Lab venture too risky for cash-strapped UT

Editor’s Note: Following is an editorial of The Mercury’s editorial board. The Editorial Board consists of the newspaper’s management team (editor-in-chief, managing editor, section editors, advertising manager and copy editor). The editorial board will discuss, debate and develop editorial positions on issues affecting the UTD community as needed. We welcome your responses.

The UT System made national headlines last week with its announcement of a possible bid for the management contract of Los Alamos National Laboratories, but we question the move.

The pitch for prestige will spread the System’s already diminished resources too thinly.

On Feb. 4 at UT-Brownsville, the Board of Regents allocated $500,000 to inquire if a bid is possible and could spend $6.5 million to complete the bid in conjunction with other academic and business partners.

The management of such a behemoth faclity, currently run by the University of California System, is difficult for even one entity. To divide it among partners participating in the bid, as stated by UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof in a press conference following the announcement, would weaken the management structure. It’s questionable if the lab could be operated with many voices attempting to influence decision making.

But even with outside help for Los Alamos, there is still the financial crisis at home to consider.

The fiscal state of Texas higher education is in shambles after budget cuts last year. Tuition deregulation has caused the cost of college to skyrocket as schools scramble to recoup the loss of state funding.

The UT System hopes to acquire research opportunities by managing Los Alamos, but the state of some research at home leaves much to be desired.

The School of Natural Science and Mathematics (NSM) at UTD is unable to expand for lack of space and dilapidated laboratories. Yet the purchase of a building for NSM and renovation of Founders was not approved by the System Coordinating Board and has been put on indefinite hold.

We are not the only ones in the UT System unable to hire staff and faculty, unable to renovate buildings and unable to offer a full plate of courses, not to mention, unable to accommodate unprecedented enrollment growth.

Consider the subsequent costs, as well, should we win the bid. As a result of recent negative national publicity on security shortfalls at the lab, the new “managers” will at the very least have to invest in a revamp of the security system, plus the transaction costs of shifting the massive bureaucracy from California to Texas could be huge.

If fortune smiles on UT and the contract is won, it could take 10, even 15 years for a UT-run lab to see a return on its investment. Given the current shortage of state funds, it is not an investment the System should take.

With the mounting internal issues of the UT System, the additional burden of Los Alamos’ baggage makes an attempt to conquer new territory in New Mexico unjustified.

The Mercury editorial board voted 3-1 in favor of the above editorial.