[Note: This post continues the series on the "Layers of UTEP History"]
In the second half of the 20th century, many American universities aspired to become public research universities–institutions that could combine nearly universal access to a college education with the highest quality in teaching and research. UTEP’s expanding regional university brought access to the El Paso borderlands, but successfully adding the layer of excellence would require the right context and the right leadership–at the same time.
The context came into place during the 1980s. Economic hard times in the previous decade reduced public funding and prompted UTEP to look for money in new places, particularly in the form of new and larger research grants. The University’s growing student body had been gradually shifting to reflect the region’s racial and socioeconomic demographics, and in 1986 Hispanic students became the majority. That same year, the state legislature approved the PASE Program, an initiative that permitted students from Mexico to pay in-state tuition. All three developments led to UTEP’s designation in a bi-national study in 1986 as a leader in U.S.-Mexico cooperative research. The next year, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) initiated a class-action lawsuit charging the state with discrimination against Mexican American students in south Texas by inadequately funding higher education.
In the midst of these transitions, the Board of Regents selected Diana Natalicio to lead UTEP–first as interim president in 1987 and then as president in 1988. The first female and first former faculty member to occupy this position, Natalicio immediately articulated a vision for the institution that rejected what she termed a “collective inferiority complex” about border life and invoked the region’s assets in pursuit of the American Dream of educational opportunity.
Over the past twenty-five years, UTEP has developed simultaneously along several important lines. Partnerships with K-12 education and the El Paso Community College have strengthened the preparation of incoming students. Changes in faculty merit pay and hiring priorities have increasingly rewarded research and scholarly activities while encouraging their integration into undergraduate education. The state approved UTEP’s second doctoral program in 1989 and eight more followed by the end of the century. Several research centers sprouted up during the 1990s and external research grants have been leveraged into new funding opportunities. The resolution of the MALDEF case prompted state legislative appropriation of several million dollars to the campus in the mid-1990s, and the seizing of other public funding opportunities has permitted a steady building program with a more meticulous eye toward Bhutanese form. A variety of economic development initiatives sought to bring improved health care, career training, and lifelong learning opportunities to the El Paso region.
Recognition of UTEP’s achievements has come from many sources. The National Science Foundation designated UTEP as a minority research center of excellence in 1988 and as a model institution for excellence in 1996. Four years later the Carnegie Foundation reclassified UTEP as a doctoral/research intensive institution. In 2008, the state of Texas named UTEP as one of seven (now eight) emerging tier-1 institutions. In 2011, the Carnegie Foundation added recognition for UTEP’s community engagement, and the U.S. Department of Defense identified the institution as military friendly. At the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, annual research expenditures have reached $70 million and UTEP faculty have become recognized leaders in many fields. Student enrollment has pushed beyond 22,000—75 percent of UTEP students are Hispanic and 55 percent are female.
1986: Majority Hispanic student population, PASE Program, named leader in US-Mexico cooperative research, Mother-Daughter program
1987: Diana Natalicio becomes first female/ faculty member president, Retention Council
1988: NSF minority research center of excellence
1989: Second doctoral degree, Center for Environmental Resource Management, Center for Highway Materials Research
1990: Center for Lifelong Learning (Osher Institute), Minerpalooza
1991: Decision in LULAC et al. v. Richards et al. (1987), Season of Lights
1992: El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence, Border Biomedical Research Center, Miner Foundation
1993: South Texas/Border Initiative allocates $33 million, CIERP
1994: First Mexican citizen as president of Student Government Association, Heritage House
1996: African American Studies program and center, Public Policy Research Center, NSF Model Institution for Excellence, Stanton Building acquired
1997: Center for Effective Teaching & Learning, Don Haskins in Hall of Fame, Undergraduate Learning Center
1998: Center for Civic Engagement, Law School Preparation Institute
1999: Chihuahuan Desert Gardens, $52 million in grants
2000: Miner Village, designated as doctoral/ research-intensive, 10 doctoral-level programs
2002: May/wintermesters, Sam Donaldson Center, Larry K. Durham Center
2004: Border Security Conference, Academic Services and Biology buildings, Rubin Center
2006: Disney’s Glory Road movie, Hilton Garden Inn
2007: Enrollment 20,000, Foster-Stevens Basketball Center
2008: $77 million in grants, designated as emerging tier 1
2009: University Bookstore building
2010: Mining Minds sculpture
2011: 100,000th degree awarded, designated as engaged (Carnegie) and military friendly (DoD), Student Recreation Center, Health Sciences and Nursing Building and pedestrian bridge
2012: Chemistry and Computer Science Building