Like a boxer catching his second wind, UTRGV is ready to shake off the fatigue from its inaugural year and bounce back to begin its second year as an institution.
In May 2014, Guy Bailey was named founding president of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which was created from the merger of legacy institutions UT Brownsville and UT Pan American.
“It was a big transition, very fast and furious,” Bailey said. “We were able to get all of our students transitioned from the legacy schools into the new institution. We were able to get all of our faculty [and staff] on the payroll. That was the key thing, to get up and running and to get the people moved over.”
The establishment of the new university came with its share of problems that range from students not getting credit for courses they took and registration glitches as well as leadership and shared governance issues with faculty.
Bailey told The Rider he is aware of the issues UTRGV faces and is working to resolve them, but it will take some time.
“UT Brownsville and UT Pan American were very different institutions. They operated in different ways,” he said. “Completing the transition to UTRGV, in terms of creating a new culture, will take another year or two. … It’s a matter of everybody learning that it’s not the UT Brownsville way or the UT Pan American way; it’s a new way.”
The Rider obtained a copy of a 23-page study dated July 10 that identifies “issues/concerns and recommendations regarding processes that impact teaching, research/scholarship and/or service” at UTRGV. The UTRGV Faculty Senate submitted the White Paper to Bailey at his request.
The White Paper is divided into three sections: Values and Guidelines Recommended for Adoption, Leadership and Shared Governance Issues, and Administrative Processes that Impede Efficiency and Productivity of Faculty and Staff.
Data was gathered by senators, who consulted with their departments and solicited input and feedback from faculty and staff. Additional data from undergraduate and graduate students was also collected.
A major area of concern identified by the senate is leadership and shared governance.
The White Paper states that communication with faculty, staff and students is “not ideal.”
Asked what is the concern regarding administrative communication with the campus community, Bailey replied, “I think what the Faculty Senate wanted was just more communication. I think part of it has to do with the first year and a lot of things happening. … You’ll see in the second year, when there is less stuff going on, it’ll be easier to communicate.”
Another major issue in the White Paper is the spread of a “culture of fear.”
“Most respondents indicated that the source of the fear stems from various levels of the Administration, including the President’s and the Provost’s levels,” the White Paper states. “However, there were also respondents who indicated that Chairs and Deans are complicit in suppressing open discussions that deal with potentially ‘contentious’ issues, and therefore, they contribute to the fear experienced by faculty members.”
A “fear of retaliation” was boldfaced in the 23-page study.
“Comments from faculty reflect concerns about not being comfortable to openly express ideas at the department level and other levels due to fear of retaliation and fear of being labeled a ‘troublemaker.’ Even mid-management individuals expressed sentiments such as ‘I just keep my head down and do my work.’”
The study also states that disagreeing or debating with department chairs or deans may be seen as “verboten, even when it is done with the best of intentions.”
Recommendations made by the Faculty Senate in the White Paper include:
–provide leadership training for administrators and staff and faculty senate leaders
–administer a climate survey at regular intervals beginning in academic year 2016-2017
–establish regular and frequent communication from the administration to the faculty and staff
–strongly encourage chairs to hold regular and frequent departmental meetings during which culture and environment issues are included in the agendas.
The Rider tried to contact Faculty Senate President Bobbette Morgan for comment via telephone, email and in person but as of Thursday, she had not responded.
As of Aug. 21, 27,445 students had enrolled for the Fall 2016 semester, a 4.2 percent decrease from the inaugural semester, preliminary figures on the UTRGV website show.
“We didn’t expect any enrollment growth this year,” Bailey said. “When UTRGV was put in place, we had new enrollment standards and so it’s harder to get into UTRGV now. … We want to admit every student who has a chance to succeed. If we think you don’t, we’ll direct you to a community college and hope you’ll transfer. … We’re not going to take your money unless we can graduate you.”
As of press time Thursday, there were 24,344 undergraduate and 3,101 graduate students registered for fall classes.
The Rider tried to contact Strategic Enrollment Vice President Maggie Hinojosa for comment. Hinojosa referred the newspaper to university spokesman Patrick Gonzales for “further clarification concerning interview requests on enrollment.”
Asked why the admissions criteria changed for UTRGV, Gonzales replied, “The criteria for UTRGV was changed because they were a new school. … We took the processes of UTB and UTPA and they both had different requirements, admission standards, and so UTRGV needed a new set.”
At UTRGV, students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class receive automatic admission, according to the university’s website. Other factors for review include class rank, prior college hours, SAT/ACT scores, leadership experience and community involvement.
Esmeralda Soto, a biology and math returning junior, said she hopes the enrollment process for UTRGV is smoother than it was at UTB.
“I hope it’s an easier transition for me than what it was back then, 2007-2008, when I stopped coming,” she said. “Back then it was a little harder to see an adviser. We didn’t have walk-ins. We didn’t have walk-ins to see the Financial Aid [office]. Back then, we had to stand in line for hours. … Things have changed since the last time I was here.”
Soto said she decided it was time to come back to finish what she started and believes UTRGV is a good place to do so.
The last day to register for classes is Thursday.
New and returning UTRGV students, as well as the president, all have expectations they’d like to see the university meet.
Jose Trujillo, a manufacturing engineering sophomore, said he hopes UTRGV’s advising process improves for the Fall 2016 semester.
“It’d be great if they could explain to me what troubles I might face when registering for classes and what the requirements for specific classes are,” Trujillo said. “I’ve gone with the advisers but sometimes they don’t have enough information.”
The UTRGV Faculty Senate states in the White Paper that the university needs “to clarify the role of faculty in the advising process.”
One dean reportedly told faculty that they are not allowed to advise students, they can only mentor, according to the White Paper.
Soto said because she works, she can’t enjoy “college life” but would like to see students help the older generation with the new technology and software.
“[I would like to see] someone who’s helping the older generation of students [with the new technology] because not all of us are tech savvy,” she said. “A lot of us are struggling. … I think that would be something that the older generation would really need.”
Soto suggested that perhaps work-study students can take on that role.
Bailey said his goals for Fall 2016 are to enhance student success, increase graduation rates and smooth the transition process at UTRGV.
“It’s still a very exciting time,” he said. “We expect the second year to be smoother than the first year. There are lots of issues we’re addressing. … So, we’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us. The end result is, just like our retention rates are now, I think the third best in the UT System, all of our other stuff is gonna be there too. A few years from now, you will have graduated from a university that’s going to be right up at the top of the UT System.”