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Here’s more on the battle between Prairie View A&M and the University of Houston over UH’s attempt to get Co-ordinating Board approval for a branch campus in Northwest Houston at the former Compaq Computer headquarters. The issue is on the Co-ordinating Board’s agenda for July 20.
Prairie View president George Wright laid out his objections in a June 27 letter to Raymund Paredes, state commissioner of higher education. Wright cited a plan agreed to by state officials and the federal Office of Civil Rights in 2000 and funded by the Legislature in 2001 under which the state’s two historically black universities, Prairie View and Texas Southern, would become more diverse. The most effective strategy for Prairie View focused on attracting commuting and graduate students in the northwest Houston metropolitan area. Prairie View has opened a northwest graduate center that includes such programs as electrical engineering, clinical adolescent psychology, business, and educational administration and intends to offer masters and undergraduate programs as well. The new UH campus would be fewer than four miles away, Wright wrote, and would represent “reversal of a major policy position” to which the Office of Civil Rights and the State of Texas have previously agreed.
The purpose of the Co-ordinating Board, the brainchild of John Connally, was to prevent exactly this kind of turf battle between colleges. At the time, higher ed budgeting was little more than a pork barrel operation in which influential legislators grabbed projects for schools in their districts, most of them involving bricks and mortar. Connally envisioned that it would, over time, oversee the creation of a three-tiered system, resembling California’s, with flagship universities in the top tier, state colleges in the second tier, and entry-level instituions (including community colleages) in the third tier. The board would achieve this by allowing graduate programs — particularly in sought-after fields like engineering — only at institutions that merited it.
Nice try. In fact, the Co-ordinating Board is a toothless agency that ought to be abolished. Its reputation is that it never does anything FOR universities; it just does things TO them (as when it forced A&M to downsize its proposed arena several years back). Forty years after Connally established the board, Texas higher education remains short on flagships and full of second- and third- rate institutions with embarrassingly low graduation rates. Lawmakers with influence in the budget-writing process can circumvent the board at will, wasting millions of state dollars in the process. The University of North Texas is opening a campus in South Dallas, within commuting distance of long-established UT-Arlington. Texas A&M is opening a campus in San Antonio, within commuting distance of the University of Texas in San Antonio; this is a particularly bad idea that will dilute community support for UTSA. Texas State-San Marcos is opening a campus in Round Rock, twenty minutes from the University of Texas. I hope Prairie View gets a fair shake from the board — but I wouldn’t bet on it.