Idea put on shelf again

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UNT system chancellor pulls merger proposal off of regents’ agenda

The idea to merge the University of North Texas and the UNT Health Science Center has been put on the shelf again, three months after regents first shelved the idea.

The UNT System Board of Regents was scheduled to once again consider the merger of the two schools at its quarterly meeting today until Chancellor Lee Jackson withdrew the proposal Wednesday.

“After further developments this week and acknowledging certain objections, I have withdrawn this proposal from the UNT System Board of Regents’ regular quarterly meeting agenda,” Jackson wrote in a letter to community leaders Wednesday afternoon.

Jackson could not be reached for comment.

“He [Jackson] asked the presidents to answer some key questions to provide the board with that detailed information,” said Kelley Reese, spokeswoman for UNT.

The presidents did gather a group of leaders together and provided a report to Jackson, she said.

It’s under the chancellor’s authority to decide what items to bring to the board and when, Reese said.

Even with those reports, Jackson decided to remove the item from the agenda.

He wrote that while there are potential benefits to reorganization, “now is not the best time to pursue this proposal” because the system wants to support the health science center’s new MD-granting college and UNT’s commitment to becoming a top research university.

“While a merger of UNT and the Health Science Center would open up new vistas of collaboration as it has for other research universities around the country, it is an idea best pursued at some future date,” Jackson wrote.

Jackson also cited further developments this week and acknowledged certain objections as reasons behind the proposal’s withdrawal. “At this time, I do not anticipate further action regarding the proposed merger,” he wrote.

The regents discussed the idea at the August meeting during closed session.

Jackson brought the topic to the board in August to vote on whether or not to conduct a study. After a closed session, the regents pulled the item off the agenda and didn’t take a vote.

Jackson and the regents agreed at that time that there was more work that needed to be done.

At the time, Jackson told those in attendance at the meeting that for now there would be no study. He also said he would need to answer the board’s questions before moving forward with a study. Chairman Jack Wall said the regents weren’t ready. He said it was a big decision and the regents needed a clearer outlook.

The consideration for a merger came shortly after the University of Texas system decided to build a medical school and make it part of the system’s main campus. Around the same time, the Texas A&M University system decided to make its health science center part of its main campus in College Station.

To combine the campuses, the UNT system would have to get approval from the governor, the state Legislature and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Denton Mayor Mark Burroughs said there was both opportunity and risk for the individual campuses and the cities they are in if the two were merged.

“We saw that when the system moved certain of its facilities to Dallas,” he said, adding that the consolidation didn’t work out so well for Denton.

He said he didn’t like to see the shift of focus from Denton to Dallas.

A merger of UNT and the Health Science Center could be different, he said.

There could be long-term positives for the city of Denton, Burroughs said. It won’t take anything away from the Fort Worth campus, but it may bring opportunities to the UNT system that aren’t available now, he said.

“In the end, what makes the system stronger will make the Denton campus stronger because this is where the primary resources are,” Burroughs said, adding that university officials have assured him the Denton campus will remain the heart of the system.

RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is rmehlhaff@dentonrc.com .

 


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