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Merger idea belongs on shelf

The idea of merging the University of North Texas and the UNT Health Science Center has been put on the shelf, and we believe that’s where the idea belongs and should remain.

The idea was shelved because of a lack of consensus among university leaders, Chancellor Lee Jackson said Thursday.

Jackson added that the lack of consensus would likely prevent further work on the proposal in the foreseeable future. Other issues — supporting the health science center’s new MD-granting college and UNT’s commitment to becoming a national research university — take priority, he said.

We agree and feel that the proposal to merge the two campuses was ill-conceived and offered little benefit to Denton. The Denton campus is the flagship of the UNT system, and we’d like to see it stay that way.

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, regents pulled the item off the agenda and didn’t take a vote.

The idea came up 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.

The situation is much different here. The Denton campus is the heart of the system, but the UNT Health Science Center is far away from that campus, in Fort Worth.

The merger item appeared on the agenda again for November’s UNT Board of Regents meeting, after Jackson had the two campus presidents — Lane Rawlins, president of the Denton campus, and Scott Ransom, president of the Fort Worth campus — answer a series of questions for the regents.

The two 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 presidents determined there are no significant short-term benefits to the proposed merger, and it would be difficult to assess long-term benefits. They also determined that the proposed merger would help improve the university’s rankings, but it would not help it become a national research university. It could also 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 other obstacles, as well.

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. Plus, the campuses have different histories and different cultures, he said.

Jackson said the proposed merger is a new idea and will take time for people to consider, but we feel any future consideration should come only after the definitive promise of long-term positives for the city of Denton and the local UNT campus.

At present, there are too many unknowns, and until that situation changes, the shelf is the best place for this idea.