Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 68.36
Liaison Marianella Franklin
Submission Date Jan. 10, 2023

STARS v2.2

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
EN-14: Participation in Public Policy

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 0.67 / 2.00 Veronica Gonzales
Vice President
Office of the VP for Business Affairs
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Does the institution advocate for public policies that support campus sustainability or that otherwise advance sustainability at the municipal/local level?:

A brief description of how the institution engages in public policy advocacy for sustainability at the municipal/local level:

UTRGV Division of Governmental Relations advocates at the state level, and with local stakeholders, to keep tuition at an affordable rate, understanding the evidenced-based needs of the Rio Grande Valley.

The UTRGV Division of Governmental Relations have been historically and persistently advocating in support of DACA students since the inception of the DACA program at the local, state, and national level.

UTRGV students and faculty have a history of proposing changes in policies that impact sustainability on the UTRGV campus and Rio Grande Valley as a whole. UTRGV works closely with locally elected officials to communicate the priorities of UTRGV, and build partnerships with local governmental agencies including Chambers of Commerce, Economic Development Centers, school districts, civic leaders, and other external stakeholders.
Not only does UTRGV work closely with locally elected officials to put the university’s priorities into action, the University President and many others in leadership roles express support for these activities and encourage student participation in the governing process. The UTRGV campus, at times, serves as a polling place during the Early Voting periods to facilitate accessibility for student voters, and the UTRGV Legislative Internship Program offers Local Internships, in which students are placed in the offices of State Legislators and U.S. Congressmen throughout the Rio Grande Valley, providing a path for students to engage with their local political system.
Additionally, several UTRGV student organizations make efforts to influence legislation policy; for example, the American Mental Health Counselors Association includes in its mission statement “to influence legislation policy to benefit mental-health practitioners consistent with State and licensure ethics.” 

UTRGV’s diligence in advancing sustainability issues is evident in its community efforts. Locally, UTRGV is active in several projects with different sustainable development goals. Promoting good health and wellbeing and quality education are at the forefront of the school of medicine in local policy and engagement practices. The AHEC Scholars program, led by Dr. John. Ronnau, Senior Associate Dean for Community Health Partnerships and AHEC Program Director, is an interdisciplinary project based experience for health professionals that work with underserved communities in the Rio Grande Valley, which include San Carlos, Bob Clarke in Brownsville, and La Victoria community is one of six neighborhoods chosen throughout the Valley to which UTRGV sent inter professional teams (scores of faculty, staff and students from medical and other programs throughout the university) to assess those communities’ needs, provide health and education during the COVID19 pandemic, and perform health screenings, provide information, and host activities.


Does the institution advocate for public policies that support campus sustainability or that otherwise advance sustainability at the state/provincial/regional level?:

A brief description of how the institution engages in public policy advocacy for sustainability at the state/provincial/regional level:

At the state level, UTRGV closely monitors legislation that may impact the university. UTRGV provides policymakers with information on sustainability issues and their potential impacts on the university which permits policymakers to make informed decisions as they deliberate on policy matters. 

The university advocates for support and funding of exceptional items in Texas Legislative House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1, specifically the funding for the Texas Sea Grant College Program to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal marine resources.

UTRGV’s Priorities for the 87th Legislative Session are outlined in this report (https://www.utrgv.edu/gcr/departments/governmental-relations/86th-legislative-session/87thleg.sessionwrap.final.aug20211.pdf) and include information about the success of the UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and other policies, such as the expansions of UT HEALTH RGV, the immense accolades awarded to UTRGV School of Medicine for leading the race in COVID-19 resources for campus community, and the greater RGV community with free COVID19 testing and vaccine, incentives, and education. The new School of Medicine id transforming the region, state and the nation by becoming a leader in student success, teaching, research and health care. In this session, UTRGV also requests Funding of $7.5M to complement the research activities at the Coastal Studies Research Center by allowing UTRGV to engage existing faculty in mechanical and electrical engineering, recruit materials scientists, atmospheric scientists, and energy forecasters/economists to extend research efforts on energy. UTRGV will leverage its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the windy conditions in South Texas to create a unique research opportunity. Energy Research Focus Interdisciplinary teams will address the needs of the wind energy industry and harnessing the energy from ocean waves. Expanding energy research will provide students with incomparable hands-on experiences.

UTRGV funds the opportunity for students to further the sustainable development goal of Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions by allowing SGA President Jose Pablo Rojas and the Student government body to promote and call for enhanced safety on campus, and a call to action for student leaders from around the state to meet with lawmakers to lobby for issues that affect college campuses across Texas ensures responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making. Three issues discussed were sexual assault reform, https://www.utrgvrider.com/sga-urges-increase-in-campus-security-committee-to-review-resolution/

Additionally, the UTRGV Legislative Internship Program offers internships where students are placed in the capitol offices of Rio Grande Valley State Legislators. https://www.utrgv.edu/gcr/departments/governmental-relations/legislative-internship-program/index.htm

UTRGV also engages in public policy advocacy through faculty participation with public discussions and panels. UTRGV worked with the RGV Partnership to organize a panel discussion as part of a special Legislative Tour, in which panelists updated legislators on how the School of Medicine is providing opportunities for economic growth and research, and shared how its residency programs are helping close gaps in healthcare access in a medically underserved area. Dr. Leonel Vela, UTRGV School of Medicine senior associate dean for Education and Academic Affairs, sat on the panel that furthers U.N. Global Sustainability goals of Quality Education, Good Health and Well-being, by asking legislators to consider continuing their support of funding more residency slots, and the continuation of the Medicaid 1115 Waiver. 

Does the institution advocate for public policies that support campus sustainability or that otherwise advance sustainability at the national level?:

A brief description of how the institution engages in public policy advocacy for sustainability at the national level:

As an entity that engages in lobbying efforts and interacts with members of Congress, federal agency staff, and executive branch officials, the University of Texas System must comply with regulations contained in the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA) and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA). These laws require the UT System to track all system and campus lobbying activities to the Clerk’s office on a quarterly basis. The UT System Office of Federal Relations (OFR) is responsible for tracking, certifying, and reporting all covered interactions on behalf of all UT System personnel.   
However, it is not the intention of the Office of Federal Relations to limit communication between university faculty and administration with federal representatives. Federal partners in Washington, D.C. are committed to supporting local communities and the priorities of UTRGV, which serves as one of the primary points of contact to elected officials at the local, state and federal levels.  UTRGV collaborates with our UT System Offices of Government Relations and Federal Relations, and monitors the impact of federal legislation as it relates to higher education.
Veronica Gonzales, UTRGV vice president for Governmental and Community Relations, and Velinda Reyes, assistant vice president for Community Programs and Operations, represents the university in Washington, D.C., in university matters surrounding quality education, STEM, the Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) program at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which aims to encourage underrepresented groups develop interest and find success in STEM fields. Gonzales and Reyes brought back to UTRGV integrated strategies that can enable disconnected youths find their way into STEM and entrepreneurship.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley engages in public policy at the national level with its aeronautics research and exploration plans that influence global research in space exploration which directly relates to understanding climate change and planning for the future of sustainable development programming.

Does the institution advocate for public policies that support campus sustainability or that otherwise advance sustainability at the international level?:

A brief description of how the institution engages in public policy advocacy for sustainability at the international level:

UTRGV also engages in public policy advocacy through faculty participation with public discussions and panels, partnerships that grow international education and experiences through Memorandums of Understanding.

The UTRGV School of Social Work and the Universidad Luterana Salvadoreña signed an MOUT for international education. The signing ceremony marks a cooperative agreement between the two universities and includes the collaborative development of programs. Among those programs, a Master of Social Work for Salvadorans students will be introduced – a first for the Salvadoran college. This type of innovation for quality education grow public policy for international advocacy.

A brief description of other political positions the institution has taken during the previous three years (if applicable):

Texas state agencies, including public higher education institutions, are limited in the manner in which they can advocate for issues (Chapter 556.006, Texas Government Code). However, the Faculty Senate of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley unanimously passed a resolution endorsing the idea of a sanctuary campus, in response to a recent petition signed by more than 1,500 students that asks UTRGV President Guy Bailey to prohibit campus police or immigration authorities from asking students about immigration status. UTRGV leadership have made public comments in support of protecting DREAMer students while not going so far as to lose state funding by assuming sanctuary status for the campus. “You stand a much greater chance of creating a problem if you make that declaration,” Bailey said in an interview. “I think our DREAMers are safe and we are certainly supportive of them. I think this the best way to protect them.”
Official statements include: UTRGV supports and will continue to support the success of our undocumented and Dreamer students across all of our units and student support offices. We will also explore the creation of a specific support structure, whether an office or a network of faculty and staff, to make it clearer to these students who to turn to for assistance. We will also continue to recruit and admit the best students in the Rio Grande Valley and beyond, regardless of citizenship or immigration status.

A brief description of political donations the institution made during the previous three years (if applicable):

Website URL where information about the institution’s sustainability advocacy efforts is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:

UTRGV’s participation in public policy works towards the sustainable development goal of strong institutions and inclusive cities by advocating for public policies that support campus sustainability.

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution or simply email your inquiry to stars@aashe.org.