UT Arlington aspirations, plans backfire

Tarrant County lawmakers are threatening to pull the University of Texas-Arlington out of the University of Texas system as concerns mount about the campus’ future.

The move is a reaction to UT system Chancellor Mark Yudof’s plans to make the University of Texas-Dallas a nationally ranked research campus.

The lawmakers say they fear that goal will be accomplished at the expense of UT-Arlington, the second-largest school in the UT system with nearly 24,000 students.

“We in the Legislature are looking at every possible alternative to find another system that would appreciate what our campus has to offer,” said state Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington.

The lawmakers’ move comes on the eve of Yudof’s visit to Arlington on Wednesday to discuss UT-Arlington’s status with university and community leaders.

UT system spokesman Michael Warden said Monday that Yudof is aware of the concerns about the future of UT-Arlington and plans to address those issues on Wednesday.

“What the community is going to hear from Chancellor Yudof will greatly allay their concerns about the future of the University of Texas at Arlington. They will hear from him that UTA is an extremely valuable member of the University of Texas System,” Warden said.

Warden noted that the University of Texas System Board of Regents recently approved a $39.9 million chemistry and physics building at UT-Arlington, and that the campus has grown steadily in recent years as part of the UT system.

Lawmakers said they hope the meeting produces a firm commitment on the part of UT system officials not to elevate UT-Dallas at UT-Arlington’s expense.

If not, the lawmakers are preparing legislation to make good on their threat.

State Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, said he has had a bill drafted to make UT-Arlington an independent university. The measure has not been introduced, he said.

“If we can get what we want and we’re happy in the UT system, we would prefer to stay in the UT system. But if not we can go another path,” he said.

Harris said the Texas Tech, University of Houston and Texas A&M University systems are viable options. He said he did not have a preference but noted that UT-Arlington was once part of the A&M system. UT-Arlington left the A&M system in 1965.

A&M system Chancellor Howard Graves acknowledged the Arlington campus’ past affiliation with the A&M system while noting that any decision about changing the campus affiliation was in the Legislature’s hands.

“However, it is our hope that any such transfer include the concurrence of the boards of regents of the A&M system and UT system as well as the Texas Legislature,” Graves said.

If the lawmakers decide to move forward, the goal is to get legislation passed this session because the Legislature will not meet again in regular session until January 2005, said Harris.

“If we continue to hear from Yudof that his priorities are changing to make the UTD campus a more advanced campus than our UTA campus then I will explore every opportunity we can,” said state Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth.

An official with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees public colleges and universities, said the Legislature has the authority to move UT-Arlington out of the UT system.

But Marshall Hill, assistant commissioner for universities and health-related institutions, cautioned that such a move would likely create political problems.

“There would be a lot of uncertainty that faculty would have I’m sure, a lot of questions of whether this is something that had been thought through thoroughly enough,” he said.

UT-Arlington Faculty Senate chairman Thomas Chrzanowksi questioned the purpose of removing the school from the UT system.

“We’re better off staying where we are,” he said.

A UT-Arlington spokesman said outgoing university President Robert Witt could not comment because he has not seen any legislation.

Witt is leaving this week to become president of the University of Alabama.