This is biggish news: The University of Texas system is cancelling it’s controversial plans for a huge new campus in Houston:
Chancellor William McRaven said Wednesday he will no longer pursue a project on 300-plus acres in Houston.
“I was not able to develop a shared vision,” McRaven said in a press conference Wednesday. “I wasn’t able to get the stakeholders necessary to move forward.”
McRaven said Wednesday that the system planned a data science institute for the land. The center would focus on energy, health and education data. Aspects of this plan may proceed at the system’s universities around the state.
UT acquired the land for $215 million but, until today, did not disclose what the university planned to build. McRaven recommended to the regents that UT’s real estate office begin work to sell the land.
McRaven faced criticism from Texas lawmakers because he did not apprise them before buying the property. Sen. John Whitmire recently called the property a “dump.”
State Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, said Wednesday that he respected UT’s decision. “I met with UT administration and leadership several times, and questioned the recently appointed regents regarding this purchase at their nomination hearing,” he said in a statement.
With an anticipated tight state budget — the Senate wants to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in higher education funding cuts to higher education — lawmakers have questioned the need for UT’s venture in Houston.
The chancellor acknowledged to state lawmakers in a Feb. 13 letter that much of the Houston land was an abandoned oil field and a few of the acres are polluted by a former polymer facility on the site.
The UT plan to expand into Houston was always controversial, not least because they just announced “Hey, we’re going to buy all this land in Houston and build a big campus” without informing anyone prior to the purchase, or telling them, until quite recently, the intended purpose. The costs of a large expansion and the difficulty of brownfield remediation during a time of budget austerity were secondary issues compared to the number of local toes UT stepped on in the process. The appropriate wheels and palms were not greased prior to the announcement, and local interests (including the University of Houston) were opposed from the get-go.
I’m also pretty sure that UT can find better uses for that $215 million (or however much they manage to reclaim by selling the land).
And if UT really wanted a data science institute, I’m pretty sure you could find land for that in Austin…