|AUSTIN, May 20 - State Rep. René Oliveira says the creation of a new university, coupled with a four-year medical school, is the Rio Grande Valley’s equivalent of the Eagle Ford Shale play.
In other words, it has the potential of being a great economic driver in the years to come. Oliveira told the Guardian that the impact of the new University of Texas institutions will be enormous, pointing out that a lot more high paying jobs will accrue.
“This is history in the making. The impact this will have is truly a game changer for the Valley when you talk about bringing something this monumental that has spin off for everything, for the economy, for healthcare, for education, for jobs, the whole package,” Oliveira, D-Brownsville, told the Guardian.
“These new seven to ten thousand employees are going to be buying homes and cars and contributing in so many ways. It is going to be an economic boom. In our way it is our own Eagle Ford Shale, except it is coming through an institution.”
That institution is the University of Texas System.
Oliveira made his comments immediately following the passage of Senate Bill 24, which creates a new university through the merger of UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville. The new university will be able to access money in the Permanent University Fund, a wealthy fund that came about through the leasing of land in west Texas for oil and gas exploration. UTPA and UTB could never access this fund.
SB 24, which Oliveira sponsored, also requires the UT System to build a four-year medical school. The first two years of education for students at the medical school will be primarily occur in the Upper Valley, with the third and fourth years in the Lower Valley.
SB 24 was passed unanimously by the Texas House on Friday. It now goes back to the Senate for consideration because it was altered from its original language due to two amendments, one offered by state Rep. Eddie Lucio and the other by state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez.
Oliveira has said laying the pathway for a new university and medical school is the most important legislation he has worked on in all his years in the legislature. He elaborated on the benefits that will come to the Valley as a result.
“Accessing that Permanent University Fund and almost immediately turning us into a research institution, we will be accessing hundreds of millions of dollars that we could have never touched as separate universities. I predict that we are going to start (the new university) with about 28,000 students but I predict that within ten years we will be over 40,000 students and we will be growing,” Oliveira said.
“It is going to change things incredibly. When you look historically at what changes a community in a very dramatic way sometimes it is a little thing like an airport or being near a river. Something like this is going to pay back a thousand fold in so many ways that we cannot yet imagine.”
During passage of SB 24 on the House floor, Oliveira made a comment picked up by a number of reporters. He said all families have squabbles and all families unite. It was a reference to the hard bargaining that took place over where the medical school should go. A week ago it looked as though disagreements between legislators and stakeholders from Cameron and Hidalgo counties over location would derail the legislation. However, in the end a compromise was reached and an amendment offered. Oliveira gave his take on the disagreements.
“It was very difficult because originally we had an agreement and then that agreement appeared to be falling apart. My major concern was that this (revised legislation) had not been vetted through the university and looked at by experts. We were able to get all that done. We were able to share without taking away the flexibility the UT System needed to make it work,” Oliveira said.
“It is good to have us united. We were squabbling pretty bad. It was like there was one piece of chicken and there were seven hungry guys. We got it done.”
Oliveira said he hopes a lesson has been learned from the infighting.
“I just hope that everyone learns a lesson. We cannot get back to that Friday Night Football mentality again. We have to be working together and taking care of the region. I have said this in different settings but someone in Brownsville catches a cold someone in McAllen is going to sneezing. We are locked in together and we need to embrace that as being one giant region and one giant community. Not one of competing subparts. I am glad we were able to do that again,” he said.
Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a six-part series on the passage of legislation to create a four-year medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.