Sunday, May 23, 2010

San Antonio Merger Discouraged

A special advisory group created within the University of Texas System advised in a report that there is no compelling reason or cost benefit that would result from a merger of the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

  1. A merger may advance UTSA toward national stature, but the merger's effect in that regard would be marginal at best. Advancement is largely dependent on the quality of students and faculty and the level of funding.
  2. A merger would have a significant detrimental near-term effect on the UT Health Science Center - San Antonio as a result of the costs, conflicts, disruptions and distractions during the three to five years of integration post-merger, as well as a negative impact on philanthropy in support of the health science center.
  3. Both institutions have strong leadership and enjoy positive momentum, and a merger would effectively delay achievement of their mutual goals of attaining national stature.
In my opinion, the advisory group, the UT System Board of Regents and constituents of both institutions and the greater San Antonio area are missing an enormous opportunity by deciding against this merger. This is exactly the type of merger that has the best chance for success, in that it is mission-complementary and mutual growth. The missions of the two institutions work together - they do not overlap, creating duplication of programs. And both institutions would come from positions of strength, to become stronger together than they would remain apart. This truly would be a match made in heaven.

The key findings of the advisory group reek of political wrangling to derail the merger. In my opinion:
  1. The advancement of national stature for the two institutions is certainly dependent on the quality of students and faculty and the level of funding. However, merging the two institutions would allow the combined institution to jump forward substantially as budgets, workforces, student bodies and more are combined and synergies achieved. Opportunities begin to present themselves in major institutions of this size and scope.
  2. The potential "detrimental near-term effect" on the UT Health Science Center is overblown and shortsighted. To say that the costs, conflicts, disruptions and distractions would be a major hindrance is overstating the issue and underestimating the people of the institution and their ability to handle the execution of the merger. To say that there would be a "negative impact on philanthropy in support of the health science center" - as someone who works in higher education fundraising, I simply do not see how this can be the case. While working at The University of Toledo (UT) during the merger with the former Medical University of Ohio (MUO), there was instant excitement on the part of both parties. Those of us from the UT side were thrilled to have gained a medical school and a university medical center, and those on the MUO side were able to enjoy the perks of a comprehensive institution, complete with undergraduate education and student life, visual and performing arts, athletics and more. Philanthropy can only be emboldened at a merger such as this, assuming that it is executed with caution, transparency and participatory implementation processes.
  3. That both institutions are currently enjoying visionary leadership and positive momentum are not reasons to take the merger off the table - just the opposite. Mergers should not happen only for reasons of necessity such as financial disarray and the like. Those mergers are doomed to fail. When both institutions are coming from positions of strength - those mergers are likely to be the most successful.
In the end, one giant missed opportunity results in the San Antonio community. It is unfortunate for all of those that would potentially benefit from this merger. Comprehensive benefits of mergers such as these can take years to realize, and analysis cannot be done on the short-term. One hopes that leaders that are true visionaries will resurrect this concept at some point in the near future and bring it to fruition.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Additional Mergers Proposed in New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie created a commission to examine the entire state's college and university system. The commission, to be headed by former Governor Tom Kean, may propose that the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey be broken up and merged with Rutgers University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The same merger had been proposed by previous administrations, but never gained serious traction. In 2002, then-Governor Jim McGreevey proposed an outright merger of the three institutions into one "University of New Jersey."

Kean suggests that the commission has an "open mind," and that the proposed mergers are only one aspect of a huge, broad mandate" - to evaluate the "overall quality and effectiveness" of higher education and to make it more affordable for New Jersey students to stay home for college.

The previously discussed merger of Thomas Edison State College into Rutgers University also remains on the table.

While these proposed mergers may be mission-complementary, they are initiated by the state, and not by the institutions. However, facing serious budget shortfalls, state officials may see that there are no other options besides these forced mergers. Institutional leaders will want to have as much say as possible in these discussions in order to shape the result in a desired manner. Otherwise, a full lack of cooperation on the part of the institutions may result in a mandate from the state that may be less than desirable.