Texas Tech's nursing school in El Paso has put the finishing touches on its transformation into a stand-alone, fully accredited school.
To celebrate, Kent Hance, chancellor of the Texas Tech System, was in El Paso Monday to meet the school's inaugural class.
With classes now under way at Texas Tech's Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing in El Paso, the hope is that Texas Tech can now follow through with its promise to do the same with the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, making it a stand-along institution.
Back in 2009, Hance made the blockbuster announcement that the regional campus in El Paso was to become a full-fledged health sciences university, independent from Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in Lubbock. The next step was naming a local president but, almost two years later, that has not happened.
To send a message, local philanthropist and businessman Woody Hunt says he put up $1.5 million to establish a presidential endowed chair. Last October he rolled those dollars into the $10 million donation made by the Hunt Family Foundation that kick started the creation of the stand-alone nursing school.
"The importance of having a president here hasn't changed," Hunt says.
Nearly 40 students began classes at the nursing school in the old JDW Insurance building at 415 E. Yandell on Aug 24.
"I told them I am going to come speak to them when the nursing school celebrates its 50th anniversary," Hance says. "And they all kinda looked at me like ‘I don't think this guy is going to do that.' But I may surprise them."
Hance is a classic Texan with a measured drawl, manners and a sense of humor that's as dry as the land, leaving one to wonder whether he is joking or not.
Call him, and his phone plays the Texas Tech fight song.
A legendary West Texas politician, Hance is known as the only person to ever beat George W. Bush in a political campaign. In 1978, Hance defeated the man who would become president in a 1978 congressional race.
In 1981, Hance authored and won passage of former President Ronald Reagan's tax bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Before becoming the third chancellor of the Texas Tech University System in 2006, Hance was a partner with Hance Scarborough, an Austin law firm.
He has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Texas Tech University and graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1968.
Hance is a native of Dimmitt, Texas. He and his wife have five children and seven grandchildren.
In an interview with El Paso Inc., Hance talks about the need for a stand-alone med school in El Paso, what education has to do with the "Texas miracle," and why Texas Tech is going to be in a tough position if more education cuts are made next in the legislative session.
Q: What is Texas Tech's vision for El Paso, at this point?
The vision is that we will have a separate health sciences center. It will be a separate component from the health sciences center in Lubbock, and we hope to have that done in 2013 in the legislative process.
Q: But is there support in Lubbock for a stand-alone campus?
It's strong. By having a separate health sciences center, it puts more pressure on the delegation from El Paso to really make sure they get funding here. It takes some pressure off Sen. Duncan. The board of regents, they have been very supportive. One of the reasons we were able to get this passed in 2007 is the fact that we already had third- and fourth-year medical students here. It was not going to be as expensive than if you'd gone to some other community and just started from scratch.
Q: But a key component of creating a stand-alone campus here is for it to have its own president. When might that happen?
Well, if it gets passed in the Legislature in 2013, then it would happen immediately after that. The whole thing on the separate health sciences center in El Paso is something the board of regents is going to have to make one of its priorities, and they have been very supportive. They are going to be making their priorities in 2012 for what will come up in 2013.
Q: At one point, a major El Paso donor made a $1.5 million pledge that was essentially contingent on a president being named here.
Some money that was given in the past, I think there was some contingency on that. It is a goal that we want to do. El Paso wants to do it, Lubbock is not opposed to it, but the board wants to make sure it is done right. They will make the decisions on the exact way that that policy is carried out.
Q: Does the vision also include a school of dentistry in El Paso?
We will continue to push for a school of dentistry and also schools of allied health and public health. We are going to be doing all of those. And within allied health, you're looking at physical therapists, occupational therapists, so we feel like there is a bright future.
One of the dreams that I have is that El Paso will be a major medical center between Houston and Los Angeles. With the growth that we have in this area - you look at the metropolitan area and you're looking at more than 2 million people here in El Paso and Juárez - so there is definitely a need, and I think we will be able to meet that need.
Q: How close is El Paso to having a dental school?
We are in the process. We will have to go in front of the coordinating board at some point in time and go through the legislative process.
Now, will that be in 2013? I don't know. If the economy doesn't improve by the next legislative session, probably not. It might be in 2015. It is an obvious need. There's not a dental school in the western part of the state. El Paso really wants one and there is a big demand.
Q: What is the vision for Texas Tech's budding architecture school in El Paso? I understand they are moving into a new building shared by El Paso Community College.
What we've done with El Paso Community College is set up a program that allows anyone who is going to El Paso Community College to take architecture classes at Texas Tech, so that when they graduate from El Paso Community College with their associate degree, the can get their architecture degree from Texas Tech.
That is big on our list. We've got one of the best architecture school's in the country.
Q: Is there anything to a rumor about a new veterinary school?
Well, that's something that's been looked at for some time. They were authorized by the legislature back in the ‘70s and that ran out. A&M has always opposed Tech getting a vet school, but there is only one vet school in the state, and they have tremendous demand; it is easier to get into a medical school now than it is into vet school. That's because there is such a limited number of slots. They take 125 to 135.
Q: Major cuts were made to education this legislative session. I understand that Texas Tech may have been harmed the most.
We really weren't. We had cuts within the system of $67 million. Texas Tech had right at $30 million total. They were tough cuts, but we could see that coming ahead of time.
So starting about two years ago, we started working to make sure there were certain positions that we did not fill when they came open. We also increased the size of the classes at the undergraduate level. Some of the classes may have had 30 students, and we have increased that to 40. It is tough. Can we do it again? It'll be really tough if we have to. I am hoping the economy improves, and we don't go through another session like we did last time.
If we do, the thing that is so important for the members of the Legislature to understand is that, of all the agencies in the state of Texas, higher education provides more return for investment then anything else. We turn out people who have college degrees, have medical degrees, nursing degrees, and they make money. They pay taxes. They make money for the state.
Two years ago, when we had to make 5 percent cuts, everybody was going to make 5 percent cuts, each agency. Then they exempted welfare, and transportation, prisons. All of a sudden, our 5 percent, which would have been 12 percent of the budget, became 41 percent of the budget.
And so, in the regular session, I really stressed that we needed to make sure that higher education didn't take an unfair cut.
Q: With that political reality, does there need to be a greater voice in Austin, and even in Washington, advocating for the importance of education?
I agree that there needs to be a greater voice. The chancellors in the state of Texas, we have had several meetings and all of us have been on the same page on trying to push and promote our education because it is so important.
Q: The national spotlight has been on Texas of late with Gov. Rick Perry on the campaign trail touting the "Texas miracle." Do you think higher education had a role in it?
I feel like all higher education has contributed. We are graduating more people in the last three years then we have ever graduated before. We are at almost 32,500 students right now. When I got there we were at 26,000. So we are closing the gaps, and at Texas Tech, we were able to do that while increasing research standards. It's hard to increase the standards and increase the numbers, but we have been able to do that. The other undergraduate programs across the state, including UTEP here, they have also increased their numbers and have increased their research.
Q: Given the recent cuts, though, is there enough support for higher education in Texas these days for the state to continue to be a growing powerhouse?
We cannot continue to make the kind of cuts the Legislature made and be a powerhouse in higher education, nationwide. We've got to work it out someway, and hopefully the economy will improve. But the discretionary spending really gets into higher education more than anything else because you've got Medicaid, you know that you have to spend money on that, you've got public education, transportation, prisons and most of those have some kind of formula set aside where it is already set.
So it gets down to the last bit of money to be spent - it's higher education. The result is that we get cut deeper than others.
Q: In general, then, what is the outlook for education in Texas?
There are two things. The outlook long-term is excellent. It's excellent because we have a vision of what we want the medical, the nursing, allied health and dental health schools to be.
Short-term, it's not as certain. We will survive short term, but the short term is really going to be determined by what happens money wise this next legislative session. So that is what concerns us. If we go through another session with drastic cuts, it's going to put us in a tough position throughout the system.
Q: On Tuesday, the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation's request to form a voluntary Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, or TIRZ, goes before City Council. The TIRZ would encompass Texas Tech's health sciences center in El Paso. Will Texas Tech participate?
I'm not at liberty to say right now.
Q: What's significant about the celebration today?
Today, we celebrated the start of the first-year class of the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing. I wanted to be down here to speak to the students who are in that inaugural class. That will be the first class in this school of nursing, and this is a very historic day. So I came down to talk to the students and told them, "Fifty years from now, when you drive by, you can tell your children or grandchildren I was in the first class at that nursing school."
I also told them, I am going to come speak to them when the nursing school celebrates its 50th anniversary. And they all kinda looked at me like "I don't think this guy is going to do that." But I may surprise them.
You know, nurses are on the front line. A doctor goes in and he sees the patient once or twice a day and the nurse is there at all times. They are the ones, when there is a complaint large or small, who've got to monitor that complaint. So it is a very important profession, and we have such a shortage of nurses.
Texas was short 20,000 nurses last year. There is just a tremendous need. Look at the growth we are going to have at the nursing school and the medical complex and, hopefully, the health sciences center here in El Paso someday.
We are turning out nurses, UTEP's turning out nurses, and other places, but even with all that we are still going to be a little shy of what we are going to need. With what we are doing here in El Paso, I don't think we will be able to get enough nurses for what we need much less for other areas of the state.
We want to have a strong nursing school. We feel like we have the right people in place. And with the medical school being endowed by Paul Foster and the nursing school by the Hunts, the future is bright. We'll be adding allied health, we'll be adding dentistry at some point, but most of all we want to be able to have our own health sciences center.
E-mail El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105.