TCU’s provost said he hopes the new rector at Mexican sister school Universidad de Las Americas-Puebla would help repair a damaged relationship with the university.
Nowell Donovan, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said he expects the installment of Luis Ernesto Derbez as UDLA’s rector will generate a review of TCU’s relationship with UDLA.
“We would love to see relationships start to develop again,” Donovan said.
The new rector at UDLA promised a conciliatory approach toward students and faculty and to repair the troubled school’s reputation.
The university announced March 5 that Derbez, a former Mexican government official, will take up a five-year term as rector April 1, replacing writer Pedro Angel Palou, who resigned in November, said Maria Lopez Aguilar, subdirector of communication at UDLA.
The appointment follows more than a year of unrest at the university caused by the temporary cancellation of 571 scholarships, several faculty and staff firings and the temporary closing of the student newspaper, La Catarina.
Derbez addressed students and parents at a fair for prospective students March 8 and announced the addition of 26 new faculty members for the upcoming fall semester, Lopez Aguilar said. He also informed the audience about the creation of a business advisory council that would partner the university with local businesses to provide job opportunities to students, Lopez Aguilar said.
According to local newspaper Milenio, Derbez said in a press conference that restoring UDLA’s good standing with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is one of his goals.
SACS, which accredits universities in 11 U.S. Southern states and abroad, placed UDLA on yearlong probation in December.
Derbez also said he would attempt to smooth things over with faculty who left the university and listen to their side of the story, according to Milenio.
Mark Ryan, former dean of colleges and professor of international relations at UDLA who was fired in May, said he is open to such talks. He said the university faces a major challenge to repair the damage to its reputation and its financial and structural stability, but Derbez’s appointment is a hopeful sign.
“I think the university community desperately needs a reconciliation, and there is no way to bring that about without some approach to the sectors of the community that have been alienated,” he said.
Edward Simmen, UDLA’s former official historian who was fired in January, said it is appropriate that Derbez examine the faculty dismissals.
“The depletion of all the faculty with doctorates was so destructive,” he said.
Simmen, who holds a TCU doctorate in British literature, said Derbez is a competent man with an impressive resume. Simmen said he met Derbez when he joined UDLA as academic vice rector in 1980 and kept in touch with him until the early 1990s.
A member of former Mexican President Vicente Fox’s executive cabinet, Derbez served as Secretary of Economy from 2000 to 2002 and as Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 2003 to 2006, according to a press release in UDLA’s Web site. Derbez, who was UDLA’s academic vice rector from 1980 to 1983, has also held posts in the World Bank, Johns Hopkins University and the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico, according to the press release.
Sonia Corona, a fifth-year communication major at UDLA, said she hopes Derbez’s academic and political experience will help improve the university. Corona, former news editor of La Catarina, said she expects more openness from Derbez, but freedom of speech requires not only openness from the rector but from different sectors of the university.
“I hope there is a better relationship between the administration and the students, which is what was missing in the past administration,” she said.
Yunuen Castellanos, a fifth-year international relations major, said Derbez has approached students to introduce himself and ask about their concerns. Although Castellanos said Derbez has made a good impression, students have to wait months after he takes office to have a more accurate opinion of him.
“The fact that he is showing interest leaves us somewhat at ease,” she said.
Derbez will cease his duties as Secretary of International Relations for the National Action Party this month, Lopez said.
Arturo Langdon, UDLA’s interim leader and delegate for the governing board, will continue at the university, Lopez said.
Derbez graduated from Universidad Autonoma de San Luis Potosi in Mexico with a bachelor’s degree in economics, according to the press release. A Fulbright scholarship recipient, Derbez continued his studies in the University of Oregon, where he received a master’s degree in economics, and Iowa State University, where he received a doctorate in economics, according to the press release.