add academic programs.

Would students who are already accepted have to reapply if UHV switches systems?

Smith said students already admitted to UHV would also be seamlessly admitted to the newly named school.

If UHV switches systems, students already accepted would not have to reapply, he said.

Why did Morrison require in her bill that a state board handle disputes?

In her bill, Morrison requests the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to resolve all disputes – between the UH and A&M systems – during the system switch.

The state education board would serve as an intermediary, Morrison said, to ensure students, faculty and day-to-day operations are disrupted to the least extent possible.

“This is standard language and was included in the Angelo State bill,” she added.

The Angelo State bill, filed in 2007, was the first and only Texas bill to successfully achieve a university system switch in which the host system opposed the move.

Is Victoria the right place for a destination university?

Supporters of switching systems say a so-called destination university is one filled with face-to-face students and the bustle of a more traditional college setting. They want UHV’s campus to better reflect this vision, and to one day boast 5,000 to 10,000 students.

But why do they think Victoria is the proper place for such a school? First, Victoria is located between four major metro areas – Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Corpus Christi. Houston and San Antonio are two of the nation’s fastest-growing cities.

“Research done by UHV a few years ago showed students wanted to be two to four hours from home,” said Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp. “The students wanted to be far enough from home so they felt like they were on their own, but close enough that they could visit home, too.”

Victoria fits this attractive distance-from-home requirement for many students, including those in the Valley.

Secondly, a vibrant, expanded university would help to close the state’s education gap, especially among minority students, Morrison says.

Recently released U.S. Census Bureau data show the Hispanic population is booming in Texas and the Crossroads.

“Where are those young people going to go to school?” Fowler asked. “Whether they’re from the Rio Grande Valley or Houston, we’re positioned well to serve those markets. First-generation college students won’t feel intimidated to come to school in Victoria.”

That’s another reason supporters say Victoria is prime ground. Here, students from the metro areas could enjoy college in a less-hectic setting, and students from rural areas will feel right at home, too, they say.

“Major universities are crowded,” Fowler said. “We’re going to have to put those students somewhere. Why not in Victoria?”

Will UHV’s business school remain AACSB-accredited?

“AACSB” is an acronym for the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. The association accredits business schools that meet stringent requirements.

Only about 25 percent of the country’s business schools – including the UHV School of Business – boast the accreditation, said Don Smith, the university’s interim president.

“It’s prestigious,” Smith said. “It’s a great value to students to have that.” Amy Ponzillo, an AACSB International spokeswoman, said via e-mail the association talked to a UHV dean regarding the possible system switch. “We have no concerns about the change affecting the school’s accreditation status,” Ponzillo said. “The only conditions that could create concerns are those that affect the school’s mission, resources to achieve their mission, faculty resources, students served and/or major program portfolio impacts.”

How does sheriff feel?

Publicly, Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor has never said whether he supports efforts to switch university systems – until now.

For months, he studied the dynamics, offered insight to local leaders and insisted on giving the University of Houston System the benefit of the doubt.

During a sit-down interview from his office on Tuesday, however, O’Connor said he now supports efforts to move UHV into the A&M System.

“There are plenty of facts to merit it,” O’Connor said. “UH has done well for many years, and I’m not trying to berate the system. I think A&M is a better fit for Victoria.”

O’Connor knows all about disgruntled universities. The A&M grad served on the Texas A&M System’s board of regents – as a regular member and vice chairman – from 1993 to 1999.

During the mid-1990s, a Laredo school shared similar complaints to those held by many in the Crossroads. The school wanted out of the A&M system.

O’Connor helped to broker an agreement, re-establish trust and help the Laredo campus to flourish. As a rookie regent, he had three questions for Laredo leaders:

What’s the problem? Is this salvageable? What can we do to regain trust?

“In my opinion, the UH System should have been down here doing the same thing. They should have been down here hustling,” O’Connor said. “Instead, the UH System has lost the trust of Victoria stakeholders.”

O’Connor shared his Laredo experience – and other lessons learned at A&M campuses elsewhere – with the Crossroads Commission on Education. He suggested commission members give the first-term UH System chairwoman the benefit of the doubt, even though many had lost faith in her predecessor and the administration.

“My advice was to pose specific questions about the vision UH has for the Victoria campus,” he said. “Well, those questions were gathered and sent out. It took a long while to get a response. I saw those responses, and they were generic and non-committal. In my opinion, it doesn’t look like the UH commitment is there.”

O’Connor acknowledged his A&M bias. He also said he spoke for this story as a former A&M student and regent, and not for the system.

While O’Connor said he does not plan to lobby for the system switch, he said he is willing to testify before the Texas Legislature if called upon.

“If I’m asked for my opinion, I’ll give it,” he said.

Does A&M own Victoria County land?

Texas A&M University does not own land in Victoria County, according Tim Coffey, real estate manager for the A&M System.

The Texas A&M Foundation, however, does – at least 500 acres near Inez, public records show.

The nonprofit foundation matches donors and their interests with the university’s priorities.

The 500 acres it owns are a small part of the much bigger Keeran Ranch. Herman and Minnie Belle Heep donated the land to the foundation in 2009. The A&M System has a physical presence in 250 of the state’s 254 counties and a programmatic presence in every county.

The system owns more than 65,000 surface acres and 55,000 mineral acres in Texas, records show.

Was Morrison’s bill referred to committee?

Morrison’s bill on Tuesday was referred to the House Committee on Higher Education.

The nine-member commission will determine whether the bill makes it to the next stage – a vote in the Texas House of Representatives.

No public hearing has yet been scheduled.

Are efforts grounded solely in economic development wishes?

Some opponents of switching systems say efforts to do so are more about boosting the Victoria economy than bolstering student education levels.

What do leaders, who want the switch, say to this argument?

Supporters of a switch say growing the university with a different system could offer greater accessibility to education – and an economic shot to the region. State Rep. Geanie Morrison said the two can go hand-in -hand.

Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp., agreed.

“We believe a better educated populous is, in and of itself, a significant economic driver,” Fowler said.

Education is key when Fowler tries to attract new companies to Victoria – those companies often want an educated workforce, he said – and when graduates start businesses of their own.

“It’s exactly what the state of Texas needs and demands with its Close the Gaps initiative,” Fowler said.

Fowler this week sent an e-mail to Victoria residents and business leaders. In it, he asked for their support of the bill and cited a study that details the economic effect if the Victoria university expands.

The study – viewable by visiting and clicking the Crowdsourcing blog – suggests: “The economic impact of the operations of the university over 10 years of the expansion will be $2.78 billion.”

Mayor Will Armstrong said that while economic benefits of expansion exist, the push for growth accompanies improvements to the city’s primary and secondary schools.

“We upgraded our primary and secondary education with the successful passage of the $159 million bond election,” said Armstrong. “We have brand new primary and secondary schools. We’re continuing those efforts by working to improve our higher education.”

Without an educated workforce, he continued, young adults – a group he calls one of the city’s best resources – will continue to migrate elsewhere.

“There’s nothing that determines the health and welfare of modern economy than educational attainment of the workforce,” the mayor said. “People might say we’re doing this for economic reasons, but I’m more concerned for having opportunities for young people. I’m more concerned about our grandchildren than I am about the immediate benefits of economic development.”

How many students attend UHV?

During the past five years, UHV has enjoyed record enrollment growth. Enrollment grew by 58 percent – from 2,652 students in fall 2006 to 4,188 students today – according to school records.

Part of that enrollment growth includes students in Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch.

Face-to-face and distance learning students enrolled in UHV programs at Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch are counted toward UHV’s total student population.

The majority of faculty members who teach and students who attend classes via those centers are UHV affiliated.

The breakdown of UHV’s population, then, is as follows. Of today’s 4,188 UHV students:

2,015 take online-only courses.

1,375 take UHV-affiliated classes at the Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch campuses.

400 attend classes in person in Victoria and online.

334 students attend in-person classes only in Victoria.

64 students attend via other combinations of classes, including students who are also primary or secondary school teachers.

If UHV switches systems, what happens to Cinco Ranch, Sugar Land campuses?

UHV, other University of Houston System schools and Wharton County Junior College share the facilities to teach classes in Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch, which are located just east of Houston.

The UH System at Sugar Land and the UH System at Cinco Ranch are considered multi-institution teaching centers.

Face-to-face and distance learning students enrolled in UHV programs at Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch are counted toward UHV’s total student population.

The majority of faculty members who teach and students who attend classes via those centers, in fact, are UHV affiliated.

If Rep. Geanie Morrison’s bill passes, what happens to those students and faculty, as well as the buildings used there?

Morrison’s bill clearly states the system switch would not affect the status of any student, faculty member or staffer. They would maintain their respective position, only at the newly named Texas A&M University-Victoria, according to the bill.

Morrison’s bill also notes that all land, buildings, facilities, equipment, supplies and property belonging to and constituting UHV would transfer to the A&M System, as well.

A quick look at property records, however, shows the UH System owns the buildings in Cinco Ranch and Sugar Land. Ultimately, the state of Texas is the owner.

Richard Bonnin, a spokesman for the UH System, said the Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch buildings would remain with the UH System even if the bill passes.

What happens then remains unclear. If UH owns the buildings, could A&M-Victoria faculty teach students there? Or would the newly-named university offer classes only at its main Victoria campus?

Nowhere in Morrison’s bill does it specifically address these questions. However, Morrison does note her general intent, which the legislature would assume if it passes the bill:

“It is the intent of the legislature that the transfer ... be made without disrupting the students, faculty, staff, or programs of the university,” Morrison’s bill notes. “If those boards of regents are unable to agree as to any matter relating to the transfer, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board shall resolve the disagreement consistent with the intent of this section and the provisions of this act.”

Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the coordinating board, said Morrison’s bill reflects language used in similar legislation. In 2007, Angelo State University was successfully – via legislation – moved into the Texas Tech University System.

“This isn’t common, but it’s not totally foreign to us,” Chavez said. “If for some reason the two systems cannot reach agreement on issues, the bill would insert the coordinating board as mediator.” Because the UH System will not say now what its strategic plan is, it remains unclear if it would:

  • Try to bar the A&M System from using the Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch buildings.

  • Allow the A&M System to continue using the buildings as UHV does now.

  • Offer to sell the buildings to the A&M System.

“I suspect that’ll be part of the negotiation process,” Chavez said. “From the coordinating board’s standpoint, we would want to see as little disruption to the students as possible. That intent is spelled out clearly in the bill. The issues in this case are so unique I can’t begin to tell you how we’d address them.”

If the bill passes and both systems agree on the issue of building usage, the coordinating board would not be needed.

Morrison’s spokesman, Justin Unruh, offered a final word.

“There is nothing that prohibits another institution from using those facilities,” he said. “For example, Wharton County Junior College currently is utilizing part of the Sugar Land campus.”