Rescuing Old Red: Students Lobby to Save UTMB

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Medical Education Feature - May 2009  


Tex Med . 2009;105(5):25-26.  

By Ken Ortolon
Senior Editor  

University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) students took the fight to keep their school in Galveston directly to lawmakers in March as nearly 100 medical, nursing, and graduate students from UTMB descended on the capitol. They were there to urge support for House Bill 6, an emergency appropriations bill to fund the restoration of UTMB facilities damaged last year by Hurricane Ike.

Students, passionate about keeping UTMB on Galveston Island, organized the event.

"We, as students, view it as vital to UTMB's integrity, to its future to keep it on the island," said first-year medical student Mike Leasure, one of the event organizers. "The [UT System Board of] regents have done their job. They've come out and said they support keeping UTMB on Galveston Island. Now, in order for that to happen, we're dependent on the Texas Legislature coming through on the funding issue."

Earlier in March, UT regents unanimously approved a resolution to restore the school and its facilities to their pre-Hurricane Ike status, providing the state contributes some $300 million to the project. The rest of the money would come from UTMB's insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and donations.

"The Board of Regents and UT System remain committed to UTMB's future," said Chair H. Scott Caven Jr. "The board cannot accomplish the ultimate goal of sustaining UTMB's future alone, and it is important to note the shared responsibility that must exist with the board, the legislature, local and federal officials, and the philanthropic community, and the necessity for a reliable, long-term source of operating funds from these extramural sources."

Second-year student Brian Masel originated the idea of getting the students to advocate personally for the funding needed to restore UTMB. Mr. Masel, a Galveston native, says the students can have a huge influence on lawmakers.

"We're young students who have no ulterior motive, no agenda," he said. "We just want to do what's right and save our university."

The students arrived in Austin by bus and met with four Galveston-area lawmakers before spreading out around the capitol to meet with their hometown legislators or their staff. They also held a news conference with state Reps. Craig Eiland (D-Galveston), the author of HB 6, and Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who also represents part of Galveston County.

Representative Eiland is optimistic lawmakers will approve the funds necessary to keep UTMB in place. He said his bill would not only restore the damaged facilities but also strengthen them to withstand future hurricanes.

"The support is getting there," he said. "And I think by the end of the session we'll have strong support. It's been important that Senator [Steve] Ogden has been on board basically since the storm hit. That has proved to be influential with the UT Board of Regents. And then the students also are very important. They've really brought home to some members of the legislature about how important it is and what it means to residents of their hometown." Senator Ogden (R-Bryan) chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

First-year medical student Samantha Dallefeld, another of the event's organizers, also believes the outlook for UTMB is good.

"We've heard that things are looking good," she said. "We don't know if we'll get all the funding appropriated in that bill [HB 6], but we're feeling pretty confident that everyone's on our side."

Members of the House Appropriations Committee certainly heard the students' message. On march 20, they voted to send HB 6 to the House floor for debate.

Ken Ortolon can be reached by telephone at (800) 880-1300, ext. 1392, or (512) 370-1392; by fax at (512) 370-1629; or by email at  Ken Ortolon.  



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