Stephen F. Austin State University votes to join University of Texas System

Megan Armstrong San Antonio News

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from the UT System and Stephen F. Austin State University.

At a special meeting of its board of regents on Tuesday morning, November 29, Stephen F. Austin State University voted to join the University of Texas System. The Nacogdoches-based, previously unaffiliated public university with more than 11,000 students now must get approval from the Texas Legislature, set to meet in January, before joining.

The vote passed 11-1, with the lone dissenter noting that they worried that the UT System could change the name of the university. Officials have mentioned that the school would not change its name, colors, or mascot upon joining a university system.

“We are excited about the enormous opportunities this affiliation will provide for our students, faculty and staff,” Stephen F. Austin State University Board of Regents chair Karen Gantt said following the vote. “We know that the future of SFA will be enhanced by becoming a member of the leading university system in the country.”

The vote comes after four university systems reached out regarding membership: the UT System, the Texas A&M University System, the Texas State University System, and the Texas Tech University System. 

“Stephen F. Austin has a rich tradition and successful history that our regents and leadership deeply admire and respect. We are honored and enthusiastic about taking the next steps together in this process with confidence that this union will make each of us stronger,” said UT System Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife. “Our proposal to SFA outlined our sincere commitment to helping the university build upon its programs, traditions and culture that have made the university unique for nearly a century, while adding resources to help amplify those strengths and ultimately serve more Texans.”

Stephen F. Austin State University is currently one of two public universities in the state  — alongside Texas Southern — that is unaffiliated with a system, which could change next year. The school is also looking for a permanent president to replace Scott Gordon, who left the university under pressure in April following a controversial $85,000 pay raise.

“I will be working closely with system officials over the next few weeks as the search for the next SFA president begins, and I will keep the campus updated on that progress,” said Stephen F. Austin State University Interim President Steve Westbrook.

Speaking on culture during the Stephen F. Austin State University Board of Regents meeting, Regent David Alders mentioned a “natural fit” with Texas A&M, mostly because of the two schools’ history in agricultural education. But Alders said the decision to go with the UT System spoke more to the holistic view of the school’s academic offerings, and that ultimately, UT Austin could provide more to Stephen F. Austin State University.

According to an October report by the Texas Tribune, the UT System offered $1 million annually for student scholarships, $5.5 million for faculty salaries, and access to the Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention (STARS) program, which aids in recruiting and retaining faculty by funding research equipment and facilities.

“This ultimately will enrich the learning experiences for new generations of Lumberjacks and also produce expanded opportunities for faculty,” Alders said. “Today is perhaps the greatest day in the last 100 years to be a Lumberjack.”