A bill aimed at incorporating the university and 2 other UT System schools into the UNT System may help the university achieve flagship status, but Witt says it’s not likely to pass.

A bill aimed at moving UTA into the University of North Texas System has little chance of passage, university President Robert Witt said Wednesday.

Dr. Witt said that although the UNT System is strong, he thinks the university should stay within the UT System.

“At present, I do not believe that the proposed merger will occur,”  Witt said. “Although I have great respect for the UNT System, if serious merger discussions should ensue, I believe that, given the greater relative strength of the proposed UT System merger candidates, it would be more appropriate for the UNT components to become part of the University of Texas System.”

Rep. Domingo Garcia, D-Dallas, filed House Bill 3607, which aims to incorporate the university, UT-Dallas and the UT-Southwestern Medical Center into the UNT System. The university would be renamed the University of North Texas at Arlington.

Kate Kettles, UTA’s governmental relations director, said she wants to concentrate on other legislation.

“I am not really focusing on it,” she said. “The focus for us is on pushing the university forward.”  

The bill aims to bring all the major public universities in the Metroplex together under the UNT System to become one flagship university spread out over different campuses.

Garcia said that if this bill passes, which he says has a good chance, the university’s designation as one of the best in Texas would help bring in millions of dollars here and fill the need for a flagship university in the Metroplex.

“Unless a flagship university is established in the North Texas area, they are going to have a battle on their hands trying to establish other flagship universities that have less population and less need,” he said. “I think we have a very good shot at having some form of this bill become law.”

The Legislature is looking to increase public universities’ funding by designating more schools as flagships, which are considered premier state schools. Flagships offer a greater variety of doctorate, graduate and undergraduate programs than other universities, and more funding would allow the schools to offer competitive faculty salaries and build better research facilities.

Garcia said the Legislature is looking at the University of Houston and Texas Tech University as two new flagships. He said that if these two schools are named, the Dallas/Fort Worth region, which has seen huge population growth, would be denied the premier programs and funding offered to flagships.

“There are no flagships from the largest metropolitan area in the state; the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex,” he said. “Each university standing by itself would not qualify, but if you join the resources and their educational and intellectual capital, then there would be enough energy into get a flagship status established in the North Texas area.”

There are only two flagship colleges in Texas — Texas A&M University in College Station and UT-Austin. 

Garcia also said that because the UT System already consists of 15 universities and health institutions, there would be little impact.

“The University of Texas System is so large and I don’t think this would have much of an impact,” he said.

A spokesperson from the University of North Texas said the school would wait and see what the Legislature does before pursuing any research or talk about the possible impact of the bill if it is to pass. 

Garcia and his staff are working to contact all three schools to rally together universities that would be affected.

“We are in the process of finding where we can compromise and come up with the best plan that allows universities in the North Texas area to compete statewide,” he said.

A similar bill was also introduced by Rep. Kenn George, R-Dallas, that would consolidate the three schools into a single university under the UT System that could compete for flagship status.

The UNT System was established in 1999 by the Legislature. This system includes the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth and the University of North Texas at Denton. It will also include the school’s new South Dallas campus.

The university, founded in 1895 as Arlington College, joined the UT System in 1965 after being part of the A&M System since 1917.

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