The University of Texas System confirmed Gov. Rick Perry signed the historic bill to merge the Rio Grande Valley’s two major universities and create a medical school Friday night.
UT System said a ceremonial signing in the Valley will happen sometime in the next few weeks. A major milestone for the region, the law allows the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg to merge with the University of Texas at Brownsville.
A major boon to come with the merger is a regional medical school that officials point to as transformational.
Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell rejoiced at the news.
“It’s really an extraordinary day for the whole Rio Grande Valley and Harlingen as we will now get to see the (Regional Academic Health Center) campus become part of not only a medical school, but of this new super university, which is really a huge accomplishment and undertaking for the Valley,” Boswell said Saturday.
“It will be the second-largest Hispanic-serving university in the united states” and will access to the state’s multibillion-dollar Permanent University Fund.
“The bill specifically provides for utilizing the assets, the buildings and everything that we have in Harlingen as part of the medical school and the university.”
The economic impact on Harlingen and surrounding areas will be “tremendous,” he said, creating thousands of jobs and “countless millions of more dollars being pumped into the local economy.”
Randy Whittington, president of the South Texas Medical Foundation, said Perry’s signature means planning can now go forward for the development of the medical school.
“It will mean a continued recruitment of faculty and job opportunities and things of that nature in addition to the educational opportunities,” said Whittington, a former Harlingen mayor.
“I don’t think any of us can even imagine what the impact of this new university is going to be across the entire Valley.”
According to an economic impact study done by the University of Texas System, it will mean anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000 new jobs “spun off from this new university over the coming years and that’ll be from one end of the Valley to the other,” Whittington said.
He says a model that could forecast the future for the Valley is the development of the medical school and health science center in San Antonio.
“Back in the late ‘60s, the population of San Antonio was about the same as the population of the Rio Grande Valley today,” he said.
“You just look at what has happened with the medical school there. It has resulted in an economic impact in San Antonio of approximately $18 billion a year, 150,000 some odd people employed either by the medical school or related medical industry and biomedical industry in San Antonio.
“So you can look at kind of the same potential impact over the next 30 or 40 years in the Valley. It’s phenomenal.”
For Juliet Garcia, the news came in a text message.
“When I got it I said, ‘Oh my gosh it really happened,’” the University of Texas at Brownsville president said Saturday, noting that the announcement about Perry’s decision on the merger wasn’t expected until the beginning of the week.
It was news she and others across South Texas had been hoping for.
“It’s done and it’s a marvelous thing,” Garcia said. “This is a good conclusion. There was lots of speculation about whether or not it would finally happen.”
While Perry’s office had not yet released a statement, UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Gene Powell, chairman of the UT Board of Regents, released a joint statement Saturday expressing their appreciation for the governor’s signing of the law.
“We are so thrilled that Governor Perry has signed Senate Bill 24 and now the path is clear for us to embark on this mission to build a world-class university in South Texas,” the release reads. “This is truly landmark and transformational legislation that will benefit all of Texas and the nation.”
Garcia said she felt there were many who should be content with their work in making the merger a reality, highlighting the region’s putting aside of self-interest to ensure the entire Valley could benefit.
“We have a strong voice when we speak as one,” she said.
Brownsville Herald reporter Ty Johnson contributed to this report.