Scott Ball / Rivard Report
When the University of Texas at San Antonio's Downtown Campus launched in July 1997, it opened doors to public, postsecondary educational opportunities, especially for students living in the urban core, UTSA President Taylor Eighmy and various speakers said Monday at the campus' 20th anniversary celebration.
The university has the resources to help local students better prepare for a rapidly evolving economy, Eighmy said, and to transform San Antonio into a globally competitive city.
"We are not going to sit idly as we work toward greatness as a university," he told a packed house at the downtown campus' Buena Vista Theater. "We are going to rise to the occasion and be responsive so that our city can compete for those kinds of things [the Amazon HQ2 bid]. The downtown campus is incredibly integral to all of this."
UTSA must "dream big" by facilitating conversations with the private and public sectors in order to reimagine downtown, said Eighmy, who took the helm of the university in September. Both San Antonio and UTSA should take a page from the books of universities like Arizona State which have built their downtown campuses to become hubs of research, economic development, educational innovation, and cultural activity, he added.
The downtown campus currently offers its more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students degree programs from three UTSA colleges. One-third of UTSA’s graduate students take classes downtown, according to the university's website.
The campus also hosts many of the university’s community outreach programs, extended education offerings, and a range of community-wide events, from town halls to candidate forums.
The downtown campus expanded access to a major public university for people who previously could not overcome distance, transit and/or financial challenges, said keynote speaker Julián Castro, former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary and San Antonio mayor.
The community must now invest both in UTSA's downtown campus and in the urban core, he added.
"Out of that imperfect past, something so promising has emerged – a downtown campus with the potential to play an enormous role in boosting our City's brainpower and making San Antonio one of the liveliest cities in the nation," Castro said.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said UTSA Downtown Campus plays a major role in the ongoing revitalization of the urban core.
"You see the City and County working together to bring more people into the inner city, to revitalize the center core," Wolff said. "That spreads out to the east, the west, and to the south. We've had success here, but the success has not been near enough at the downtown campus."
Mayor Ron Nirenberg conveyed a similar message.
"As UTSA Downtown Campus goes, so goes San Antonio," he said, citing a recently released Brookings Institute report that outlines the untapped innovation and peacemaking potential downtown universities hold.
"As mayor of San Antonio, you have my commitment to help urbanize and connect the university with the heart of San Antonio," Nirenberg said. "Ultimately, this will promote commercialization and grow our economy – That benefits each and every one of us."
Eighmy said he looks forward to consulting with public and private sector representatives about reimagining the downtown campus' relationship with the urban core.
"We need to pull together all of the parallel good efforts that are underway about things, get everyone in a room and say, 'Let's figure this out,'" he said. "UTSA is just one part of that."