New medical school may enroll students by 2015


Pearce Murphy

Bill Powers discusses taking the next steps toward the eventual construction of a UT medical school. Funding for the school was approved Tuesday night with the ratification of proposition 1.

Joshua Fechter

The University of Texas at Austin may break ground on a new UT medical school in 2013 after voters approved a property tax increase that will help fund the school and associated teaching hospital, UT officials said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Travis County voters approved increasing property taxes collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district, from 7.89 cents to 12.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Election results show 55 percent, or 186,128 people, voted in favor of the increase and 45 percent, or 154,308, voted against.

The increase will contribute an estimated $35 million annually toward operations at the teaching hospital and purchase medical services there.

During a press conference Wednesday, UT President William Powers Jr. said the University hopes to begin constructing the medical school in 2013 and enrolling medical students in 2015 or 2016, although he said that timetable may be too aggressive. He said the school will be finished within the decade.
“This is not off in the 2020s,” Powers said.

However, the tax increase will not take effect until a U.S. district court conducts a hearing on the legality of the proposition’s ballot language.

The Travis County Taxpayers Union, a political action committee that opposes Proposition 1, sued Central Health, alleging that the proposition’s ballot language violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965 by misleading voters and expressing advocacy for the proposition. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 14.

When asked about the lawsuit Wednesday, Powers did not comment on specifics, but said the University takes seriously any lawsuit that may affect its operations.

Steven Leslie, executive vice president and provost, said the two medical school buildings will likely be constructed near University Medical Center Brackenridge, although an official location has not been finalized.

Leslie said the University will soon appoint a committee of faculty members and health officials to select a dean for the medical school but did not specify a time frame for the committee’s appointment or dean’s selection. The University must also adopt plans for the school’s academic infrastructure and submit them for accreditation, a process that may take about three years, he said.

“We will build a great medical school for Austin and Central Texas,” Leslie said.

In May, the UT System Board of Regents pledged $30 million per year for eight years and $25 million per year after the first eight years for the medical school. The Seton Family of Hospitals pledged $250 million toward the construction of the teaching hospital.

Greg Hartman, Seton president and CEO, said Seton’s parent company, Ascension Health, will decide whether to approve Seton’s pledge next spring.
Hartman said Seton will continue to fund residency programs it offers in partnership with UT Southwestern until the UT medical school eventually absorbs those programs.

Carlos Femat, community relations manager at Central Health, said the tax increase will take effect Oct. 1, 2013.

Printed on Thursday, November 8, 2012 as: Prop. 1 passes, UT gears up for new school