|BROWNSVILLE, December 29 - The UT System’s decision to embrace the vision of a “bi-lingual, bi-literate and bi-cultural” university in South Texas is more important than that university having access to the Permanent University Fund.
This is the view of UT-Brownsville President Juliet Garcia. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Garcia said looking to the global south, rather than to the north, will be a key factor going forward for UT-Rio Grande Valley.
“I think that of all the characteristics that will distinguish this university, it is geography, meaning owning your geography. Not looking north always - like the USA Today weather map, which pretends there is nothing south of us. We know there is an awful lot south of us,” Garcia said.
“We are going to be looking not only north but also to the global south because we are much like the global south. Not just the Americas, we are more like all of the characteristics of the global south. So I think that is such a perfect kind of vision to have embraced.”
Provosts at UTB and UT-Pan American have sent administrators and educators to the University of Ottawa to see what a real bilingual university is like. Garcia believes UT-RGV can learn a lot from this university, which offers all of its courses in English and French. There are many that would like to see UT-RGV offering all of its courses in English and Spanish - though for this to happen legislation would have to be passed at the state Capitol.
Garcia pointed out that the U.S. economy has become increasingly globalized. One definition of globalization, she said, is having a diverse language and culture. “Why would you hire a monolingual engineer when you can hire a bilingual or a trilingual engineer” she asked. Garcia said she had a student working in her office that was born Cuba, knew Russian from her mother and Spanish from her father. The student learned in English in school and learned Mandarin Chinese at UTB. “We are not talking English and Spanish in its constraints, we are talking about whatever language the student believes in their field would be most helpful. That is going to change over time,” Garcia said.
Garcia said university leaders have talked about legislation currently on the books that prevents universities in Texas from educating students in a language other than English. It may be that Valley legislators will have to file a bill to overturn this legislation. Despite the legislation, some universities are teaching in more than one language.
“We (UTB) have been teaching nursing courses in two languages for many years. We have had business courses taught here in two languages. What we have never been able to do is to kind of wave the flag and claim it as a distinguishing feature of the university,” Garcia said. “If you are providing services to a patient and the patient knows only Spanish, the quality of care is correlated directly to the communication that is understood, care giver to care receiver.”
Garcia concluded her interview by thanking UT System’s board of regents for embracing the concept of a “bilingual, bi-literate and bi-cultural” university for South Texas.
“When would you have thought, in our lifetime, that we would be here? PUF is great but that piece that they (UT System regents) have embraced is really the breakthrough for us because it gives our students an advantage from the get-go,” Garcia said.
Most students arriving at UTB come bilingual but not bi-literate, Garcia said. “If I can take a student who is bilingual and help them become bi-literate and hone their skills in both languages and then help them become an historian or a nurse or a doctor or an engineer… oh, my gosh,” Garcia said. “So, instead of thinking of yourself as disadvantaged, all of a sudden you are advantaged. It is time for us to be considered advantaged.”