With a single dissenting vote, Stephen F. Austin State University moved toward becoming the 14th institution in the University of Texas System.
All regents except Robert Flores of Nacogdoches voted in favor of joining the system. The Texas Legislature must approve the transition, which is expected to happen next year.
SFA and University of Texas System officials will collaborate with lawmakers on the affiliation legislation, said Dr. Steve Westbrook, SFA’s interim president.
“I will be working closely with system officials over the next few weeks as the search for the next SFA president begins, and I will keep the campus updated on that progress,” he said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Flores raised concerns about a potential name change, funding and lagging enrollment at some University of Texas schools.
Each of the four interested systems — University of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas State and Texas Tech — agreed not to change SFA’s name, mascot or colors.
“I’m very concerned with our enrollment growth. I think it is important that we increase our enrollment at this university with quality enrollment if we can,” he said.
Regents chairwoman Karen Gantt said enrollment at some University of Texas System schools appeared flat because “UT is maxed out.”
“They turn away tens of thousands of applicants every year,” she said.
Ultimately, the decision came down to funding. University of Texas officials offered the largest financial incentive — $124 million in resources over the next four years, which was more than the three other systems combined. Texas A&M made the second highest offer at $33 million.
“Our proposal to SFA outlined our sincere commitment to helping the university build upon its programs, traditions and culture that have made the university unique for nearly a century, while adding resources to help amplify those strengths and ultimately serve more Texans,” University of Texas System chairman Kevin Eltife said in a written statement.
Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp congratulated SFA for securing “a huge amount of money.”
“We committed what we thought was responsible, as well as fair, to our other System components and universities, but the UT System committed almost four times as much money. I congratulate the UT System and SFA,” Sharp said in a statement. “Well played Lumberjacks!”
Joining the University of Texas System grants SFA access to a portion of the Permanent University Fund — the second largest endowment university endowment in the United States. The University of Texas System receives two-thirds of the fund, with the rest going to the Texas A&M System. The fund consists of assets created by oil and gas revenue.
Regents, including Thomas Mason, said it was too hard to resist, and if board members ignored the opportunity, they would be “failing their duties as stewards.”
“Bloomberg predicts (the Permeant Education Fund) will shortly overtake Harvard to become the largest university endowment in the U.S.,” Regent David Alders said.
Alders said board members have put the “interests of this institution above their own” but have been often lax in oversight, which would be remedied by having a system chancellor.
“I have long thought that the governance model by which we operate here is if not broken then certainly deficient,” Alders said. “Our ability to exercise effective and consistent oversight and accountability in the institution’s administration understandably falls short.”
University of Texas System officials expect to have a new president in place by May 31, which will allow the president to draft the budget for fiscal 2024.
Work begins immediately on addressing salary equity for faculty and staff, bringing their compensation more in line with similar positions at other Texas universities. The University of Texas System pledged $5.5 million for each of the next four years to address the salary gap, said Gina Oglesbee, SFA’s vice president for finance and administration.
The system pledged $65 million in Permanent Education Fund money for new buildings in the short term. Of that, $20 million will be for a forestry building and $45 million for projects defined by SFA’s strategic plan.
The forestry school also will get a $500,000 grant, Oglesbee said. Students will get access to an additional $1 million a year in scholarships beginning in next fall.
After a closed session the board waived its rules for selecting a president to allow the search to move forward under the University of Texas System’s selection rules.