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Signals squelch talks of merger

Profile image for By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer
By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer

UNT officials give further details on withdrawal of item from agenda

The idea to merge the University of North Texas and the UNT Health Science Center was shelved because of a lack of consensus among university leaders, Chancellor Lee Jackson said Thursday.

“It’s not going to be anything we actually work on in the foreseeable future because of the lack of consensus,” Jackson said.

Other issues take priority, he said. Those priorities are supporting the health science center’s new MD-granting college and UNT’s commitment to becoming a national research university.

The proposal to move forward with a study considering the merger was first brought to the UNT Board of Regents in August, but after a closed session, the regents pulled the item off the agenda and didn’t take a vote.

The idea came shortly after the University of Texas system decided to build a medical school and make it part of the system’s main campus. About 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.

The merger item appeared on the agenda again for November’s UNT Board of Regents meeting, after Jackson had the two campus presidents answer a series of questions for the regents.

The information he received from Lane Rawlins, president of the Denton campus, and Scott Ransom, president of the Fort Worth campus, was not meant to be an official study, Jackson said.

“I asked them to make observations on a series of questions,” he said.

In the information they provided the chancellor, the presidents looked at key areas, including academic affairs, research and clinical services, student experience, administration, financial issues, state and regulatory issues, and communications and community support.

“The group concluded that as long as two major issues — seamless accreditation and formula funding levels — could be resolved favorably, a merger could be undertaken if approved by the regents and the Legislature,” they wrote.

The presidents determined there are no significant short-term benefits to the proposed merger and it would be difficult to assess long-term benefits.

It would help improve the university’s rankings, but it would not help it become a national research university, the presidents determined.

In fact, it may cause the health science center and Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine to drop in national and state rankings, at least in the short term, according to the information.

Rawlins said there were some obstacles.

While it’s common to have medical schools that are part of universities, he hasn’t seen two merged that are already established, Rawlins said.

The campuses have different histories and different cultures, he said.

“It doesn’t affect much of what we do in Denton,” Rawlins said.

Ransom declined to comment.

Jackson removed the merger item the day before Thursday’s meeting, sending a letter to community leaders on the university campuses as well as to leaders in Denton and Fort Worth.

In the letter, Jackson wrote, “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 said it’s a new idea and will take time for people to consider.

He was proud of the board’s interest, he said.

“After two serious efforts to discuss it, we’ve discussed it enough for the time being,” Jackson said.

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