Baylor College of Medicine and Rice University have ended 15 months of negotiations aimed at merging the two elite Houston schools.
The termination of the discussions, announced Tuesday in a joint statement by the schools’ presidents, comes as talk circulates in the Texas Medical Center that Baylor University has emerged as the Houston medical school’s new possible merger partner. The Waco university was the medical school’s parent institution before the two split 41 years ago.
Rice President David Leebron and Baylor College of Medicine President Dr. William Butler gave no reason for the talks ending in their statement.
“Since we signed a memorandum of understanding in March of 2009, we have been in extensive discussions in an attempt to meet several conditions that both institutions considered to be essential for a successful merger,” said the statement, which was e-mailed to campus faculty, staffs and students. “We joined in a thorough and deliberate process that explored the many benefits and challenges a merger would entail. With the MOU due to expire this month, the leadership of both institutions decided it is in the best interests of both BCM and Rice University to strengthen the existing relationship without a formal merger.”
The announcement came just four months after Leebron and Butler hinted a deal might by in place by the end of January. In a joint statement in September, they said that the negotiating period had been extended through Jan. 31 and pledged “to work hard to bring our discussions to a successful conclusion over the next four months.”
But Baylor was never able to resolve Rice’s two big concerns — the medical school’s shaky finances and lack of a private adult hospital for its clinical faculty. Butler announced in December that talks had fallen through to make St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital its partner again, some eight months after financial concerns prompted the school to shelve construction of its own hospital.
In the past few weeks, numerous sources have told the Chronicle that Baylor University, which retains some ties to the Houston medical school, has been making serious overtures to bring it back into the fold. The university’s chairman of the board of regents abruptly cancelled a scheduled interview with the Chronicle on Monday, following a meeting of the medical school’s trustees.
Drayton McLane, a Baylor College of Medicine trustee who used to chair the Waco university board of regents, confirmed late Tuesday that Baylor University is “in the mix,” but added that the BCM board is looking at “a lot of combinations” and called the effort “a work in progress.” He said he hopes more definitive plans will emerge by the board’s meeting on Jan. 27.
The medical school’s administration declined comment about Baylor University on Tuesday, but at the end of the day released an e-mail from Butler to the medical school community saying the school has been “exploring other possible collaborations that would ensure the continued success of the college in the future while maintaining our independence and importantly, our scientific and academic freedom.” Butler said he expects to be able to expand on that very soon.
“I know that we have all gone through a painfully prolonged period of uncertainty,” wrote Butler, “but I am confident that shortly we will have the organizational framework in place to give you the assurance we will control our destiny as an independent medical school.”
Under the terms of the 1968 split of Baylor College of Medicine and Baylor University, the Waco school continued to appoint a quarter of the medical college’s regents and got to approve any sale or merger. It was unclear Tuesday what role that authority played in the Rice discussions.
Sources said Baylor University offered the medical school more money and autonomy than Rice.
Baylor University has an endowment of $936 million, or slightly more than Baylor College of Medicine’s $874 million. Rice’s is $3.6 billion.
Baylor College of Medicine sought independence from Baylor University four decades ago because the Baptist General Convention of Texas was giving the medical school minuscule funding and expressing concern that BCM federal funding might violate its ideal of the separation of church and state; and because BCM could more easily attract Houston philanthropy on its own than as part of a Waco school.
Baylor University severed ties with the Baptist General Convention of Texas in 1991.
The leader of a Rice faculty movement opposed to the merger applauded the news.
“I have argued for many months now that the proposed Rice-BCM merger is ill advised,” said Moshe Vardi, a professor of computational engineering. “I am relieved to learn that the Rice administration has reached the same conclusion and I am also pleased to hear that there will be an increased emphasis on collaborations between Rice and BCM.”