The Brief: Top Texas News for Dec. 7, 2012

The Big Conversation:

A dramatic day in Texas education news marked the rise of one public institution and the demise of another.

At a meeting of the University of Texas System Board of Regents on Thursday, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa unveiled plans for a new university in South Texas.

Under the proposal, UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the system's Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen would be consolidated to form a new university with its own medical school. 

The regents unanimously backed the proposal, which included a $100 million allocation over the next 10 years. But the plans must also be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature before the UT System can proceed. Cigarroa said the new institution — the culmination of decades of work to bring a medical school to the impoverished Rio Grande Valley — would enroll 28,000 students and employ 1,500 faculty and 3,700 staff members. 

The good news for the region came the same day the state intervened in one of Texas' highest-profile public education scandals in recent memory.

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced that he would strip the trustees of the El Paso Independent School District of their authority and replace them with a five-member board of managers.

Williams' action represented a stunning rebuke of the El Paso school board, which has been accused of ignoring a vast cheating scheme that landed the district's superintendent, Lorenzo Garcia, in prison.

"We're not going to allow cheating in this state," Williams said. "Moms and dads truly want to know how their youngsters are performing." 

Culled:

  • Politico reports today that the the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent $760,000 to the Missouri Republican Party in early November, presumably to help Todd Akin's ultimately doomed U.S. Senate campaign. The significance: U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who chaired the committee at the time, had disavowed Akin for saying that women's bodies reject pregnancy in instances of "legitimate rape," and had said in September that the NRSC wouldn't offer Akin any financial support. Asked about the apparent reversal, the NRSC declined to comment.
  • The Houston Chronicle has a look at what South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint's departure from the U.S. Senate means for Ted Cruz. DeMint, who endorsed and raised money for Cruz and other insurgent GOP candidates like Deb Fischer of Nebraska, announced Thursday that he was leaving Congress to head the conservative Heritage Foundation. As one political scientist said of DeMint's departure, "It opens the door for someone like Ted Cruz to step in and be the voice of reason against the forces of chaos."
  • On Thursday, the same day an independent panel released a report panning a controversial University of Texas fracking study, the university announced that the lead author of the study and the head of the institute that released it had resigned. As StateImpact Texas reports, while UT's conflict-of-interest policies have been updated since the controversy first arose, the report cast doubt on whether the new rules were "sufficiently comprehensive."

"Maybe we were thinking too small." — UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa on the system's past efforts to establish a medical school in South Texas

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