UT system creates task force for expansion in Houston amid opposition

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.


“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 ways to proactively prepare for our future,” UT Chancellor William McRaven said in a statement.


UT system creates task force for expansion in Houston amid oppositionAfter purchasing more than 100 acres of land in 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 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 for 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 January land purchase is part of the UT system’s plan to ultimately purchase a total of more than 300 acres that is 3.5 miles from the Texas Medical Center.


Although the business community is excited a major university is 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,” she said.


The land is close to downtown and features easy access to Loop 610 and Hwy. 288, but the UT system will need to develop expensive utilities that do not exist to support the development, said Bill Wong, owner of Orange Commercial, a Houston real estate firm.      


The project has been met with opposition from UH and legislators. Nineteen Greater Houston-area lawmakers—including Mayor Sylvester Turner—wrote a letter to McRaven in December asking him to slow down the expansion process.


“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 [UT] 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 UH system board of regents also criticized the plan, arguing at a November meeting that the expansion will be a duplication of services. UH also declined a spot on the task force committee 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. 


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 provides an excellent foundation,” he said.



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