Fertitta to UT: Why Not Work Together on That UT Campus Idea We Ran Outta Town?

A little bit of tune-changing looks to have happened with respect to the University of Texas’s Houston data science campus idea in the month or 2 since UT formally canned the plans to pursue it.  At yesterday’s State of the City luncheon, where Mayor Turner asked a bunch of major regional universities to work together on making a data science research center happen after all, Lindsey Ellis reports that University of Houston board of regents chair and Landry’s CEO Tilman Fertitta also made some comments in support of the project. Fertitta (who back in March immediately issued a victorious press release when UT announced it would sell off the 300 acres of land it’d purchased) told the audience that UH would be “excited to sit down and collaborate” with other Houston and Texas universities on a campus, Lindsey Ellis reports for the Chronicle. 

The difference now (versus last spring when UH snubbed an invitation to join that task force working up potential uses for the land)? Fertitta says UT wouldn’t be able to single-handedly “come in and dictate” with respect to the final project; he also suggests that perhaps UT might like to donate the purchased property to whatever group of local universities might end up in charge.


UT initially announced that it was planning to purchase the land near Pierce Junction back in November of 2015, but threw its hands up and cancelled the plans following months of complaints from University of Houston’s leaders, alumni, and elected sympathizers about secrecy and encroachment on UH’s turf. The announcement that UT would sell the land came a few days before the task force developing plans for the property finally released its report on what UT might actually do with the space.

Since then, at least a few of the folks in the legislature who initially chewed out UT for surprising everybody with the purchase have started to come around; senator Paul Bettencourt, for example, is now quoted by Ellis as saying “it’s in the taxpayer’s best interest to listen to any and all rational proposals.” Representative John Whitmire, however, tells Ellis that the hypothetical future data science center could be built in the Medical Center, or on a number of existing university campuses, and that UT should still sell the land (marked in yellow below):

Conceptual renderings of UT Houston campus: UT System

UT Houston Rematch

16 Comment

  • The perfect location for a data science center is adjacent to the UH main campus in the old Schlumberger complex. Sure, new construction would be necessary, and I am not sure now occupied it is now or if other than energy based research would be allowed under the gift guidelines, but by locating it there will likely generate robust redevelopment activity along both sides of I-45 South.

  • AND now the real motive for having UT run out of town comes to light Mr. Fertitta.
    You like the idea of a data center, see a need for it in Houston, but just not one w/ the UT system calling the shots. Got it. This was never about UT setting up a 4 year university, just ego. Is this the education version of crony capitalism? Maybe I’ll coin the phrase “Ego Engrossed Education”.
    And the idea of UT donating the land? Laughable if not outright trolling. What incentive does UT have to donate this land? To be nice?! Nice like UH was when it lied and spread misinformation about the UT’s system’s motives for the land? In actuality, it would be a fireable offence for Admiral McRaven if he took the land he dropped millions of dollars on and just gave it away to another university system.

  • Quite a bit of inaccuracies and bias in this little write up. Starting with the title, “Fertitta to UT: Why Not Work Together on That Data Science Campus Idea We Ran Outta Town?”, there never was a data science campus idea that was run out of town. The data science campus idea was never presented until after UT decided to sell the land. During the year plus that UT sat on the land before deciding to sell, they never presented any concept for its use.
    Also, who wrote this sentence: “UT initially announced that it was planning to purchase the land near Pierce Junction back in November of 2015, but threw its hands up and cancelled the plans following months of complaints from University of Houston’s leaders, alumni, and elected sympathizers about secrecy and encroachment on UH’s turf.” UT never announced it was planning to purchase anything. UT purchased the land, and then announced that they had it and now needed to figure out what to do with it. And while blame for cancelling the project here is clearly placed on those affiliated with UH, the project wasn’t actually cancelled until Gov Abbot appointed new regents to UT who were opposed to the expansion. Quote from newly appointed UT regent, “I want someone to explain to me how we spent $200 million on a piece of dirt and we don’t know the use of it”. The state government shut this project down.

  • Thanks for the feedback, ben.there! We’ve tweaked the title to clarify that it was a UT campus UH was objecting to, not specifically the data science concept.

  • Tilman, good luck on the possibility of UT donating the land. Really. UH and yourself drove them out of the proposed campus, continuing a turf war that you’re fighting tooth and nail. And now your asking for collaboration and possibly free land?

  • Dead on, dnaguy. Fertitta’s money has been good for sprucing up UH, but his ego is getting in the way of them taking full advantage of their particular niche and becoming something special. In this case, it hurt Greater Houston as a whole.

  • We have a combination of Tillman and Abbot shutting this down. The UH opposition was too strong which.

  • @ dnaguy: The suggestion that the UT System has been subjected to cronyism is the pot calling the kettle black. In case you haven’t been paying attention for the past fifty years, the influence of institutions of higher education as a lobby in the United States government could easily be mistaken for Italian-style corporatist fascism; and however strong or weak the argument from its opposition, the UT System had it coming.

  • This is fake news. This project is dead and buried, making it just that much easier for the UH side to manage the inevitable blowback from all of the toxicity engendered by their characteristic negative-sum game. As we can all expect to be told ex post facto: UH wanted to work with everyone all along; UH was of course the one being bullied and not the other way around; UH is full of solutions and is never the problem; let’s all make UH the center of attention.
    Anyway. The UT/McRaven project directly competes with what UH’s brand new MREB building was supposed to be all about, so anyone interested in real clarity can just start with that fundamental fact and from there extrapolate ground truth.

  • The idea that a local oligopoly of established schools should control all local higher education henceforth and forever seems contrary to free-market principals.
    The entry of a new competitor like UT into the marketplace would motivate all players to increase the quality of their academic offerings.

  • Mercedes tried this with Chrysler–combine and Chrysler will rise to MB’s level. Oops, MB sank to Chrysler’s level. The government schools tried it with forcing a combination of bad and good schools–the good schools sunk to the level of the bad ones and the US now has its entirely bad system. The examples of Fertitta’s idea not working are everywhere. Gresham’s law of bad money driving out good works in more than economic textbooks.

  • Honestly, the idea that a data science campus needs hundreds of acres is absurd. UT never had any intention of using this land exclusively for that purpose nor were they interested in collaborating with other intuitions as equal members on any project.

    As the article points out a data science campus can still be built in the medical center or on any existing university campus in Houston. But I doubt UT is actually interested in that. They just want to deflect blame for spending 200M on an old oil field with no clear objective.

  • Let’s all calm down and realize what really needs to happen here is more townhomes. #progress

  • They hate us because they anus

  • Great, just what we need: another blowhard reality-TV “businessman” fucking up the public interest with his unwarranted self-regard.

  • Yeah right Tillman. After YOU opened your big,fat mouth. UT will tell you to “toff off”…