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UTB-TSC reconciliation possible?

January 16, 2011 12:13 AM

Jazmine Ulloa

Brownsville Herald

BROWNSVILLE — More than two months after the decision to dissolve the partnership between the University Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, it is unclear how the breakup will play out — and some officials still talk about reconciliation.

One thing does seem clear: The budget shortfalls facing higher education across the state make it a difficult time to deal with the split.

Since the decision by the University of Texas System Regents to withdraw from the partnership with Texas Southmost College, UT officials have declined comment beyond remarks by Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa that they believe the current UTB-TSC compact is outdated and "hindering the advancement of excellence in the mission of the University of Texas at Brownsville."

Some on the TSC Board of Trustees believe Texas Southmost College should also move on independently, and they are looking into the option. But others have pledged to persuade UT back to the bargaining table.

With the state expecting a budget shortfall upwards of $15 billion, there are those among Texas lawmakers and UTB-TSC leaders who stand behind those working to keep the negotiations going. They say a meltdown of the UTB-TSC contract could not come at a worse time for two institutions so inextricably linked and dependent on each other.

The forecast for education across the state is bleak. Texas schools at all levels are tightening budgets and planning for layoffs as legislators prepare for austerity measures. The 82nd Legislature, which convened last week, might even alter the funding formulas of colleges and universities.

If UTB and TSC are separated in such a milieu, some state lawmakers warn the schools will have trouble acquiring the funding they need to go on independently, especially as enrollment climbs.

Some predict a more catastrophic effect — the demise of TSC altogether.

"The problem is doing more with less funding and more students," says state Rep. Rene Oliveira, who serves on the state’s budget council and sponsored the bill that founded UTB-TSC. The breakup of the school "is not definite,” he said.

“But I believe the massive budget cuts that higher education is going to face will make it much more difficult for the TSC and UT boards to come to an agreement,” Oliveira said. “It will be, unfortunately, a survival-of-the-fittest situation."

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