Old state documents show two universities have been fueding over the same stuff for decades

May 15, 2009

UT-Dallas opposition is recalled
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Sunday, June 13, 2004

Two advocates for area universities remember their battle 35 years ago.

The rivalry between the University of Texas at Arlington and UT-Dallas — so palpable even an outside consultant could see it — is a conflict rooted in UT-Dallas’ contentious creation.

Officials at both universities often talk of progress toward greater collaboration, but they have a rough history and some institutionalized grudges to overcome.

Fighting erupted last year when Tarrant County legislators threatened to pull UT-Arlington from the UT System if UT-Dallas were anointed as the next flagship university.

The insurrection bore resemblance to a turf war fought in the late 1960s when Dallas pushed to make the private Southwest Center for Advanced Studies in Richardson into a UT campus.

Gov. Preston Smith signed the bill creating UT-Dallas 35 years ago today despite opposition from Tarrant County. Sen. Don Kennard of Fort Worth filibustered for 27 hours against what he called the “monstrosity” but couldn’t persuade the governor to kill it.

“I was afraid that it would take away a lot from the University of Texas at Arlington,” Kennard said last week. “I wanted to be sure that didn’t happen because I was very fond of that school out there and thought it had a lot of potential.”

Jenkins Garrett, then a member of the UT System board of regents, remembers Tarrant County leaders waging what they saw as a battle to protect UT-Arlington.

“They did not want UTA’s programs to diminish,” he said this week. “I think there was not so much upset [at Dallas] having a school, but they did not want a duplication to what we already had at Arlington.”

Newspaper articles from 1969 and even the usually dry legislative journals show how vigorously Tarrant County fought the proposal.

UT System Chancellor Harry Ransom sent a letter to W.C. Sherman, then a representative from Fort Worth, assuring him that UT-Dallas would be “cooperative and not competitive.” Still, foes of the Richardson campus blocked attempts by Rep. Jack Blanton, D-Carrollton, to bring the bill up for a vote.

Gifford Johnson, the second and last president of the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies, pushed for making it a UT institution. Interviewed this week, Johnson said Tarrant County leaders’ fears were misguided.

He said Dallas business leaders founded the center and wanted it to grow as UT-Dallas because area businesses desperately needed more people with science, engineering and technical degrees.

“A senator from Fort Worth created a lifelong enmity with us because he all but stated he would never agree … to an institution like this,” Johnson said, referring to Kennard. “I think at the time he didn’t know much about education and the industry needs.”

Kennard says now that he believes things turned out well for both universities. “I think there’s room for both of them. I think they’re coming along. I personally feel that the UT System has treated UT-Arlington fine, and it’s become a first-rate university.”

Tarrant County legislators did not have that confidence last year.

UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof talked of making UT-Dallas a research powerhouse, and Tarrant lawmakers in the House and Senate responded with bills to pull UT-Arlington from the system.

Once again, the system assured that the two North Texas UT campuses would have a cooperative, not a competitive, relationship. UT-Dallas advocates said, as they did in 1969, that the campus is not a threat but an asset to an area that needs all the higher education it can get.

The Tarrant County lawmakers eventually withdrew their bills, and substantive steps to improve UT-Arlington and foster the promised cooperation helped patch things up with the UT System.

The rivalry, however, goes beyond legislators. After 35 years, it’s embedded in the faculty. UT-Arlington advocates and faculty privately complain of perceived favoritism toward UT-Dallas. When the system conducted a comprehensive study of several campuses this year, it found that “UTA and UTD seem engaged in unproductive competition with each other.”

Outgoing UT-Dallas President Franklyn Jenifer said the competition is not that drastic. “I think that’s just occasionally and does not last long,” he said when the consultant’s report was released last month.

Jenifer is retiring after 10 years as president, and the system is searching for his replacement. UT-Dallas wants stronger science, technology and engineering programs, areas in which UT-Arlington has excelled for years.

UT-Dallas hired a superstar engineering dean, Bob Helms, in March 2003 and is paying him more than the university’s president to boost the engineering college. UT-Dallas has two Nobel laureates on its faculty, and last year the university brokered a deal with Texas Instruments and the governor’s office that includes $50 million for engineering and computer science programs.