AUSTIN (KXAN) – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation that abolishes Stephen F. Austin State University and effectively creates a new school within the University of Texas System. 

But that does not necessarily mean the university in Nacogdoches will get a new name, mascot or colors.

“When we were in the evaluative process, a lot of our constituents really wanted to know if we would be able to retain our identity in the form of our name, colors, mascots and traditions,” said Graham Garner, a university spokesperson. “[The University of Texas System] has worked really well with us to help us preserve the things that are important to us, and also to improve the things that we want to improve with their help.”

The SFA Board of Regents voted in November 2022 to accept the University of Texas system’s offer for affiliation. The decision was approved in an 8-1 vote with one member opposing, concerned that affiliating would lead to a name change, per KETK reporting.

“We don’t expect that. There isn’t any indication that that would be the case,” Garner continued. However, “we will, of course, adopt an additional line [stating we are] a member of the University of Texas System in all of the appropriate places.”

Next steps for the university

Before SFA officially becomes a University of Texas affiliate, Gina Oglesbee will become interim president Thursday until the UT System Board of Regents selects a permanent one. And because SFA is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the SACSCOC Board must approve the governance change, which will likely happen sometime in July.

SFA is currently one of only two independent public universities in Texas, the other being Texas Southern University in Houston. Once the new legislation goes into effect Sept. 1, — and the SACSCOC Board approves in July the governance transfer to the UT System Board of Regents — TSU will be the last independent public university in the state. 

Garner said last year the university had a change in institutional leadership. Since informal conversations about SFA becoming affiliated with a university system have happened over the years, the board of regents thought it was also a good time to explore the topic formally, Garner said.

Three other university systems – Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Texas State – made affiliation offers before the SFA Board of Regents accepted the University of Texas invitation. 

“The University of Texas System is one of the best and most well-known systems, not only in the nation but probably in the world,” Garner said.

Garner explained the new affiliation would increase the access to resources, grow the prestige and awareness of the institution and give them a more powerful voice to advocate for needs in the legislature. 

“So for us, it really just seems like a lot of positives,” he said.