FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 9, 2008
In 1881, the 17th Legislature passed a law stating that "there be established in this state, at such location as may be determined by a vote of the people, an institution of learning, which shall be called and known as The University of Texas."
Since its establishment, the UT System has been governed by 214 Regents appointed by the presiding Governors and has grown to nine academic universities and six health institutions. Two of those, the University of Texas at Brownsville (UT-B) and the University of Texas Pan-American (UT-PA) are in South Texas.
Representation from South Texas on the UT Systems Board, however, has been negligible.
From the South Texas region, since the 1800s, there has been one regent each from Brownsville, Mission, Roma, Del Rio and Victoria. El Paso has seen five, Uvalde two and Laredo one.
Since 1995, when ethnicity records began to be archived, only four regents have been Hispanic, and of those, two were from El Paso and one from Laredo. Only one African-American has been appointed since that year.
We need to up the ante when it comes to higher education opportunities for the social and economic outlook of our area and our state. It is time for South Texas to be better represented on a board that governs our two universities serving a rapidly growing population.
For 2006, UT-B and UT-PA combined, awarded 3,075 bachelor's degrees, or 12.5 percent of all bachelor's awarded at the nine UT institutions. For the entire system, 24,622 received undergraduate degrees. I commend both institutions for ensuring that these graduates completed their degrees. However, we must all work to increase that number. And while stronger representation on the Regents Board doesn't automatically guarantee increased bachelor's or other degrees for our area, a stronger voice is sorely needed during this time when tuition rates are on the rise.
We also can't ignore the fact that a greater student population will require more facilities, professors and other amenities, including expanded master's and graduate programs. A South Texas Regent could fight for this as well.
Certainly, it doesn't hurt to have a local serving on the Board of Regents as we grow our Regional Academic Health Center into a full-fledged medical school one day, as it is part of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. Our dream of having a law school for South Texans could be better fulfilled with homegrown representation as well. This is not to say we have not had friends on the Regents Board, whom we greatly appreciate.
The timing for a South Texan on the UT Board of Regents is definitely now. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reported recently that the 334,000 Hispanic students enrolled in Texas public and private colleges last year represented a 40 percent leap from six years ago. However, the Hispanic population is growing so fast that the percentage of students compared to the total Hispanic population, 3.9 percent, has hardly increased from 2000.
The Corpus Christi Caller Times in an editorial called this situation "not good for a state that expects the Hispanic population to grow by 47 percent by 2010."
Since our Hispanic population is so great in South Texas, the impact of lower educational standards is enormous. While we battle to increase high school graduation rates, we must continue the quest for increased college graduation as well. But this goal will require a place for our students to go.
This is why we so badly need representation on the UT Board of Regents from someone who understands the area, the issues and the challenges we are facing not by reading reports or attending seminars, but by firsthand knowledge and experience.
As we begin another year in history and in education, we should expect and demand equal representation on a Board that determines the direction our universities will take and how we will meet the challenges facing us. A South Texan should be part and parcel of every one of these discussions.
As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.