‘Push the boundaries.’ Here’s how officials want UTA, Arlington to grow together

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Arlington councilmembers wanted to know what Teik Lim, UT Arlington interim president, had in mind for campus improvements and collaboration with city government.

Andrew Piel, District 4 councilmember, described the campus nestled in downtown Arlington as the city’s “single most important economic engine.”

“Let’s kind of push the boundaries, let’s see how much harder and closer we can work together,” Piel said.

Officials did not have to press Lim to get a few of his ideas.

Lim said he would like to build a research park resembling Klyde Warren Park in Dallas. The university achieved Texas Tier One status, a prestigious distinction that opens the institution to more research funding. The university also holds the highest designation from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Lim said the university also has first-class research facilities.

“There is no cluster we can call a research park or research entity,” Lim said Tuesday afternoon.

Lim added he would like to update the university’s master plan. UTA’s previous plan informed campus development and design from 2005 to 2020. UTA’s athletics department is crafting a master plan to inform west campus growth.

Lim said he would also like to see future developments better connect the university’s east and west campuses. Bisected by Cooper Street, the campus is connected by walkways over the major roadway that students do not use. Lim said he would like to see a tunnel or building that expands over Cooper Street, making it easier for students to navigate the campuses.

Councilmembers had their own suggestions.

District 7 councilmember Victoria Farrar-Myers said she would like to see UTA leadership consider beautifying the bridges over Cooper Street along with improvements to facilities along Main Street.

Ruby Faye Woolridge, District 6 councilmember, said she would like the university to partner with the city to find ways to address city housing needs, including needs of people who are homeless.

“Housing is a challenge at every economic level at our city,” Woolridge said.

Barbara Odom-Wesley, District 8 councilmember, said she would like UTA and the city to collaborate on expanding healthcare access to residents. Lim said the university’s social work and nursing programs require students to complete internships, and some do so with Arlington-area institutions. Lim said he saw room for more partnerships.

The Arlington Tomorrow Foundation, the city’s quasi-governmental grant program, awarded the school of social work and nursing $1 million for the UTA’s planned social work and “smart-house” building. The 150,000 square-foot building will allow social work and nursing students to collaborate.

President search

UT Arlington is in the early stages of selecting a permanent president to replace Vistasp Karbhari, who stepped down as president in March 2020 amid allegations he created a culture of bullying and retaliation. A UT System audit alleged UTA senior officials violated UT System and state codes to grow enrollment.

Officials paused the search for a permanent replacement during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lim has been UTA’s top administrator since early 2020.

Mayor Jim Ross described Lim as a “caged, very happy racehorse” who has the energy to effect change, but not necessarily the jurisdiction as a temporary president.

“Here’s what I mean,” Ross said. “He’s ready to run and he’s a visionary who wants to do a lot of really cool things with UTA. But as the interim president, he’s in a position where he has to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.”

Lim, who has served since 2017 as UTA’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, said his successor will continue the conversation with the city.

“Whatever happens in the search here, I know the university’s going to march forward and the university’s going to continue to work with the city of Arlington,” he said.

The university is Arlington’s second largest employer behind the Arlington school district and produces $17.1 billion in economic impact to the region, according to the university and city websites.

Several recent reports from city government employees and councilmembers mention collaboration with UTA as key to future development. The city’s South Cooper Street Corridor Strategy envisions part of the 13-mile stretch as a business innovation center. Several recommendations from the city’s Unity Council Report list working with UTA among nearly 60 recommendations.

“I can tell council with all confidence in the world that Dr. Lim’s vision and passion for UTA I think mirrors what we would like to see going on here in the city,” Ross said.

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