COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: HOW ABOUT A DO-OVER FOR UT’S HOUSTON CAMPUS PROPOSAL? “I’d be steaming mad if I were UT right now. I don’t see how everyone can align with A&M, but UT asks for everyone to come together after they get the land and everyone tells them to leave. Why didn’t the city/UH/politicians suggest a similar model for UT? They should now move forward with their initial plans. It would be great for the city.” [Innerlooped, commenting on Houston’s Record Rental Levels; The Neighborhoods Hit Hardest By Harvey; A Debris Removal Progress Update; previously on Swamplot] Map showing location of proposed 300-acre UT Houston campus: Houston Public Media
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.
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UT Houston Rematch
Update, 6pm: UT announced this afternoon that the Houston campus plans are cancelled — more here.
UT system chancellor Bill McRaven objected in letter form this month to senator and Astrodome scrutinizer John Whitmire’s characterization of the 300 acres UT’s been buying in Houston as “a dump,” the Austin American Statesman’s Ralph K.M. Haurwitz reports. Excerpts from the letter assert that the property, nestled amid the industrial-residential jumble south of the Astrodome, has never in fact been a landfill. Sure, there’s a little bit of contamination from an old polymer facility that needs to be mopped up. And sure, there may be a healthy smattering of old oil wells from the Pierce Junction boom days, as illustrated by the Rail Road Commission’s map of current and former wells drilled in the area. (UT’s new parcels are just inside the crook of the Holmes Rd.-S. Main St. elbow, to the northwest of the ring of wells drilled around the salt dome’s buried upper reaches.)
But Whitmire’s comments, McRaven’s letter notes, might “lead a listener to conclude that the property and the surrounding area are blighted and unlikely to ever be developed. In fact, the property is adjacent to apartments, neighborhoods, and commercial buildings, and it is highly likely that these adjacent developed lands had similar characteristics.” Meanwhile, the Wildcat Golf Course directly across Holmes Rd. from UT’s campus-to-be actually was a bona fide landfill; the only giveaway is all those rolling hills.
Image: Texas RRC Public GIS Viewer
What Lies Beneath
THE UT AUSTIN SEGREGATION LAWSUIT THAT MADE TSU HOUSTON’S FIRST PUBLIC UNIVERSITY A recounting of some Houston higher-ed history comes from Ben Werlund this past weekend — namely, how University of Houston and Texas Southern University ended up as separate but adjacent public universities in the Third Ward. In 1927 the schools were founded as Houston Junior College and Houston Colored Junior College, segregated schools that eventually wound up on neighboring land after being renamed University of Houston and the Houston College for Negroes. In 1946, black Houstonian Heman Marion Sweatt was denied admission to all-white UT Austin’s law school; as the resulting lawsuit worked its way up to the Supreme Court in the pre-Brown v. Board of Education landscape of separate-but-equal requirements, the state quickly bought and renamed the Houston College for Negroes and added a law school, trying to prove that black students had comparable options to the Austin campus. “And thus, Houston’s first public university was born,” writes Werlund, to keep the Texas school system “from having to integrate its flagship in Austin.” The Supreme Court, however, didn’t buy that the new Houston law offerings measured up to the nearly 70-year-old UT law program, and UT Austin had to admit Sweatt after a 1950 ruling. TSU law professor James Douglas tells Werlund that the state legislature proceeded to cut TSU’s budget by 40 percent the next year; the private all-white University of Houston didn’t start to admit black students until 1962, shortly after which it turned public. “This was in the ’60s,” notes Douglas — “In 1964, I don’t think the people in Austin really thought integration was going to stick . . . I don’t think they ever thought this whole idea of having 2 universities close to each other was ever going to be a problem.” [Houston Chronicle] Image of Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University: TSU
UT WRITES BACK TO UH PEN PALS, LAWMAKERS ON HOUSTON CAMPUS PLANS University of Texas Chancellor Bill McRaven sent a letter yesterday afternoon to a list of higher-ups in Texas higher education and in the state legislature. McRaven’s letter comes in response to a February letter signed by 35 former University of Houston regents and addressed to the same crowd; that letter followed UT’s January purchase of 100 acres near the intersection of Willowbend Dr. and Buffalo Spdwy. for a planned Houston campus. Yesterday’s letter from McRaven repeated past assertions that the still-ambiguously-purposed land would not become another university, and that UT is not trying to hinder UH’s development as a research institution, adding that “it takes two or more to collaborate.” McRaven also writes that UT is including the state higher-ed coordinating board on its task force to determine what to do with the new space, and asks if those opposing the expansion are “really convinced that Houston, the fourth largest and most international city in the U.S., has all it needs in terms of intellectual and innovative horsepower for the decades ahead?” [UT System via Dallas Morning News; previously on Swamplot] Conceptual rendering of proposed UT campus: UT System
TEXAS A&M WEIGHS HOUSTON EXPANSION AS UT COLLECTS LAND FOR ITS PLANNED CAMPUS Following the University of Texas’s recent start on buying up that land in southwest Houston for a proposed campus of yet-ambiguous-purpose, Texas A&M is now sizing up the city as well, writes Benjamin Wermund of the Houston Chronicle. A&M president Michael Young suggested that those watching the university’s plans for the Houston area “stay tuned” as the school weighs strategy. UT’s November announcement that it would buy around 300 acres at W. Belfort Ave. and Buffalo Spdwy. triggered responses from University of Houston supporters including Texas senator John Whitemire. Whitmire’s December letter to UT chancellor Bill McRaven cited fears that a new UT Houston campus would pull resources and top-tier faculty away from U of H, in part due to the structure of the state’s Permanent University Fund allocations (which go only to UT and A&M campuses). Young, however, suggested that backlash over UT’s ongoing purchases south of Reliant was premature (as, perhaps, was UT’s broadcasting of its plans): “I guess I’m a little confused about the spat at the moment, because I don’t know that UT has really said what they’re going to do,” Young told the Chronicle. “So far it’s a land deal, and I must say an amusing one, because I didn’t know you announced you were going to buy property before you actually bought it.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Conceptual rendering of UT Houston campus: Houston Public Media