UNT regents fire president of Fort Worth center, citing 'disruptive' opposition to merger talks

Posted Friday, Dec. 21, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH - The president of the University of North Texas Health Science Center was fired Friday after regents accused him of sowing "internal discord" by opposing a possible merger of the Fort Worth center and the main university campus in Denton.

"Instead of allowing this study to proceed in a thoughtful and objective way, we discovered that you were conducting a personal campaign to stop any serious internal consideration of this issue," regents for the University of North Texas System told Dr. Scott Ransom in a letter dated Tuesday.

The Health Science Center, which has its main campus on Camp Bowie Boulevard in Fort Worth, is affiliated with UNT but operates as an independent campus.

In August, UNT Chancellor Lee F. Jackson announced that a 90-day study would evaluate the pros and cons of combining the center and UNT under the same academic umbrella, a model that he said would benefit research.

The center, which sits on 33 acres, has long been a point of pride in Fort Worth. Even after a merger, the science center would stay in Fort Worth, where it has been since 1970.

But community leaders worried that a merger would force the center to cede too much control and autonomy to officials in Denton.

Last month, Jackson tabled further discussions, saying only that because of "other priorities, now is not the best time to pursue this proposal."

Publicly, at least, Ransom had expressed support for the study.

"With a continued commitment to expand our programs, our enrollment, and our research in Fort Worth, we look forward to evaluating the possibilities," he said in an August news release.

But in the Tuesday letter, regents said the president was behaving differently in private. They described his actions as "acute and disruptive."

"Our concerns about your behavior have nothing to do with the substance of whether the idea of a merger is a good one or not, but instead we are concerned that the internal discord you created actively undermined the ability of the UNT System to conduct a fair and objective examination of this topic that is so important to many of our peer institutions in Texas," states the letter, which was signed by board chairman Jack Wall, a resident of Dallas who grew up in Fort Worth.

Ransom, who had led the center since 2006, didn't respond to reporters as he left a meeting room minutes after the regents' 7-0 vote.

Dr. Michael R. Williams, a former member of the board of regents, was named interm president.

"I'm happy to be here," said Williams, a native of North Texas and graduate of the center's Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. "It's an exciting time to have an opportunity to give back to my community."

The letter delivered to Ransom began by saying: "Over the past six years, the University of North Texas System Board of Regents and Chancellor Lee F. Jackson have expressed concerns about aspects of your conduct and leadership style, always with the belief that these aspects of your performance would improve and that you would succeed despite these challenges."

In September, Ransom's contract was extended through Aug. 31, 2015.

The merger talks also stirred concerns among members of the UNT Health Science Center Foundation Board, a fund-raising arm for the institution. Several members attended Friday's meeting to show their support for Ransom.

"It's an extreme disappointment," said Allan Howeth, foundation chairman. "He's been a very capable and dynamic leader for the UNT Health Science Center."

Howeth and other supporters said they worried that the move would hurt Fort Worth's effort to become a destination center for health-related fields. They also worried that the move would not sit well with lawmakers who must OK efforts to create an M.D. program at the center, which currently has an osteopathic medical school.

With the merger study off the table, the University of North Texas System renewed its focus on obtaining the M.D. program and top research status for the flagship campus in Denton.

Jackson said that while Ransom's termination might cause some setbacks in the quest for a medical school, the shift in leadership may bring new opportunities.

Establishing strong ties and gaining the support of Fort Worth's osteopathic medical community will be keys to pursuing the M.D. program, Jackson said.

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