A familiar name is returning to higher education administration – this time in Texas.
Julio León, former president of Missouri Southern State University, has been hired to serve as special adviser to The University of Texas System’s office of academic affairs.
León will lead and coordinate campus teams that will assist UT System leadership with planning a new university and medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.
Legislation passed by the Texas Legislature this year paves the way to establish a new UT university in South Texas, combining the resources and assets of The University of Texas at Brownsville and The University of Texas-Pan American.
“My duties here would be essentially representing the University of Texas system office of academic affairs here in the Valley,” León said. “I am leading the new university transition team. Our work is one of beginning the planning process as to how the new university is going to look by combining the resources of the two universities.”
León said the current universities, once combined would become “campuses” of the new university.
“Combined, we will have about 30,000 students,” he said. “What we are trying to do now is form working groups of the academic side and on the operational side to dtermine how the resources of these two entities are going to come together in terms of new programs and existing programs.
“We also have to integrate into the planning the creation of a new medical school.”
And, according to León, those resources will get a financial shot in the arm through the Texas Permanent University Fund. The PUF is an endowment to fund construction and capital improvements at state institutions of higher education.
“Previously, these two new universities were not eligible before because their origins were as junior colleges,” he said. “By creating the new university, they instantly become eligible.
“The Board of Regents has already allocated $100 million just for the creation of the medical school.
León said his time at MSSU prepared him well for forward-looking projects such as this one.
“I was always trying to place Missouri Southern at the forefront of changes that might be taking place,” he said. “You need to know what changes are coming and place your university in tune with the times.
“I have always been active with national orgnizations that put me in touch with those changes and that provides a broad perspective.”
After retiring from MSSU, León served as interim president at Colorado State University-Pueblo. He said that experience taught him and how to handle the role of advisers and interim presidencies.
Page 2 of 3 - “As an interim president, your duty is to make sure the institution runs smoothly and prepare the ground for new president,” he said. “ Sometimes changes need to be made. It all depends on situation, but you perform what needs to be done.”
In Colorado, he told the governing board that he would act as if the interim tag didn’t exist.
“I told them that I’m going to act here as if I were going to be here for a long, long time,” he said. “I created a new honors program and I got approved through the legislature a new Ph.D program. I felt that my presence was effective and helpful.”
In Texas, the governing board chose to go with the adviser role and León said he will try to work with people there to shape a vision.
“I am essentially working with the two presidents of the institutions,” he said. “In process of engaging faculty and others into working groups. We have given them tasks to visualize not only what they would like to see continue, but any new ideas, any dreams about what they think a new university should be.
“In addition to adding a new medical school, the Board has decided this is going to be a research university.”
León will serve as special adviser over the next six to nine months until the president of the new university is named. A search committee for the new university is expected to name a new president by the spring 2014.
León served as Southern’s president for 25 years and at the time of his retirement in 2007 was one of the longest-serving university presidents in the nation.
During León’s time at MSSU, the school experienced unprecedented growth including the construction of new residence halls, the Webster Hall communications and social science building and the Dianne Mayes Student Life Center. The recently completed health science building and the Beimdiek Student Recreation Center, named for the late Carthaginian George S. Beimdiek, were also conceived under his administration.
In addition to his stints at MSSU and Colorado State-Pueblo, León has been actively involved in national higher education organizations and served as president of the board of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and vice president representing the U.S. for the Inter-American Organization of Higher Education. He has also served on the board of the American Council on Education and on the President’s Council of the American Association of Governing Boards.
With an M.B.A. from North Texas State University and a doctorate in business administration from the University of Arkansas, León first came to MSSU as an assistant professor before being promoted to the dean of the school of business administration. He was named president in 1982 after a national search.
Page 3 of 3 - “An opportunity to create a new university that will have transformative impacts on South Texas comes only once in a lifetime,” UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said in a letter to leaders at UT Brownsville and UT Pan American. “We are confident you will give your full support and cooperation to Dr. León, the South Texas leadership transition team, members of the various work groups, as well as UT System staff, who will all work collectively to reshape the future of education, health care and the economy of the Rio Grande valley for future generations.”
President Juliet Garcia of UT Brownsville and President Robert Nelsen of UT Pan American will join León on the Project South Texas transition team. Working groups made up of faculty, staff, students and community members will be formed this month and will help conceptualize and plan the new university and develop a blueprint for implementation. The first class of the new university will enroll in the fall of 2015.