There’s more than one way to achieve Tier One status, at least for some universities.
When Ricardo Romo became president of the University of Texas at San Antonio a decade ago, he resolved to transform the sleepy commuter campus into a premier research university.
Today, the university is one of Texas’ fastest growing. While it is shedding its commuter campus label by attracting top students and professors, the goal of joining the ranks of top-notch research universities remains decades away.
That reality has prompted San Antonio lawmakers and community leaders to float the idea of merging UTSA with the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, a move that could catapult the combined institution to the top of the heap among Texas universities vying for the distinction.
After years of urging, state lawmakers passed a bill this spring that lays out a pathway to flagship status and a pot of money for seven emerging research institutions, including UTSA, UT-El Paso and the University of Houston.
But in keeping with the history of higher education in Texas, the terms of competition seem to favor wealthier schools, once again short-changing South Texas and borderland institutions that serve a large population of minority students.
But merging UTSA with the health science center would give the combined institution significant firepower. UTSA’s federal research spending would jump from $22 million per year to a combined $117 million, marching the institution to the front of the line for receiving money under the state’s flagship bill. It would also help San Antonio compete outside of Texas, where most top research universities include a medical school.
“We would be the next Tier One. No question about that,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.
The decision, however, rests with UT regents. At the moment, it’s not on their radar, said Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the UT System and former president of the UT Health Science Center.
On the surface, this makes a lot of sense. It would be better if the legislation that authorized more Tier One funding were more equitable, but even putting that aside, I don’t see any obvious reason why UTSA and the UT-HSC in San Antonio shouldn’t merge. If you know of a good reason why not, please leave a comment and say so.