Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shapleigh calls on Dewhurst to set up a new South Texas Border Initiative

Steve Taylor | Rio Grande Guardian
10 June 2009

McALLEN, June10 - State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh has asked Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to prepare for a new South Texas Border Initiative in order to boost access to higher education along the border.

“Given that Texas is minority-majority today and will be majority-Hispanic by 2020, I am asking you to set the stage for a second STBI in order to reverse decades of institutionalized and systematic discrimination against our Borderlands universities,” Shapleigh wrote, in a May 18 letter to Dewhurst.

The original STBI was mounted in the 1989 by the 71st Legislature and resulted in a $460 million aid package for the nine four-year colleges located on the Texas-Mexico border.

It came about following a lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund that claimed the state of Texas had discriminated against Hispanic students by not adequately funding higher education institutions along the border.

In his letter, Shapleigh points out the huge disparity in the number of doctoral and professional programs at Borderlands universities as compared to Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Texas Tech has 60 doctoral and professional programs, Shapleigh wrote, compared to one at the University of Texas at Brownsville, three at the University of Texas-Pan American, 19 at the University of Texas at El Paso, five at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and one at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. Shapleigh also listed the 21 doctoral and professional programs at the University of Texas at San Antonio to strengthen his argument, though most border leaders do not consider San Antonio a border city.

Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas referenced the lack of doctoral programs along the border in a hard hitting speech to the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative reception in Laredo on Monday evening.

In what appeared to be a call to arms to border business, academic and political leaders to strongly challenge the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Legislature, the former UTPA president said it was “unsatisfactory and unacceptable” that the border region has just a handful of doctoral programs. She said the border region would likely have to “force” the issue.

“If you draw a line from, let’s say, Marfa, around San Antonio and south to Corpus Christi, we have less than a handful of doctoral programs in that region. Less than a handful,” Cárdenas said.

“I would suggest that we have less than ten doctoral programs in all of those institutions put together. We cannot support and create a 21st century economic development effort if we are lacking those doctoral programs.”

Shapleigh’s letter was sent Dewhurst during the 81st Legislature and came about as a result of a fierce Senate debate over the criteria Texas should use in establishing more Tier One universities. Tier One is another name for a flagship university and confers the title of a national research center. Tens of millions of research dollars flow to such universities.

Under legislation passed this session, seven Texas universities are in the running to receive money from a new fund designed to help higher education institutions achieve Tier One status - UTEP, UTSA, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Arlington, the University of Texas at Dallas, and Texas Tech University. Texas voters must approve the establishment of the fund in a constitutional amendment in November.

Shapleigh said he agreed with a statewide consensus that something must be done to make Texas’ universities more competitive on a national and global scale.

However, Shapleigh strongly disagreed with the criteria being set in legislation authored by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock. Shapleigh said Duncan’s bill – SB 1560 – would effectively result in the “coronation” of the University of Houston and Texas Tech as Tier One universities.

“With the University of California (UC) System now birthing an eighth public national research institution at UC-Merced, we can learn many lessons on how to develop and fund excellence. One thing we should not continue is a historic under-funding of border universities, the ramifications of which are still with us today,” Shapleigh wrote.

In his letter, Shapleigh pointed out that he offered two amendments to Duncan’s bill in an attempt to “level the playing field” for all seven emerging universities.

Duncan’s criteria stated that an institution must have awarded 200 PhDs during each of the last two academic years. Shapleigh’s amendment would have reduced this to 100 PhDs and allowed a school to qualify had they shown a 20 percent growth in the number of PhDs awarded over the past three fiscal years.

Shapleigh said this would have helped UTEP and UTSA. “The residual effect of historic discrimination is that the state’s majority-Hispanic institutions have dramatically low number of PhD programs,” Shapleigh wrote. The amendment was defeated on a vote of 20 to 11.

Shapleigh offered another amendment that he said would have reflected what Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes stated at a March 25 higher education committee hearing on Tier One legislation. Paredes pointed out the importance of demographic and economic considerations, including population trends and the economic and business infrastructure of a locality when considering a Tier One application.

“Our amendment would have allowed a school to meet an additional criteria provided that the institution is located in a population center with a local and regional economic infrastructure capable of facilitating the long-term success of a national research institution,” Shapleigh wrote. “El Paso, San Antonio, and the Valley would have greatly benefited from this amendment, as all have dynamic economies capable of sustaining growth and working closely with the local universities.”

Shapleigh said that, “unfortunately, in deference to Senator Duncan,” the amendment was voted down 19 to 12. Duncan’s district, like the Panhandle generally, is shrinking population-wise, when compared to the fast growing border region.

“I point these amendments out because their defeat are representative of the larger problem,” Shapleigh wrote to Dewhurst. “The historic under-funding of Border universities that has resulted in them playing catch up to the rest of the state.”

Shapleigh added that all the current talk of additional Tier One universities in Texas is “a Potemkin dream without funding.” He said that at best, even with the funding in the Tier One bills moving through the Legislature, Texas could be decades away from new Tier Ones.

Shapleigh pointed to Coordinating Board statistics which show that Texas lags far behind other states in university funding. He said even the Governor’s business supporters, namely the Select Commission on Higher Education and Global Competitiveness, agrees. That group’s report stated:

“Texas is not globally competitive. The state faces a downward spiral in both quality of life and economic competitiveness if it fails to educate more of its growing population (both young and adults) to higher levels of attainment, knowledge and skills. The rate at which educational capital is currently being developed is woefully inadequate. Texas also needs an innovation-based economy in all the state’s regions that can fully employ a more capable workforce. It must generate more external research funding, and commercialize ideas and intellectual property at a volume substantially greater than currently taking place.”

The point about assisting all the state’s regions was also made recently by Keith Patridge, president and CEO of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation. Patridge told the Guardian he would be voting against the constitutional amendment on Tier One universities in the November election in protest at the “willful and negligent abuse” handed out to Rio Grande Valley universities.

Shapleigh ended his letter by reminding Dewhurst that China and India have learned that exporting valuable capital to the U.S. is an unsustainable model. “Soon we will understand what competition from those countries will represent in innovation, ideas, and prosperity, and what failed leadership has cost our state.”

© Copyright of the Rio Grande Guardian,, Melinda Barrera, Publisher. All rights reserved.

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