From the Publisher How to Create an Economic Engine for Dallas

We won’t be a leader in the new economy until we merge our two University of Texas schools to create our own intellectual dynamo.

LEE BLAYLOCK OF FUNDU.COM HITS THE NAIL ON the head. While others of our “Internet 25” (see p. 74) talk of Dallas as a high-tech Third Coast, he points out what Dallas needs to be a true innovator in the high-tech industry-rather than a catchup follower-is a first-class research university.

Two universities, Stanford and UC Berkeley, spawned Silicon Valley. In Boston a 1997 report traced 14,000 jobs in Cambridge to MIT faculty and graduates. From its part in incubating ideas, Columbia University reaped $96 million in royalty payments last year. According to the New York Times, the University of Washington has helped launch 140 spinoff companies worth more than $10 billion and employing more than 6,500 people in the region.

Our own tiny University of Texas at Dallas is a major reason that Telecom Corridor is home to 600-plus companies employing 70,000 people. That’s good enough to prove the point, but LTD by itself is not enough to propel Dallas into the forefront of the new economy.

For one thing. LTD is too restricted in its mission. The school was created by TI founders Erik Jonsson, Cecil Green, and Eugene McDermott and financed by the UT System to produce engineers. The school has been an unqualified success, and it now grants more degrees in computer science than any school in the state. Although it has only been allowed to admit freshmen for a decade, its success now attracts freshmen with SAT scores on a par with UT Austin and better than A&M. No wonder Dallas telecom companies are in love with it.

But high-tech is about more than engineering and computer science. UC San Diego, for example. reports that it has generated more than 80 companies in the biomedical industry, creating 7.000 jobs.

In those fields Dallas has an outstanding asset in UT Southwestern, one of the 30 or so top medical research facilities in the world. But its reputation is as a medical school, and its donors tend to think of medical research as a synonym for “curing disease.” UT Southwestern has the potential to lead the world into new frontiers, creating a huge economic engine for Dallas.

Convergence is more than the latest buzzword. Telephony, the Internet, and biotech are rushing toward one another at lightning speed. Distinctions among them are quickly becoming academic (and they won’t even last long in academia).

It’s time to connect the dots. Our two University of Texas schools-Southwestern and Dallas- should be merged into one research university, not only encapsulating their present disciplines but building on them to forge new paths in biotechnology and leading-edge science.

A great university-a Harvard, Stanford. Duke, or Yale-takes generations to build. Part of what makes these universities great are their rich traditions, their settled histories, and the sanctified aroma of scholarship that has soaked into their very walls.

Hut a first-class research university-a Berkeley or MIT-can be built in one generation. By constructing a university on the strengths of its two founding institutions, and not from scratch, Dallas could achieve importance on an even faster timeline. To pull that off only takes money and brains. And we’ve got both.

Lee Blaylock isn’t the first one to raise the issue. Months ago Franklin Jennifer, president of UTD, raised the idea of a merger while we were talking in his office. (Great minds think alike.) I took Jennifer’s comments to Kern Wildenthal, president of UT Southwestern, who jumped on the idea. Then I went down the road to solicit the advice of Gerald Turner. president of SMU, and he also told me it makes sense. None of these gentlemen thinks it will be easy. Nor do they think it is unachievable.

Bottom line: We have the assets to create a first-class research university for Dallas that will lake us to a leadership position in the new economy. Next month: How to do it.



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