Select Committee on Higher Education, 1985-1987

In 1985, Governor Mark White named a “select committee” to review all the colleges and universities in the state of Texas, and make recommendations on how to increase access to higher education throughout the state while maximizing budget efficiencies. As one can probably imagine, it was a Sisyphean effort from the start.

The chair of the committee was Larry Temple, an attorney and member of the Coordinating Board of Education. After a full audit and consultation by an outside consulting group, the select committee made a recommendation for several universities to merge. Two were UH University Park and Texas Southern University. Immediately, TSU sent off a six-page letter decrying the proposal–they did not want to be subsumed, and saw the “merger” as nothing more than a convenient way of getting rid of a historically Black university which the state no longer wanted to fund. Instead, they counter-proposed that TSU should “merge” with UH Downtown, arguing that it would be a “natural” realignment. President Terry of TSU wrote that “Texas Southern should be allowed to bring the Downtown College of the University of Houston under its administration…many of the students in the Downtown College come from the natural constituency that formed the population of Texas Southern University before the establishment of that school.”

Not only was TSU’s representation of UHD entirely wrong (UHD was no longer a “college” at this point, nor was it a branch of UH University Park), but it seemed to be wrong on purpose.  Anyone involved in higher education in the mid-80s in Houston would have had intimate knowledge of the changes at UHD over the preceding 10 years. Especially someone who was president of a university that was in direct competition with UHD in many areas. But also, they would have knowledge of the reputation of UHD as a kind of “bad egg”; the school was routinely dismissed or punished by the Coordinating Board in the years after the unapproved merger with UH.

The select committee thought a TSU/UHD merger was a viable and attractive option, and so suggested it to the UH System. The system, understandably, was infuriated. Subsuming TSU was one thing; losing a university of the system in order to be subsumed was quite another. The Chairman of the Board of Regents, Debbie Hanna, sent back a scathing statement to the select committee (without, it seems, knowledge of the original TSU letter–there is no mention of the fact that TSU actually proposed this; it lays the blame squarely on Mr. Temple). “We find this recommendation extremely difficult to justify in any terms: economic, social, or educational…to merge this unique and extraordinarily successful institution into any other is to destroy something of enormous and irreplaceable value to the people of Houston.”

Ultimately the merger (and most of the other mergers suggested by the Select Committee) was abandoned. In the final report in 1987, no mention is made of it at all.

To see and read all of the correspondence and reports from the Select Committee, visit the Legislative Reference Library’s file on the committee.

Advertisements