A recent edition of UTB-TSC’s Orange & White newsletter looked back to 1991 when the local community college and one of the nation’s largest university systems joined hands to form a partnership that seemed limitless in its good will and positive vibes.
There were smiling faces all around. The governor, the college president, the board members, and of course, the inevitable politicians crowding around signing documents that made it all official. It was no longer just Texas Southmost College. It was now the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.
It wasn’t long before the locals just rolled it off the tongue – UTB-TSC – without even thinking. You couldn’t think of one without the other. In these parts, UTB-TSC is right up there with BISD, the city’s two biggest employers who seem to reach into all things Brownsville.
Nearly two decades later, the famed partnership that is hailed for accomplishing so much is essentially in tatters. After 15 months of back-and-forth discussions between UT System and TSC representatives, the big guys announced last week that they had heard enough in efforts to update the 1991 agreement. The UT System announced its intentions to dissolve its link with TSC by August 2015, a move that seemed to stun the local community college board.
The local board seemed to believe it could filibuster the powerful university system until the 2011 session of Texas Legislature was over. After taking the lay of the political land in 2011, the TSC board would then go back to negotiating with the UT System after its recent rejection of a proposed new agreement. It was a stance that proved to be more than a bit naive, or perhaps the TSC board displayed an outsized swagger in thinking it could stiff arm its much larger partner.
This whole matter is an endlessly complex issue with all sorts of subplots and power plays with essential educational institutions now hanging in stunning uncertainty. The UT System insists it is committed to Brownsville, saying it will now prepare for a transition without TSC in its orbit. One wonders where UT-Brownsville will hold many of its classes since most of the buildings belong to TSC.
And on the TSC side, good points are made about the value of the insitution’s property, buildings, and general assets worth tens of millions of dollars that ought to be guarded as a local treasure. Sure enough, but over the last two decades things have been so pushed over to the UT side of things that TSC’s institutional and administrative presence is largely gone. Essentially, the community college can no longer exist on its own, be it the product of a methodical dismantling of TSC, (as some local board members contend), or a natural progression where the bigger brother swallows up the junior partner.
A key player in this drama is the UTB-TSC President, Dr. Juliet Garcia, who was there in 1991 as the community college president in helping to give birth to the new partnership. Garcia has been the face of UTB-TSC for two decades now, winning national awards and accolades, having local schools named in her honor, a local girl all can admire. Garcia is an eloquent speaker, a smart and saavy academic administrator with strong political sensibilities who usually gets things to turn her way.
After the recent “fracaso,” as the university president labeled the impending UTB/TSC divorce, Garcia went before a group of staff and faculty to put her best spin on the UT System’s stunning announcement that it was ending the partnership. In spite of the fracaso and border violence and looming state budget crisis, Garcia said, the UT System was making a commitment to Brownsville in seeking to build a four-year university, (without TSC).
Garcia compared UTB’s growth to what the University of Texas at El Paso and University of Texas at Dallas went through, saying the local university is passing through a cocoon phase just like its UT System brethren. Maybe, but a community college that had been part of its community for nearly eight decades wasn’t thrown under the bus as UTEP and UTD blossomed into butterflies of higher education.
Garcia is understandably siding with the UT side of things even as she told her audience last week that “my loyalty is neither to UTB or TSC,” but to “its students.” No doubting her commitment to students is intended here, but one can easily see that whatever comes out of this fracaso will have Juliet Garcia at the helm, and that outcome will not be a product of happenstance.
So be it. There is no bringing back the smiling faces of 1991. The supporters of TSC are right in believing that the locals would give up an inordinate share of the community college’s assets and heritage to the UT System under what the big boys want. Still, they have to strike a deal with the UT System and get what they can get.
In dueling op-ed columns in this newspaper, Garcia and Adela Garza well described the opposing sides. Garcia says Brownsville will benefit from the UT brand and leverage more state dollars through the muscle and influence of the university system. Garza says that as long as TSC has a taxing district the local board as the community’s representatives should not be shunned aside as mere advisory board members.
They’re both right – and wrong if they and other leaders don’t work toward some sort of agreement that keeps a reasonable partnership intact. Brownsville without TSC is unthinkable. It would be more than a fracaso to lose this treasured local institution, a fact that those who have UTB and TSC in their job titles should not accept as a mere inevitability.
R. Daniel Cavazos