Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Should UNT in Denton control Fort Worth's health science center? - Fort Worth Star Telegram

News that the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth might be put under the administrative umbrella of the University of North Texas in Denton is welcome -- with emphasis for now on the might.

At their meeting Thursday, UNT System regents will "consider a proposal to study the possibility" of the change, Chancellor Lee Jackson said Friday. Currently, the 1,760-student Health Science Center in Fort Worth and the 36,000-student flagship university campus in Denton are separate institutions in the Dallas-based UNT System.Given that what's under consideration is a study of the pros and cons of the idea, who could object?Jackson says the Health Science Center would remain in Fort Worth. Only its administrative structure would change."Combining the two institutions has the potential to advance the success of UNT and UNT Health Science Center students, faculty members and the communities they serve," he said in a news release.There are some easy-to-see pros. For one thing, as is often the case, it might bring in more money.In 2009, the Legislature proposed and voters approved a constitutional amendment creating the National Research University Fund. The fund, which the state comptroller's office says had a balance of $587.6 million as of July 31, is meant to help state universities on the verge of reaching Tier 1 research university status.This year, Texas Tech University in Lubbock and the University of Houston each qualified to receive $8 million to $10 million from that fund. No other universities have yet qualified. University of Texas campuses in Arlington and Dallas are among those seeking the funds.One of the criteria is that the institution must have spent at least $45 million from restricted research grants during each of the two most recent fiscal years. Combining the research expenditures of the Health Science Center and those from the Denton campus could put the UNT flagship at or near that benchmark.Getting extra millions from the state and putting UNT in Tier 1 territory would be good for all of North Texas.And closer connections between Fort Worth and Denton are always welcome.Still, there's reason to hold some reservations. As an autonomous institution in the UNT System, the Health Science Center has an administrative structure of its own that is free to push proposals on behalf of the center with no middleman. An extra hurdle in Denton before reaching system headquarters in Dallas could hinder local efforts.Whatever else comes from the study, it should describe how the new administrative structure would benefit the center.The state's higher education funding structure could present a problem. That funding plan treats health-related institutions separately from other academic institutions. The study should describe how that would affect the UNT facilities if they are combined.Texas A&M University System regents recently agreed to place that system's medical school under the administrative control of the flagship campus in College Station. The University of Texas System has said it would do the same with a medical school it proposes to open in Austin as an arm of its campus there.Taking the opposite approach, the Texas Tech University System is making its health science center in El Paso a stand-alone institution.Put all of this together, and it's confusing enough to warrant a study. If the UNT regents are given a clear and comprehensive list of questions the proposed study will answer, they should approve moving ahead with it. Jackson says he could give them a preliminary report when they meet again in November.

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