Higher Education in Texas is a Boom and Enterprise that Dwarfs Oil and Gas

All football rivalries aside, Chancellors John Sharp of Texas A&M University, left, and Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, University of Texas, expressed their commitment to a single mission of providing a high quality higher education in all quarters of the state, especially in South Texas, during the Broadening the Pathway to Higher Education in Texas forum at TAMU-San Antonio, March 26. The event was co-sponsored and moderated by Texas Monthly. Photo: Alphonso Rincón

All football rivalries aside, Chancellors John Sharp of Texas A&M University, left, and Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, University of Texas, expressed their commitment to a single mission of providing a high quality higher education in all quarters of the state, especially in South Texas, during the Broadening the Pathway to Higher Education in Texas forum at TAMU-San Antonio, March 26. The event was co-sponsored and moderated by Texas Monthly. Photo: Alphonso Rincón

Alphonso Rincón - The location of a conversation that took place March 26 involving the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the chancellors, regents and campus leaders of the stateʼs largest—and often rival—university systems was a statement in itself. The location was neither Austin (home to the University of Texas main campus), or the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, or the Texas Legislature, or Texas Monthly (which co-sponsored the conversation), nor Bryan, home of the Texas A&M University main campus.

Instead the Broadening the Pathway of Higher Education in Texas panel took place in the new, solitary building of Texas A&M University, situated, not on the north but the south—historically underserved—side of San Antonio.

The only other “building” on the grounds stuck into the sky its rows of recently poured columns, with the neck of a crane looming overhead as if bowing to the approach of the regionʼs new opportunities in higher education. The fledgling campus has the quality of a Texas pioneering venture: stamping a mighty manmade vision into a patch of open country with the stars and the moon as witnesses. As I found my way through the TAMU-SA work-in-progress, I thought of another solitary, unfinished building in the middle of almost-nowhere housing an historic conversation of the stateʼs leaders in March 1836.

But the vision is not about oil, gas, cattle, high buildings, or rebellion. While tempting to think as much, neither is it about the Eagle Ford Shaleʼs boom centered in a string of contiguous counties from Laredo, through just south of San Antonio, to Cuero.

Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, sitting at the center of a panel with University of Texas Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, declared that the pathway that needed to be broadened was about a boom and enterprise that “will dwarf oil and gas.”

The “resource” attracting leaders of the stateʼs mightiest institutions in education and journalism to a site where the concrete is still curing, was the demographics of South Texas. In particular, the children and young people, the majority of whom are Tejano. Few of these kids have ancestors who attended the conversation at Washington-on-the-Brazos in 1836. Yet, it is these kids who make Texas one of the “youngest” states in the Union.

When you have a sense of history you can distinguish between meetings and news articles of passing significance from those which are defining moments of the future.

The location of the Broadening the Pathway of Higher Education in Texas spoke as much to me as the panelistsʼ comments on higher education.

This historic conversation at TAMU-SA took place on the heels of another “expansive” moment of the stateʼs future: on March 19 the Texas House set in motion the creation of a new UT institution in the Rio Grande Valley consisting of UT Pan American – Edinburg, UT-Brownsville, and the UTSA Health Science Center – South Texas, with the last slated to become a new medical school. Earlier the Texas Senate had passed a companion bill.

The common thread between this legislation in Austin and the Pathway conversation in San Antonio is Chancellor Cigarroa, who initially championed the concept of making UTB and UTPA parts of a single new UT institution in the Valley.

When created, the Rio Grande Valleyʼs new UT will qualify for funding from the UT Permanent University Fund (PUF). The PUFʼs assets have a value of $13 billion (August 2012) and include 2.1 million acres and their mineral wealth located primarily in 24 West Texas counties. PUF funds can be used to build new higher education facilities.

Finally, to frame how historic these events in March have been, we should remember that in December 1987—a mere 26 years ago—the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), 8 organizations, and 21 citizens filed a lawsuit (LULAC, et al. vs. Ann Richards, et al.) in Brownsvilleʼs 107th District State Court, alleging that the State of Texas discriminated against Mexican Americans by inadequately funding colleges in South Texas.

In 1990, the 13th Court of Appeals – Corpus Christi granted class action status to the lawsuit. LULAC ultimately lost the battle (1991) but won the war when the Texas Legislature passed the South Texas Initiative (STI) in 1993. The STI effectively brought, and continues to bring, the two state university systems to the colonias, ranchos, tracts blazed by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, and neighborhoods from San Antonio, to Brownsville and El Paso.

In 1839 Mirabeau Lamar, President of the Republic of Texas, signed the first act to set aside public lands to create institutions for primary and higher education in what is now the state of Texas.

In a speech delivered in 1838, Lamar declared, “A cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy, and while guided and controlled by virtue, is the noblest attribute to man. It is the only dictator that free men acknowledge, and the only security that free men desire.”

Until recent decades, however, Lamarʼs vision for education remained dim in the southern and border reaches of the Lone Star.

Fortunately, the advocates of democracy, justice, equality, education, and equity have made possible collegial and congenial panels who agree on one mission: to “get it right” in the 21st century when it comes to the higher education of all our children and youth.

What might all of these historic moments with so many roots in the past mean for the stateʼs parents raising elementary, secondary, and higher education students in 2013?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>