February 17, 2021 725 PM
Lobo Nation must fight back against Texas A&M move
Back in the 1980s, the Texas Legislature started talking about closing some state universities, including Sul Ross. Lobo Nation mobilized. Members of our communities went to Austin to tell lawmakers what they thought of that plan. They even flew a hot air balloon over the Capitol with a banner: “Save Sul Ross.”
Times have changed. But there is another poorly-timed proposal regarding SRSU coming from the legislature. And residents of Alpine, Del Rio, Eagle Pass and Uvalde need to do the 2021 equivalent of launching a hot air balloon and get out the message not to harm our beloved Sul Ross State University.
This year, the threat comes from Senate Bill 522 filed by Senator Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio. This poorly planned and ill-timed proposal would tear Sul Ross from its sister schools in the Texas State University System, its home for the past 100 years, to put it in the Texas A&M University System. This would most likely result in higher student tuition, as has happened other times when moves like this have been made.
Senator Gutierrez points to recent drops in student enrollment and says that this can only be reversed under the prestige of the Texas A&M banner. A&M is being held up as a shiny object that can solve all of our problems — just like other critics said nearly a decade ago when they unsuccessfully tried to move Sul Ross into the Texas Tech System.
Well-known and brand-new university president, Pete Gallego, is on track to tackle issues that Sul Ross and other rural colleges and universities all face whether they are part of the Texas State or other Texas university systems. As the first ever Sul Ross alum and Alpine native to serve as president, he knows the Alpine and Rio Grande communities, having represented all four Sul Ross campuses during his 24 years in the Texas Legislature and U.S. Congress. He helped balance the state budget for a decade during five sessions as one of only five house budget conferees. He knows how to get things done!
In his short tenure, Pete has worked aggressively with the SRSU staff and with the Texas State University System leaders on the plans they have already begun implementing to move Sul Ross forward. Those plans include promising scholarships and professional student advisors. These are but two of a number of initiatives to support increased student enrollment and student needs. They will help ensure that whether high school students are taking dual credit at Sul Ross or completing their first two years of undergraduate work at a well-respected lower cost university before transferring to a high-cost school like A&M, or they want to complete their degree at Sul Ross, they know how to get it done on time. As one of the few universities with no community college nearby, SRSU should be lauded for enabling education for all students.
The Texas State University System has proved to be a stalwart ally for over 100 years throughout other times of challenge and change.
Texas State University System leaders shared much of this information with Sen. Gutierrez in December. Rather than support the unique environment that all rural universities like SRSU face, he chose to file his bill with no Sul Ross employees having had a chance to either review or comment on it. In fact, the Lobo community as a whole was caught by surprise. That’s not an approach focused on making SRSU better.
So now it’s time to have our say. You can reach out directly to our House member, Rep. Eddie Morales (512.463.0566), and Sen. Gutierrez (512.463.0119); those in Presidio and Jeff Davis counties can contact Senator Cesar Blanco (512.463.0129) and Senator Brandon Creighton, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee (512) 463-0104, to express your opposition.
We don’t have a hot air balloon this year. But we have cell phones, email and social media. So, let’s tell our leaders that Sul Ross can best support its students, increase enrollment and serve its communities by continuing in its historic home — the Texas State University System.
Medicaid needs to be expanded to all uninsured adults in Texas this year. Texas has the highest rate of individuals without health insurance in the nation, and it is one of only 12 states that have failed to expand Medicaid for uninsured adults. About one in three uninsured Texans is an adult who could be covered under Medicaid expansion, with the federal government paying 90% of the cost.
By refusing to expand Medicaid, Texas is turning down $10B of federal funding every year. This means that Texans are paying for Medicaid expansion in other states without Texans getting the benefit. Please contact your state senator and representative and demand Medicaid expansion.
I would like to discuss Texas Senator Roland Gutierrez’s Senate Bill 522, after reading about it in the February 4 edition of the Alpine Avalanche and after attending a Q&A with Texas Representative Eddie Morales Saturday afternoon at Sul Ross.
In my opinion, a fundamental key to a healthy, thriving university, in terms of academic excellence and a nurturing environment for its students, is a well-paid faculty and staff.
Paying faculty on par with other Texas universities attracts highly qualified professors who are knowledgeable in their field, creative and, perhaps, bring a certain reputation that’ll draw students who want to specifically learn from them.
And a well-paid staff means you have vital people eagerly coming to work every day providing Sul Ross’ students, through support and services, with the best university experience they’re capable of.
However, according to the University and College Employee Salaries Open Payrolls report for 2017, the average salary for all faculty and staff at Sul Ross was $45,049.
That’s 31.3% below the average salary for faculty and staff at all universities and colleges in Texas.
That means as recently as 2017, maintenance staff and Sul Ross clerks were making $1,785 to $1,639 a month, respectively.
Professors across the spectrum at Sul Ross, from geology, chemistry and English, to theatre arts and range animal science, were paid up to 63% to 66% below the average salary for faculty at all universities and colleges in Texas.
For example, a chemistry professor with a Ph.D made $48,000. Pitiful.
And I personally know someone who has worked at Sul Ross for over two decades and her salary is still $3,887 a month.
These are just brief examples. I could make an endless itemized list of every underpaid employee, but let’s abbreviate by stating this: save one job, all Sul Ross faculty and staff are grossly underpaid by state university standards.
A valid argument could be that due to Sul Ross’ much smaller student body and fewer credit hours, it’s difficult for Sul Ross to compete for limited state funds against bigger schools like the University of Texas and Texas A&M.
So, let’s ask ourselves, “How does state funding for Texas state colleges and universities work?”
Every fiscal year when state universities go before the Texas Legislature to ask for state funding, the big systems like the University of Texas, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M, representing all of their member university and college campuses, cumulative credit hours and combined student enrollment — 154,000 students in the case of Texas A&M — leverage their larger numbers to get bigger slices for themselves from the small, state funding pie.
Those systems then turn around and distribute their funds to their respective member universities and colleges.
By contrast, each member university of the Texas State University System appeals to the state legislature for funding as if it were an independent university.
This unfairly forces Sul Ross to pit its 2,000 students against Texas A&M’s combined 154,000 students each year for the same limited state funds.
If Sul Ross cannot benefit from being a part of a bigger system when state funding rolls around each year, then we have to seriously ask, “How does Sul Ross benefit from being a part of the Texas State University System?”
And how do we benefit from Sul Ross remaining a part of the Texas State University System?
I say “we” because our local and regional economy is tied, to a large degree, to the health and viability of Sul Ross.
A financially healthy Sul Ross means a healthy and thriving student body. Which means thriving rentals, thriving small businesses and restaurants and occupied hotels. It means increased participation in school activities like football and intercollegiate events.
And all of this comes back to needing proper funding so Sul Ross can pay its vital faculty and staff on par with their colleagues at all Texas universities.
If Sul Ross has to go it alone, hat in hand every year to the state for funding, what’s the point of remaining with the Texas State University system when big systems like Texas A&M properly take care of their own?
I’m really hard pressed to understand how we benefit remaining with a system that doesn’t help us.
And really, does Texas State University consider us a part of their system?
For example, there’s a University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at El Paso, and University of Texas Permian Basin.
There’s a Texas A&M University – College Station, Texas A&M University – San Antonio, and a Texas A&M University – Kingsville.
Is there a Texas State University in Huntsville? No, there’s Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.
Is there a Texas State University in Beaumont? No. There’s Lamar University in Beaumont.
Is there a Texas State University in Alpine? No, there’s Sul Ross State University in Alpine.
In fact, there is only one Texas State University, and it’s in San Marcos.
So again, “How do we benefit from being a part of the Texas State University System?”
It was, and still is, nasty, freezing cold for so many. I pray for our fellow Texans suffering right now. Some in the Panhandle may be better prepared, but for parts of the state where 32°F is a cold snap: unlikely.
Along the Lower Valley where palm trees, not pear cactus, predominate, people aren’t faring well either, like here in West Texas. This isn’t up north where everyone has central heat and winter clothing. Even then, power off for several hours to several days is a deal breaker, risking lives and property.
For the heart-opening part, there’s been so much cooperation with people having power helping those without, and media posts providing updated information. Thanks, too, for the scenic wilderness photos and historical pieces highlighting regional life in Big Bend, Texas. Terlingua, Lajitas, Study Butte, Alpine, Marfa, Marathon Facebook groups.
And, can we begrudge an area in drought receiving some much-needed extra moisture? Desert foliage thanks Mother Nature. We’re going to enjoy a bounty of bluebonnets, hoping they’ve survived an unusual desert deep freeze.
Rev. Barry Abraham Zavah