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Sen. Zaffirini, whose Senate District 21 includes Starr County, receives 2022 Liberty Bell Award from Laredo-Webb County Bar

FEATURED: Bride Judith Pappas, who in the mid-1980s as Judith Pappas Zaffirini would become the first Mexican American woman elected to the Texas Senate, and groom Carlos M. Zaffirini, pose with family members following their wedding more than 57 years ago.



Sen. Zaffirini, whose Senate District 21 includes Starr County, receives 2022 Liberty Bell Award from Laredo-Webb County Bar


The Laredo-Webb County Bar Association recently honored Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo – whose Senate District 21 includes all of Starr County – with the 2022 Liberty Bell Award at a luncheon in their hometown.

Bestowed upon the non-lawyer with the greatest impact on the law, the Liberty Bell honors persons or organizations who promote better understanding of the rule of law, encourage greater respect for law and the courts, stimulate a sense of civic responsibility or contribute to good government in the community.

“We often give an award to honor the recipient. Today the recipient honors the award,” Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said. “The Liberty Bell Award’s prestige is enhanced in being given to Senator Judith Zaffirini.”

Witnessing cronyism and corruption in Laredo courts many years ago motivated Zaffirini to partner with local attorneys and judges to pass legislation requiring the rotation of appointments; the reporting of court-approved payments; and the definition of new standards of accountability, transparency and excellence.

“Rather than be discouraged, we responded to a negative local situation by developing solutions,” Zaffirini said. “Not only do these laws make a positive statewide impact, but they now comprise models for other states.”

Her additional judicial successes include eliminating unconstitutional debtors’ prisons by providing judges with alternatives to incarceration; simplifying court fees for criminal and civil cases and promoting equal access to the legal system; and establishing the Guardianship Abuse, Fraud and Exploitation Deterrence Program.

In her acceptance speech she emphasized the importance of attorneys’ role in the legislative process.

“Lawyers are largely responsible for legislators’ best work, by drafting most of the bills we file; advising us whether to support, oppose or amend bills proposed by others; and helping us understand the impact of statutes we’ve created, hope to create or need to improve,” she said.

Zaffirini has received more than 1,100 awards in her career, including the State Bar of Texas Judicial Sections “Friend of the Judiciary” award.

She also is the first Mexican American woman elected as a Texas state senator.

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley “ALL IN” for college student voting, explains former Rep. Verónica Gonzáles

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley recently accomplished an All IN Campus Democracy Challenge, a national initiative committed to engaging higher education institutions in the democratic process by encouraging students to vote.

The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge empowers colleges and universities to achieve excellence in nonpartisan student democratic engagement.

Campuses that join the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge complete a set of action items, with the support of ALL IN Challenge staff, to institutionalize nonpartisan civic learning, political engagement and voter participation on campus.

“One of the greatest privileges and freedoms we have in our country is the right to vote. It is how we choose our leaders, voice our opinions on a variety of issues and enact change,” said former Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, who serves as Senior Vice President, Governmental and Community Relations, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

“At UTRGV, we are part of the ALL IN Challenge because we want our students to be engaged in shaping their future, and we know that if they make it a habit to vote now that they are young, they will become lifelong voters,” she said.

The acknowledgment followed a call-to-action letter sent out April 21 by the U.S. Department of Education, promoting student voter registration participation. The letter encouraged higher education institutions to highlight their responsibilities under the Higher Education Act to make a good faith effort to distribute voter registration forms to enrolled students.

The letter was prompted by President Biden’s Executive Order #14019 on Promoting Access to Voting, which directed an all-of-government effort to promote information about the voting process and to further the ability of all eligible Americans to participate in democracy.

The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge community is currently engaged with more than nine million students from 865 institutions in all 50 states.

Marques Dantzler hired as Senior Associate Athletic Director for Compliance and Administration at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Department of Intercollegiate Athletics announced on Tuesday, June 7, 2022 the hiring of Marques Dantzler – who has nearly two decades of experience working in college athletics, including this past year as the Associate Athletic Director for NCAA compliance at Manhattan College – as Senior Associate Athletic Director for Compliance and Administration.

In his new role, Dantzler is responsible for the direction, coordination and maintenance of a comprehensive compliance program and managing in accordance with university, conference, and NCAA rules, regulations, and procedures.

He serves as the liaison for athletics to the NCAA Eligibility Center as well as university legal and UT System legal counsel on administrative matters for the department. He is also the liaison for undergraduate admissions and financial services, working collaboratively with units across campus to develop policies and procedures that ensure institutional, conference, and NCAA compliance.

During his time at Manhattan, Dantzler oversaw the compliance and student-athlete development efforts of the department’s 19 Division I sport programs and its student-athletes.

“I am excited to welcome Marques to our department,” said Molly Castner, Deputy Director of Athletics/Senior Woman Administrator, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. “He brings a wealth of experience in college athletics and is going to be a great asset to our student-athletes and coaches. As administrators, we are here to help our student-athletes and coaches succeed, and Marques will be a key element in maintaining and elevating our success.”

Dantzler majored in finance and earned his Bachelor of Science in Business at Auburn in 2000. He initially went to work as a bank examiner for the State of Alabama Banking Department before moving to Buffalo, N.Y., to earn his Master of Science in Sport Administration at Canisius and work at Buffalo State.

“I am very excited about returning to South Texas and joining the UTRGV team,” Dantzler said. “I want to thank Chasse Conque, Molly Castner and everyone who participated in the search process. The future is bright for UTRGV, and I look forward to contributing to its success.”

A 2017 graduate of the NCAA Pathway Program, Dantzler started his career in college athletics as a Facilities Assistant at Buffalo State in 2002-03.

He then took on the dual role of Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach and Sports Information Intern at Hilbert College in 2003-04 before transitioning into compliance at Troy in 2004-05.

Dantzler spent the next six years working in compliance at Power 5 institutions, first at Michigan as Assistant Compliance Coordinator (2005-07) and then at Oklahoma as Director of Compliance (2007-11).

Coming to UTRGV is a return to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) for Dantzler, who previously chaired the WAC Administrators Group and was as a member of the WAC Board of Athletic Advisers while serving as Senior Compliance Administrators at Chicago State from July 2019 through November 2020.

“We are excited to have Marques join the UTRGV family and we welcome him back to south Texas,” said Chasse Conque, Vice President and Director of Athletics, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley . “His wealth of experiences, coupled with his passion to help student-athletes and coaches, makes him a great addition to our department. We are in the midst of transformational times at UTRGV, and Marques will play a very important role in helping our department reach our full potential.”

This is also a return to South Texas for Dantzler, who previously worked at Texas A&M-Kingsville as assistant athletic director for compliance (June 2011 through May 2013) and Assistant Athletic Director for Academics and Compliance (Sept. 2014 through May 2016), a tenure interrupted only by a year at Incarnate Word, which is joining the WAC on July 1, as Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance.

UT Arlington, UT Austin, UT El Paso and UT San Antonio lead national efforts to accelerate opportunities for Hispanic students and faculty.

As Texas continues to grow in size and diversity, University of Texas System institutions continue to innovate and invest in the future by creating new opportunities and pathways for populations whose talents and contributions are essential to the nation’s vitality and health.

As part of that investment, UT Arlington, UT Austin, UT El Paso and UT San Antonio announced on Thursday, June 9, 2022, they are joining forces with 16 other top research institutions in the nation to form the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities (HSRU).

All 20 members of the new HSRU Alliance are categorized as both R1 (very high research activity) by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education and designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) by the U.S. Department of Education.

That means they are in the top five percent of universities in America in terms of research, and at least 25 percent of their undergraduate student bodies are Hispanic.

Unveiled at a public event in Washington, D.C., the HSRU Alliance – which will be chaired by UTEP President Heather Wilson – has set two key goals to achieve by 2030:

• Double the number of Hispanic doctoral students enrolled at Alliance universities; and
• Increase by 20% the Hispanic professoriate in Alliance universities.

“Texas has the second largest Hispanic population in the nation, and that important demographic is growing rapidly. UT institutions are committed to ensuring that the academic workforce — our graduates at all levels and the future faculty who create and transmit knowledge — reflect the diversity and richness of the state and nation we serve,” said James B. Milliken, Chancellor, The University of Texas System. “I applaud the intentional, focused goals of all the Alliance, and I’m grateful to our presidents for their leadership.”

The HSRU Alliance members are already working together on several initiatives.

The first project, funded by the Mellon Foundation, is focused on supporting more Ph.D. students in Latino humanities studies and guiding them to academic careers.

A second initiative, funded by the National Science Foundation, expands opportunities for Hispanic students in computer science.

Representing nine states, the 20 HSRU Alliance universities together enrolled 766,718 students in the Fall of 2020; of those, 33 percent (254,399) were Hispanic. In 2020, the combined research spending of these universities totaled more than $5.9 billion.

The four UT System institutions collectively enrolled more than 152,000 students, of which almost 43 percent (65,061) were Hispanic. Their combined research spending totals $1.1 billion.

UT presidents lauded the formation of the alliance, noting that the member universities are engaged in thousands of research projects in the arts and humanities, STEM, health sciences, social sciences and other fields with world-changing outcomes.

UTEP President and Alliance Chair Heather Wilson: “No group is better positioned than we are to expand the pathway to opportunity and change the face of higher education in America – not just in one discipline, but in all disciplines. We believe we are stronger together than as individual institutions acting alone.”

UT Arlington President Jennifer Cowley: “The goals of the HSRU Alliance align with our vision of becoming one of the nation’s most inclusive and impactful research universities. Both UTA and our fellow HSRU Alliance universities are research powerhouses. Together, we have the research and institutional capacity to make an extraordinary difference in Texas and across the nation.”

UT Austin President Jay Hartzell: “We are thrilled to partner with leading research universities to expand and empower the next generation of Hispanic doctoral students and professors. As UT Austin strives to increase its global impact, groundbreaking initiatives like the HSRU serve as a national model in forging pathways to bolster opportunity and excellence in higher education for years to come.”

UTSA President Taylor Eighmy: “It is a testament to the focus of UT institutions that four are members of the Alliance. We all deeply believe in the impact that education has on addressing inequity. Moreover, we all believe in the power of our discovery enterprises in creating new knowledge that benefits our communities, our state, and our nation. We look forward to working with the Alliance to lead by example and advance equity and discovery.”

In addition to UT Arlington, UT Austin, UTEP and UTSA, universities in the Alliance include:

• Arizona State University
• City University of New York Graduate Center
• Florida International University
• Texas Tech University
• The University of Arizona
• The University of New Mexico
• University of California, Irvine
• University of California, Riverside
• University of California, Santa Barbara
• University of California, Santa Cruz
• University of Central Florida
• University of Colorado, Denver
• University of Houston
• University of Illinois Chicago
• University of Nevada, Las Vegas
• University of North Texas

Learn more about the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities at

About The University of Texas System

For more than 130 years, The University of Texas System has been committed to improving the lives of Texans and people all over the world through education, research and health care.

With 13 institutions, an enrollment of more than 243,000 students and an operating budget of $23.4 billion (FY 2022), the UT System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States.

UT institutions produce more than 67,000 graduates annually and award more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and more than half of its medical degrees.

Collectively, UT-owned and affiliated hospitals and clinics accounted for more than 8.6 million outpatient visits and almost 1.8 million hospital days in 2020.

UT institutions also are among the most innovative in the world, collectively ranking No. 4 for most U.S. patents granted in 2020, and the UT System is No. 1 in Texas and No. 2 in the nation in federal research expenditures.

The UT System also is one of the largest employers in Texas, with more than 21,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academies – and more than 85,000 health care professionals, researchers and support staff.


Amanda Taylor, Jonah Goldberg and Karen Adler contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (

Titans of the Texas Legislature

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