University severs ties with Mexico sister school

The university’s Mexican sister school, Universidad de Las Americas-Puebla, will no longer be an option for students seeking a dual degree from both universities, a university official said.

Jane Kucko, director of the Center for International Studies, said UDLA sent a request to the university on March 12, 2009, to terminate the agreement between the two universities. Kucko said the agreement required each university to provide notice a year prior to termination, which she said is standard practice. The termination will be effective March 12, 2010.

Maria Lopez Aguilar, UDLA spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail that UDLA’s department of student affairs stated that the reason ties were severed with TCU was the lack of student and faculty exchange between the two institutions, but that programs will be sought so the relationship can be re-established in the future.

“The department of student affairs renews collaboration agreements with different universities around the world when there is student exchange,” Lopez Aguilar wrote in Spanish. “At this time, the university is making an analysis of the institutions with which there is student exchange to reinforce the joint work and in that way deepen the relationship between institutions.”

David Whillock, dean of the College of Communication, said the relationship with UDLA might have improved despite issues under the past rector that included attacks on the student newspaper, dismissal of professors without due process and being on probation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for financial reasons. He said the administration began to worry about the “quality of the education process” at UDLA.

When a new rector began his term at UDLA, Whillock said there was a growth period during which the student newspaper improved and faculty were replaced, but the university did not want to jump back into the relationship without financial certainty and “some long-term healing.” He said he received an e-mail from the UDLA dean a few months before the termination request that explained the progress of the university. He said he responded that TCU was encouraged with the update but wanted to wait before exchanging students again.

“We gave them a lot of nonverbal messages that we were going to go slow, and I’m not sure that they liked that,” Whillock said, adding that the university decided to agree to the termination because of the uncertainty with UDLA’s financial situation and past issues.

Kucko said the university agreed to the termination because no students were involved in the exchange when the request was made, making the agreement currently inactive and the termination a formality.

A TCU student has never received a dual degree from both universities, but more than a dozen UDLA students have received a dual degree with TCU, Whillock said. The university rarely sent students to UDLA, and UDLA stopped sending students to TCU a few years ago when the issues began. He said the last student to receive a dual degree with the agreement will graduate from UDLA in December.

“We didn’t get from this agreement things that we had hoped to, and it’s not because of UDLA’s fault,” Whillock said. “I think, bottom line, a lot of our students were uncomfortable with going to Mexico for two years.”

Whillock said TCU students are invested in the experience and attending UDLA for two years took away from their overall TCU experience.

Donald Frischmann, a Spanish professor, said he had successful experiences when he took student groups to UDLA during the summers from 1994 to 2005. He said the issues with the UDLA administration affected his efforts to recruit students for the trip for subsequent summers, along with program continuity and student endorsement of the school.

“I feel that it is not only important, but essential that TCU have ongoing, fraternal ties with some university in Mexico,” Frischmann wrote in an e-mail. “Those ties may be with UDLA, or with some other university, but Mexico is much more important to the United States than any other Spanish-speaking country…A dual-degree program is advantageous to both institutions and greatly facilitates our students’ study at a Mexican institution of higher learning.”

Frischmann said the termination will not affect him taking students to UDLA in the future if the Spanish department decides to continue a relationship. He said he has planned an alternative summer program on the Yucatán Peninsula for summer 2011.

Whillock said he would still like some relationship with UDLA aside from the dual degree.

“Anything that gives our students a better opportunity to understand the world we live in, I never want to cut that off,” he said, adding that he hoped TCU could create new ties with UDLA in the future.

Whillock said the university is working toward an international presence and it is sad that there is currently not a strong presence in Mexico. He said TCU has recently made an agreement to partner with Nanjing University in Singapore, and plans are in the works to create programs in India and Chile.

Managing editor Julieta Chiquillo contributed to this report.