Administration City News

Mayor Turner supports Houston data science institute, urges collaboration

Mayor Sylvester Turner encouraged Texas universities to work together on a new data science institute near the Texas Medical Center. | Courtesy of Sue Davis for Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner, a University of Houston alumnus, endorsed the building of a collaborative institute for data science on the 300-plus acre plot of land purchased in Houston by the University of Texas System in November 2015.

The data science institute idea was proposed in a UT System task force report that was obtained by the Houston Chronicle in March. According to the article, Houston leaders and UT alumni were enthusiastic about the project.

“We cannot let this opportunity slip through our fingers because the initial approach was wrong,” Turner said in his speech, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Turner urged UH to collaborate on the project with Rice University, Texas Southern University, Texas A&M University and UT, as well as science and business interests.

In a March letter to the UT System Board of Regents, UT System Chancellor William McRaven advised that “any further efforts on the Houston project will be stopped immediately.”

Despite this, the Houston Chronicle reports that many Houston leaders and UT alumni wonder if the project could still come to fruition. According to the task force’s recommendation, the group suggested a collaborative institute for data science focused on the energy, education and healthcare sectors. 

“If we are going to become Tier One, and we are, we must not be scared of competition,” Turner said, addressing UH. “We must take them on and make it happen.”

The UT System’s $215 million purchase of the plot of land in southwest Houston last year was met with heavy criticism from politicians, University of Houston regents and two of Gov. Greg Abbott’s nominees for the UT System Board of Regents.

“What happened there is a the case of someone having … too much money,” Chairman of the UH Board of Regents Tilman Fertitta said in April, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Fertitta said UH is now willing to collaborate on the project, according to the Chronicle.

“If all these other universities are involved, we have no problem with being a part of it,” he said. “We don’t want any one university to come in and dictate.”

Fertitta stands by his belief in the illegitimacy of the UT System’s Houston land purchase.

Throughout the state’s legislative session, UT has been criticized for purchasing the land without the consent of Texas lawmakers. The the UH community in particular spoke out against the purchase, stating that it would be in direct competition with UH and other Houston colleges and universities, according to the Houston Chronicle.

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