Board of Regents approves statement opposing UT’s plans for Houston expansion
The Board of Regents unanimously approved a statement Thursday that opposes the University of Texas’ plans to expand to Houston.
Law professor Michael Olivas, who heads the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at the UH Law Center, called UT’s plans to purchase 332 acres of land in the vicinity of Buffalo Speedway and Willowbend Boulevard a “Trojan horse (that Houston) should not let inside their gates.”
According to the Houston Chronicle, UT Chancellor William McRaven announced earlier this month that the land would be purchased to build a research center that would ultimately benefit Houston. Board members and faculty like Olivas stressed that this is a cover-up for plans that would include a larger campus and not just a research facility.
“They’ve already got a footprint here,” Olivas said, referring to the UT Medical Center. “This is more than a footprint, this is a stampede.”
President of the UH Political Action Committee and former Board member Welcome Wilson Sr. urged the Board to “protest this invasion,” adding that UT had “thumbed its nose” at every UH campus as well as the Texas Legislature. He called out UT for not receiving approval from the Higher Education Coordinating Board beforehand, something every Texas institution is responsible for doing.
Wilson cited UT’s Permanent University Fund as UT’s means of bypassing the Texas Legislature and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Wilson went on to express concern that if UT is able to successfully establish a second campus in Houston, he predicts that “A&M in no time will be using their PUF money to do the same.”
“The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board was created to protect universities from competing with each other and having overlapping programs and competing facilities,” Wilson said. “Otherwise it is dog-eat-dog. If UT opens this facility, it will hurt UH’s ability to recruit and retain talent, (and) it will undermine ability to provide affordable and quality education to students.”
Olivas said UH and its other campuses have “played by the rules” of the coordinating board in terms of expanding geographically. Olivas called UT’s plans to expand “in hopes that the coordinating board, various colleges and Texas Legislature won’t notice” wrong and a violation of state law.
“No school has ever tried to make a major extra-territorial site extension without seeking preliminary approval before they did so from the coordinating committee,” Olivas said. “UT should not be allowed to use funds to purchase land hundreds of miles away from the Austin campus for the purpose of offering unauthorized course work, whether in the form of engineering classes or student internship course credit.”
The Board went on to unanimously approve a statement opposing UT’s plans for expansion, citing that UT’s “unilateral expansion signals a departure of the historical practice of using taxpayer funds to strategically serve citizens in all regions of the state through collaboration and cooperation.”
The statement stands as the Board’s formal position on the matter. It includes the Board’s opinions that “the University of Texas System has a disproportionate share of state resources through the Permanent University Fund, which augments this expansion directly or indirectly,” and that “an inverse impact” on the three large state universities that stand in a six mile radius of the proposed location is “inevitable.”
The statement ends with the Board’s request that if the state of Texas is to allow the expansion, UH would respectfully ask the legislature to provide “parity in state resources, including the permanent university fund for the UH system, before allowing the UT Texas system expansion.”