The whole UHV situation has gotten bizarre. There may be a better word to describe it, but I can't think of one. Last week the citizens of Victoria were told that the Victoria Sales Tax Development Corporation (VSTDC) had approved a $100,000 transfer to VEDC for "an unnamed economic development project." Then a blog was posted on the Victoria Advocate website that suggests the $100,000 was for the hiring of a lobbyist to align UHV with another University system. While the blogger admittedly qualified the information as unsubstantiated, it certainly does raise some eyebrows. The story seemed to come full circle earlier this week when a group of Victoria's most wonderful citizens traveled by bus to Austin for "Victoria Day." To those that had heard of the shady deal surrounding the $100,000 the announcement by State Representative Geanie Morrison that day of the filing of a bill to realign UHV with another system was enormously predictable. What was not predictable was that the new system would be Texas A&M. I don't know anyone that saw that coming.
For me personally, I don't have any allegiance to either A&M or UH. I was raised in an Aggie household and I am a fan of Aggie sports, but the various campuses that are under the several University systems have nothing to do with the flagship University. They don't bear the same mascot names, and usually don't even share the same team or school colors. Graduates of UT-Tyler are not Longhorns, graduates of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi are not Aggies, and neither are the graduates of West Texas A&M. More on that later. My two cents is that these University "systems" are not a very good idea. There may be positives that I am unaware of, but I think they restrict effective branding. Does anyone honestly believe that UTEP will ever be mentioned in the same breath as UT? Will Texas A&M Kingsville ever be on par with Texas A&M? I guess the immediate financial resources are a plus, but that is all I can see. From where I sit, these "system campuses" will always be known as the younger brothers. No matter what they do, they will always have a big brother. If these campuses stood on their own, they could possibly compete with and even exceed the reputations of the other universities, at least in one area or another. Does anyone think that any single department of UT-Pan American will ever be considered superior to its counterpart in Austin? What about Texas A&M International? I don't think so.
OK, so there's nothing we can do about the administrative and legislative structure of University systems. I get that. I just wanted to toss the idea out there. Anyhow, ever since the story broke about the filing of Morrison's bill, it seems as though most people have firmly aligned themselves either for or against the idea. I don't really care whether out local university is aligned with UH or A&M, but I want everything that transpires to be above board. I also don't want any of this business to have unintended consequences. It is this that I think has been overlooked. More on that later as well.
I would like to go back to the idea of these exterior campuses that are placed under another University system. Most of the folks that are in favor of the alignment with the A&M system seem to think that we are now going to magically become College Station. They don't seem to understand that the main Texas A&M campus is not shutting down. None of those students will be transferring to Victoria. There will be no Corps of Cadets. Kyle Field is not being placed on train cars. Reed Arena will still be located in Brazos County. The Aggie baseball team will be playing at Olson Field, and not Rosebud Stadium. You see, this is not the same as a franchise. When the people of various towns around the country hear they will be getting a Super Wal-Mart, they get pretty much the same thing as every other town with a Super Wal-Mart gets. The same goes for Burger King, Walgreen's...you get the point. This is something completely different.
Now let's explore the idea of unintended consequences. Keep in mind that I have no inside knowledge of any of the hypotheticals I am about to share. These are all just things that have been swirling in my head since the filing of Morrison's bill.
1. What if A&M doesn't want UHV? It seems as though everyone is assuming that A&M would be more than happy to set up shop in Victoria, but can anyone make that claim with 100% certainty? From a logistical standpoint, the acquisition doesn't make much sense to me for A&M. If you will remember, the majority of the underclassmen that attended UHV's first year of downward expansion were from the Rio Grande Valley. Evidently that was an area that was overloaded with prospective students. It made sense for UHV to recruit there, because there were no other UH schools in the area. The same cannot be said for A&M. Do you really think A&M is going to recruit students from the Valley to Victoria, and imply that they ignore the two other A&M campuses that they pass on their drive north? I just don't see it. Also, how do you think UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville will react to active recruitment in their vicinity from their main rival?
2. How hard will UH fight to keep UHV? This is really the key to the whole deal. From what I understand, the Morrison Bill would transfer not only the Victoria location to A&M, but also the Cinco Ranch and Sugarland locations. If it were only the Victoria campus, they might not put up much of a fight, but I can't see them letting A&M come right into their backyard and snatch of two campuses in the Greater Houston area. So let's assume for a moment that UH resists the move. If that is the case, and the bill passes anyway, it could be harmful for Victoria in the future. If there is any amount of solidarity amongst the many Houston area Reps and Senators, they could do quite a bit as payback for Victoria in the future. They could block appropriation bills, or block State agency locations in Victoria, or a number of other things.
3. What if A&M doesn't see much value in the current UHV, and puts them on the back burner? As it stands now, the A&M System has quite a bit on its plate. Galveston has always played a major role for A&M, and they appear to be very aggressive in Amarillo and San Antonio right now. So what happens if they take over UHV, and then don't pony up the new campus? Do you think the State Legislature will care if Victoria comes back them whining about A&M?
4. To my way of thinking, some of this posturing is akin to a kid asking for a really expensive Christmas gift right after Dad gets laid off from work. There is no denying the current financial quandary that the State of Texas finds itself in. We all know there is a serious shortfall, and we all know that education was the first areas mentioned for cuts to get the numbers straightened out. So here comes Victoria, which already gets a considerable amount of State money, and it wants the proverbial pony. The difference between the spoiled child and Victoria in this analogy is that the child is not expected to understand the error of his ways, but political and business "leaders" of a community should know better. I just hope all this foot stomping doesn't cost us down the road. Whether we like it or want to accept it, we only have one State Rep. Someone please enlighten me, how many does Houston have? Once again, I think you get the point.
In summation, there are two areas of concern for me in this ordeal. The first is that everything done is legitimate and legal. The second is that we don't end up with egg on our faces. I guess whether my fears are founded or not is something that only time will reveal.
In my next blog, I will delve more deeply into the $100,000. I am waiting to get the whole story on that one before I comment fully.