A&M System Chancellor to Announce New Research Fund

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp on Thursday will lay out a plan before the system's board of regents that will shuffle the distribution of money for Texas A&M University and Prairie View A&M University, earmarking millions of dollars to grow research at those universities.

The money for what Sharp is calling the Chancellor's Research Initiative will come from the Available University Fund, which is made up of distributions from the Permanent University Fund, a major public endowment that benefits the University of Texas System and the A&M System. According to Texas statute, the funds can only be used to support academic excellence at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M and Prairie View A&M.

The Chancellor's Research Initiative will take approximately $33 million, about 15 percent of the A&M system's total allotment, from the Available University Fund in fiscal year 2013. It will take the same amount in fiscal year 2014, followed by $34 million the next fiscal year. The funds will then be used to hire top researchers at College Station and Prairie View.

Sharp hopes the announcement will quiet detractors who have questioned the A&M System's commitment to research throughout the state's ongoing debate about higher education reform.

"As I have said since my appointment as chancellor, we will support teaching and research as our core deliverables, and this initiative will allow us to compete nationally for the best and brightest researchers and their projects," Sharp said. "This is a competitive activity, and we plan to win our share."

This is the latest in a series of major shifts that have occurred since Sharp took the post in fall 2011. In February, in a similar vein, Sharp put aside $5 million of the system's money to establish a new "Institute of Advanced Study" at Texas A&M, which is also designed to attract high-profile professors and graduate students.

But some of the changes have not been greeted enthusiastically. A plan to outsource hundreds of support staff jobs at A&M, which is expected to implemented in early August, has many workers and local businesses nervous about what it means for their futures.

The upcoming board of regents meeting could also mean further alterations to the A&M organizational chart. The regents will consider a proposal to add the words "Texas A&M" to the names of the seven state agencies — including the Texas Forest Service and the Texas Transportation Institute — that the system oversees. They will also consider granting Sharp the authority to try to bring the Texas A&M University System Health Science Center under the purview of Texas A&M University.

When it comes to setting aside the money for the new Chancellor's Research Initiative, however, approval from the research is not required. And Sharp is excited to get it going. "This is the perfect time, in a down economy," he said, "to recruit game-changing researchers to Texas."

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