Eyeing a larger presence in Houston, the University of Texas System continues to move forward with plans for a new research and educational campus despite opposition from the University of Houston.
“I believe higher education has a responsibility to allocate its resources as strategically as possible, not only to address its current state of education, but to be inventive in looking at ways to proactively prepare for our future,” UT Chancellor William McRaven said in a statement.
After purchasing more than 100 acres near southwest Houston in January, the university system announced the 18 members of its executive committee for the Houston Advisory Task Force on Feb. 9.
This committee is tasked with providing guidelines for how the UT System can increase research opportunities without duplicating the services of other Houston institutions, McRaven said.
The task force features a number of local leaders, including former Greater Houston Partnership Chairman Paul Hobby and Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke.
The task force is expected to create a list of recommendations to McRaven by the end of the year. McRaven will present these recommendations to the UT system board of regents, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Legislature.
The 100-acre land purchase is part of the UT system’s plan to purchase more than 300 acres of land that is 3.5 miles from the Texas Medical Center at the intersection of Buffalo Speedway and West Belfort Avenue.
Although the business community is excited about a major university entering the area, some have reservations about the new UT campus, said Peggy Wilson, president and CEO of the Houston Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
“It is a little early to see what the economic impact will be to our member businesses in that area,”
The land is close to downtown as well as NRG Stadium and features easy access to Loop 610 and Hwy. 288, but the UT system will need to develop expensive utilities to support the development, said Bill Wong, owner of Orange Commercial, a Houston real estate firm.
The project has been met with opposition from the University of Houston and other legislators. Nineteen Houston-area state lawmakers—including current Mayor Sylvester Turner—wrote a letter to McRaven, asking him to slow down the planned expansion in December.
“It appears many steps in planning have already been taken without consulting key stakeholders and leaders,” the letter read. “Accordingly, we respectfully ask for the system to step back and work with these local and state leaders, including the Legislature and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, before taking any major steps.”
The University of Houston System board of regents also criticized the plan, arguing at a November meeting that the expansion amounts to a duplication of services. UH also declined a spot on the executive committee for the Houston Advisory Task Force in February.
“The University of Texas’ unilateral expansion signals a departure from the historical practice of using taxpayer funds to strategically serve citizens in all regions of the state through collaboration and cooperation,” the UH system said in a statement.
However, the UT system sees this initiative as an expansion of its already large presence in Houston, McRaven said.
“As Houston’s second-largest employer and its top producer of research expenditures, the UT system’s 75-year-old footprint in Houston through UT MD Anderson [Cancer Center] and UT Health Science Center [at Houston]provides an excellent foundation for what’s yet to be imagined,” he said.