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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

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Alumni Association’s petition gains momentum, requests call to action


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The facility UT has proposed consists of 332 acres and is five miles from UH. | Photo courtesy of Houston Business Journal.

The University of Houston Alumni Association’s online petition to the Texas Legislature opposing the University of Texas System’s Houston expansion is inches away from reaching its goal of 10,000 signatures.

Two weeks ago, the association passed a resolution opposing the expansion and shortly thereafter created a petition to gain community support. The petition had somewhat of a slow start, but over the course of three days, support nearly doubled.

“We have a lot of momentum behind our University that we haven’t seen in a long time,” Trey Wilkinson, Alumni Association president said. “Our concern is that the (UT system) will take away resources that would hamper our ability to fulfill our mission of becoming a premier, Tier-One-institution that serves this community. It’s very important for the student body to oppose this invasion.”

In the petition, which is addressed to the governor, State House and Senate, Higher Education Coordinating Board, Lieutenant Governor, UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven and the Texas Speaker of the House, the Alumni Association condemns McRaven’s plans to purchase 332 acres in Houston only 5 miles from UH. It adds that if the UT System continues forward then UH requests “parity in resources,” namely, equivalent Permanent University Funds.

“We are speaking out because UH has made and continues to make positive strides with a disproportionate share of state resources,” Cedric Bandoh, former SGA President, Alumni Association board member said. “We have had enough of this unfair system, and it’s time for our state leaders to correct this.”

For Bandoh, the solution is simple.

“The legislature needs to invest in UH and all systems of higher education in Texas,” he said. “Open up the PUF to everyone and have us all reasonably compete for funding”

The petition cites several reasons for its position against the expansion, from the disproportionate funding through PUF, UT’s violation of the Texas Higher Education Committee and the impact the new facility would have on the communities surrounding the area.

“There are three large state universities – the University of Houston, the University of Houston – Downtown, and Texas Southern University – each within a 6-mile radius of the University of Texas System’s proposed expansion,” the petition stated.  “An adverse impact on these Hispanic Serving Institutions and Minority Serving Institutions and the students served is inevitable.”

Last November, the UH Board of Regents unanimously approved a statement opposing the UT System’s expansion.  The plans McRaven announced last year initially called for the land to be used for a research facility but law professor Michael Olivas, who heads the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at the UH Law Center, said this was false information used to cover up plans for a much larger, full-scale campus.

“They’ve already got a footprint here,” Olivas said at the Board of Regents meeting last November. “This is more than a footprint, this is a stampede.”

The UT system has been accused of bypassing the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board by not asking for approval to build on the land before announcing plans, and is using its vast amount of PUF money to do so.

“The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board was created to protect universities from competing with each other and having overlapping programs and competing facilities,” Welcome Wilson Sr., president of the UH Political Action Committee said in his request to the Regents last November. “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.”

McRaven told the state Higher Education Coordinating Board that he was “guilty as charged” of failing to consult state officials before his decision to buy 100 of the 300 planned acres in Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle. He added he has “no plans to compete with UH, telling a state legislative panel last week that he’s a “big supporter” of the progress the school has made.”

The Alumni Association is not buying McRaven’s explanation and is asking for more information.

“Part of the challenge is that they haven’t told anyone what the plan is,” Wilkinson said “There’s a lot of innuendo, (and) there’s a lot of rumors. Why does the UT system feel compelled to do this?”

Wilkinson went on to add that the timing of UT’s announcement is “very interesting” given the Texas legislature is not in session and will remain out until 2017.

“And as we all know, a lot can be done in a year,” he said. “The Texas Higher Education Coordination Board is supposed to ensure that the university systems all work together. This is one example of one system choosing not to work with anybody – and certainly not work with UH.”

Following suit with the Board of Regents and the Alumni Association, UH President and Chancellor Renu Khator traveled to Austin on Jan. 20 and testified against the expansion to the House Higher Education Committee, sparking debate among alumni and students online.

Wilkinson said the association is not sure exactly what will happen once the petition reaches its goal, but that he and other board members hope this will spearhead the movement against the expansion and gain lawmaker’s attention.

“The bottom line is that UH and UT are both state agencies,” Charles Haston, former SGA President and Alumni Association Board member said. “Replicating services is a colossal waste of taxpayer money. But if the legislature intends for state agencies to compete, then they should give us parity in resources – access to PUF – otherwise, it’s not competition, it’s a hostile takeover.”

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