McRaven cancels plans for UT Houston expansion

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Retired U.S. Admiral and UT System Chancellor William H. McRaven spoke at the Belo Media Center Tuesday evening.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Plans for the UT System’s heavily criticized Houston expansion have come to an end.

In a memo to the Board of Regents Wednesday, UT System Chancellor William McRaven said his decision to cancel the 300-acre expansion was based on concerns the development would overshadow work done at the other 14 UT System institutions. 

“I accept full responsibility for the lack of progress on this initiative. I am grateful to the Regents, my System staff and the university presidents for their engagement over the last year,” McRaven said in a memo to Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster.

At a news conference, McRaven continued to emphasize the work done at the other 14 institutions when pressed with questions on why he chose to end his plans. 

UT System Regent Kevin Eltife said McRaven made the best decision because of the lack of issues that are not addressed at other UT institutions.

“I would just applaud what he’s done today because I think it’s the right move for the System,” Eltife told The Daily Texan. “All of the institutions have needs that are not met and we need to meet those needs before we ever embark on a project, especially a project of this size.” 

In January, McRaven appeared at a Senate Finance Committee hearing where he was criticized for not informing the Texas Legislature of the plans for the land prior to the purchase, according to the Austin-American Statesman.

“In all due respect, I don’t think you give a damn what the Legislature thinks,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston during the hearing. “I believe your style is it’s your way or the highway. The Legislature is not involved in your decisions.”

The criticism was not the tipping point for the cancellation of the expansion, said McRaven, but he could not get legislators behind the idea of an expansion.

“I was not able to develop a shared vision,” McRaven said at the press conference. 

The System’s Houston Advisory Task Force, created by McRaven in January last year to provide recommendations for the land, sent a report to McRaven earlier this week with ideas for a data institute focused on health care, energy and education. McRaven said he hopes to see some of these ideas implemented at other UT institutions and will send the report to the Board of Regents later this week. 

While there is no time line, McRaven said the System will continue to protect the investment and work with the city of Houston moving forward. He recommended the Board of Regents to consult with the real estate office on ways the System can divest from the land.

McRaven did not say whether or not this would include a buyout from the University of Houston System who has been critical of the lands purchase in the past. 

Chairman Tilman Fertitta of the UH System Board of Regents told The Daily Texan last month that the expansion is unnecessary because of the lack of funding the state is receiving.

“The state is facing huge budgetary constraints, and the UT System wants to waste taxpayer dollars on what is clearly an unnecessary duplication of services,” Fertitta said. “I think many in the legislature see this for what it is.” 

UH representatives were not able to respond at the time of publishing.

Updated March 2, 2017