The House Higher Education Committee heard Wednesday from leaders of all seven schools: the University of North Texas, UT-Arlington, UT-Dallas, UT-El Paso, UT-San Antonio, Texas Tech and the University of Houston. The committee took no action on the bill.
Donna Halstead, president of the Dallas Citizens Council, suggested letting all seven schools compete for state money, at least for now. Later on, the Legislature might give more money to fewer schools, "so you're focusing on those that have made the greatest strides."
Top research universities – UT-Austin, Texas A&M and Rice are the only ones in Texas – conduct hundreds of millions of dollars worth of research each year, have strong graduate programs and award hundreds of doctoral degrees.
Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, wondered why one of the North Texas schools couldn't just merge with UT-Southwestern in Dallas, which is one of the country's top public medical schools and does a lot of research.
David E. Daniel, UT-Dallas' president, said that would give Texas another top-flight school only on paper.
"You would not take our 14-person chemistry department and make it competitive with MIT's or Stanford's or Michigan's," Daniel said.
The committee also discussed several bills Wednesday that would change the state's "top 10 percent" law that lets top-ranking high school graduates attend the public university of their choice. At UT-Austin, about 80 percent of Texas freshmen were admitted under the controversial law.
Some lawmakers and others have said the intense competition to get into UT-Austin shows the need for more top public universities in Texas.