For a year, leaders of the Texas Tech University System have made clear that in 2017 they planned to ask the Texas Legislature to allow them build a veterinary school in Amarillo.
But now, about a month before the Legislature convenes, the system confirmed that those plans are on hold.
In response to questions about the future of the school, system spokesman Brett Ashworth told The Texas Tribune that the system has "placed the veterinary school on pause." He wouldn't comment further or elaborate on what that means, and it's unclear how long that pause will last. But the decision calls into question whether Tech will be able to get approval to open the school when the Legislature is in session for the first half of next year.
The Tech system has said the school would help West Texas address a shortage of large-animal veterinarians. But it faced fierce resistance from the Texas A&M University System, which has the only current veterinary school in the state. Tech had wanted to open its school in 2019. In September, the city of Amarillo chipped in $15 million from its economic development fund to kickstart the idea.
But the plan has generated mixed reviews. The staff of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board said in July that the state doesn't need another traditional veterinary school, arguing the cost would outweigh the benefits. Tech, however, has said that its school would be unique and focus largely on bringing veterinarians to rural areas. The coordinating board was receptive to that possibility.
Meanwhile, the Texas A&M University System officials have said that expanding their school's reach would be a more efficient way of meeting the state's needs. On Wednesday, A&M System Chancellor John Sharp reiterated that argument. He said A&M's veterinary school is already expanding its services to West Texas through its West Texas A&M University campus.
“I think it’s clear to everyone that the veterinary school at Texas A&M has already addressed the concerns that Texas Tech is talking about,” Sharp said. “There is no need for another veterinary college in Texas.”
Now, the future seems uncertain. The Tech System Board of Regents will meet in mid-December and could provide more clarity for if, or how, the system should move forward. Meanwhile, the system is also working to develop a dental school in El Paso, which it hopes will open in 2020.
The vet school idea does have some powerful support. State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said Wednesday that he thinks it's a "great idea" but shouldn't be treated like an economic development project for his area.
"Any project like that should stand on its own in terms of the statewide needs and academic advantages for the state," he said.
Read more coverage of Texas Tech University:
- Texas Tech is opening a branch campus in Costa Rica.
- When Lawrence Schovanec started as president at Texas Tech this summer, he said he wanted to make the school elite.
Disclosure: Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.