Rival universities unite to preserve state funds

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Rivals in the stands, on the hardwood and on the gridiron, UT and Texas A&M alumni will collaborate Tuesday to ask the Texas Legislature to invest in the state’s higher education budget for future prosperity.

About 150 alumni and student volunteers from around the state will represent the Texas Exes and The Association of Former Students, UT and A&M alumni groups, for the fifth biennial Orange & Maroon Legislative Day. The volunteers will ask legislators to preserve as much of the state’s higher education funding as possible, said Leticia Acosta, public policy director for the Texas Exes.

The Legislative Budget Board — a joint committee that recommends appropriations for state agencies — proposed a $93.2-million budget cut to the University, which includes the state-mandated 5-percent reductions, said Kevin Hegarty, UT vice president and chief financial officer.

“Our top priority is certainly protecting as much funding as we can in the appropriations process,” Acosta said. “We understand cuts will be made, and we want to do our share, but we hope they will consider that every dollar this campus receives is a wise investment.”

Divided into small groups combining both Aggies and Longhorns, the volunteers will visit the offices of all 181 members of the Texas Congress on Tuesday afternoon.

“We are certainly targeting every member of the House and Senate,” Acosta said. “It will be a tough environment to ask for funding, but we’ll get the point across that every dollar is well spent.”

She said the athletic rivalry between the schools fades for the day and manifests itself in a healthy, collaborative respect even if they have to schedule the event around the UT versus A&M basketball games.

“Both sides just understand that we have more in common than we like to admit,” Acosta said. “It makes complete sense for us to be arm-in-arm together, especially in this budget cycle we’re facing.”

Marty Holmes, vice president for marketing and programs at A&M’s alumni group, said legislators regularly hear from the universities themselves, but this more personal effort allows legislators to connect with alumni constituents often from their own legislative district.

“These two flagship institutions need to be properly funded and supported for our state to continue to grow and prosper,” Holmes said.

He said before the volunteers go to the Capitol to speak with the legislators, the presidents of both universities will address the group.

After UT President William Powers Jr.’s recent health problems and hospital stay for a pulmonary embolism, University spokesman Don Hale said Powers’ doctor has given no indication of whether he will be able to appear at the Legislative Day as planned.

“We just really have no way of knowing at this point,” Hale said.