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University Officials to Defend Expansion Plans

The University of Texas
A conceptual rendering of the University of Texas System campus that Chancellor Bill McRaven hopes to build in Houston.

University leaders from across Texas may face tough audiences this week as they are asked to explain their ambitious expansion plans before two key higher education policy boards. 

On Wednesday, the Texas House Higher Education Committee will discuss state colleges' efforts to grow "educational offerings and programs." The next day, University of Texas System Chancellor Bill McRaven will brief the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on his strategic vision. 

Both discussions are inspired, at least in part, by the universities' actions in recent months. The UT System announced plans in November to open a research and educational campus in Houston. Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University both indicated in December that they are eyeing veterinary school facilities in West Texas. And several universities are working to open new medical schools. 

Many state leaders have criticized those ambitions. Nineteen Houston-area lawmakers wrote a letter to McRaven urging him to slow down and reconsider his Houston plans. Meanwhile, House Higher Education Committee Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond, has questioned whether new medical schools are the best way to spend state money to improve health care for Texans.

But so far, the universities have shown no sign of backing down. Last week, the UT System finalized the purchase of one of several tracts of land it needs to build its Houston campus. McRaven has said the Houston community and the system would benefit from UT's presence in the state's largest city.

Meanwhile, leaders at other campuses say they are moving forward with their medical school plans, which they say will improve public health in the state.

No official action is likely to come out of either discussion. But officials said they want to provide input and get a better idea of the schools' goals.

"We need to remind some of these chancellors and presidents about what the rules are," Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said in a conference call with reporters last week. 

Disclosure: The University of Texas, Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2016/01/20/university-officials-defend-expansion-plans/.