Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp said Wednesday that the idea of merging system universities in Kingsville and Corpus Christi is no longer feasible, so he doesn't plan to ask the system's board of regents to vote on the idea in the coming weeks.
"I don't think it is viable right now," he told The Texas Tribune. "I think it should be, and I think it is something that should happen. But I have said from the beginning that, if we can't convince the community, it isn't going to happen."
The decision comes amid strong pushback from those communities that Sharp said he needed to convince. Many alumni and students have said they don’t want to lose their individual universities’ identities. And local lawmakers have expressed skepticism. One lawmaker in particular, state Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, harshly criticized Sharp for pushing the idea this week.
Sharp said he still thinks he has the votes on the A&M System Board of Regents to move forward with the merger. But with all the opposition, there is “no sense putting it in their face.”
The merger idea had been in the works for weeks, but it was first raised publicly at a board meeting last week. Sharp said then that combining Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi and Texas A&M University–Kingsville would create the dominant school in the South Texas region.
The two universities, which are 36 miles apart, would combine to make the 12th largest university in the state, with 23,000 students.
"We have an opportunity — and in my opinion the last opportunity — to produce an amazing university for the students of South Texas — and really, for all of Texas," Sharp said last week.
Pushback was fierce and immediate. Some A&M-Corpus Christi backers worried that new school's main office would be in Kingsville, and that the new school would adopt the A&M-Kingsville sports mascot, the Javelina. Some in Kingsville worried that A&M-Kingsville's engineering programs or its football team would migrate to Corpus Christi.
A&M System officials stressed that no such decisions had been made, and that they were still early in the process of exploring whether a merger was a good idea. Sharp scheduled a public forum in the area for Monday. He said he still plans to show up and explain how the process has been handled.
"There has been some pretty sleazy maneuverings around this," he said, describing what he said was misinformation by people opposed to the merger. "I am going to go down there and talk to them about it."
Sharp especially took issue with Lozano, who said Tuesday that he would make sure the merger didn’t happen. Lozano told the Tribune that he first heard about the idea a couple of months ago from A&M-Kingsville President Steven Tallant, who told him that “John Sharp is going to merge A&M-Corpus and A&M-Kingsville.”
“I am still shocked at the methods that one person has taken upon himself when there is a process in place for this,” Lozano said.
He later added, “I don’t know what his end game is and why he is rushing it.”
Lozano said his biggest worry was that he hadn’t received assurance that A&M-Kingsville's engineering programs would stay in Kingsville. But even before Sharp’s comments Wednesday, Lozano said he was “100 percent certain” that the merger wouldn’t happen.
“The issue now is I want an explanation and an apology to the people of Kingsville and Corpus Christi for there not being transparency,” he said. “And I want the regents to investigate why this has happened to make sure that no future chancellor does this.”
Sharp forcefully pushed back against that complaint, saying he has been transparent all along. He said he met with community leaders on Oct. 5 and told them that the idea would be killed if any local legislators opposed it. Lozano said he supported the idea as long as the engineering program at Kingsville was preserved, Sharp said.
“All of this hullabaloo would have ended if J.M. Lozano would have stood up and said, ‘I am against it.’ But he didn’t say that. He said he was for it,” Sharp said.
“Don’t start jumping on me when you are the guy who didn’t have the guts to do what you should have done.”
Lozano on Wednesday denied Sharp's characterization of what happened, saying that he told Tallant in September that "I will kill this bill and make it my Alamo." He said he would file open records requests with the system to find out more about what happened, and that Sharp should preserve his records.
"I am member of the Legislature," Lozano said. "This may be a manner that is going to become a personnel matter — because it's a character issue now."
"Lie after lie. And that is part of the Aggie code that you don't lie."
Skepticism from lawmakers went beyond Lozano. Following last week’s meeting, the Corpus Christi delegation in the Legislature — Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, and Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi — released a statement saying they had no plans to file legislation authorizing the merger.
“We will not support any legislation or proposal that would adversely affect or be harmful or detrimental to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi or the Corpus Christi community,” the statement said.
Disclosure: The Texas A&M University System and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.
Read more related coverage:
- As leaders of the Texas A&M University System recently discussed merging their Kingsville and Corpus Christi campuses, some regents and community members expressed skepticism.
- Texas A&M University's rapid enrollment growth is creating crowded classrooms, parking lots and dining halls, but school officials say they haven't diluted academics.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/11/16/m-chancellor-merger-kingsville-and-corpus-christi-/.