University of Houston President Renu Khator’s Investiture Speech
An investiture is never about an individual It is about a moment in history. In our case, it is about this moment — the moment when we celebrate our past, examine our present and envision our future.
Just as my personal journey has been shaped by many mentors and many forces, the journey of the University of Houston has also been shaped by many visionaries, and today is the time to salute them.
The University of Houston was born in 1927 from the dream of a small group of civic leaders who saw the need to provide higher education locally to working men and women of Houston, and their sons and daughters — those who could not afford to go to college out of town or out of state, but who nevertheless wanted an education at par with the best in the world.
The dream started with a public two-year college and evolved into a private four-year university just seven years later.
I would like to take you to a day in 1936 when Mr. Hugh Roy Cullen, who himself never attended college, picked up a brochure titled "A Typical Student's Daily Program."
The brochure outlined a day in the life of a young student who got up at 5:30 every morning and, dressed in a dark suit and hat, took the 7:18 a.m. Southmore bus to his job downtown. He would eat his 29-cent lunch at Walgreens, work until 5, and ride another bus for his night classes at the University of Houston — then holding classes in loaned spaces in churches and high schools. He would finally head home around 9:30 p.m., and study before going to sleep around midnight.
"That's the kind of person I would like to help," said Mr. Cullen. His enthusiasm led to the first in a series of many gifts that literally created the University of Houston as we know it today.
Mr. Cullen's family continues the legacy of service and philanthropy to this day, and they are joined by many others whose generosity is the reason we are here today.
In the 1940s and '50s, the university found its broader mission. It welcomed thousands of World War II veterans under the G.I. Bill and expanded to serve 13,000 students, charging tuition of $20 per credit hour. That may sound low by today's standards, but it was six times higher than what public universities charged at the time.
In the 1960s, the University of Houston became a public university and enrolled its first African American student — both achievements attributed directly to President Philip G. Hoffman's vision and leadership.
Over the next two decades, the growth continued — people, buildings, research, and also the aspirations and dreams of our students.
Guided by its mission to provide access, the University of Houston expanded its offerings throughout the region and eventually grew into a premier system of higher education, adding universities in Clear Lake, Downtown and Victoria — all in a brief two-year span from 1973 to 1974.
In recent years, the UH System expanded its footprint further and started to offer courses in Sugar Land, Cinco Ranch and Pearland. Meanwhile, the University of Houston central campus transformed itself into one of America's top 100 public research universities.
We stand here today, on Nov. 7, 2008, looking at the next chapter of this incredible journey. Who we are today and what we are made of — our values and character — will define what we become tomorrow.
We are, first and foremost, a place where learning is as natural as breathing, where discoveries happen daily, and where community advancement takes on a new meaning. We are Houston's university. And here's what we contribute to the city and the region:
- We make an incredible $3.1 billion impact on the regional economy every year.
- We add 8,000 skilled graduates to the workforce annually.
- We are recognized as one of the most diverse universities in the country.
- I challenge you to spend one day in Houston without coming in contact with a Cougar. It is impossible, because Cougars are everywhere — from corporate headquarters to teaching in our schools. They are in our hospitals, in our performance halls, writing our newspapers and fueling our energy sector. Cougars are shaping and building our economy and our future.
- We are also a university with a global dimension:
- We serve 3,174 students from 136 countries, making us the 29th ranked university in the United States in number of international students.
- We are home to the finest faculty in the world, including Nobel Laureates, Tony Award winners, and members of the prestigious National Academies, including Dr. Neal Amundson, who has the rare honor of being a member of three.
- Every third day, our faculty publish a new book.
- Our programs are consistently ranked among the very best in the nation and in the world.
- Our students have won more than 80 Olympic medals.
- And our educational presence touches students in almost every continent of the world — in Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America.
- Excellence in faculty
- Excellence in research and creative capacity
- Excellence in educational programs and learning environment
- Excellence in our partnership with the community
- a larger and more skilled workforce
- an empowered community
- better-prepared corporate and community leaders
- a strong and stable regional economy
- a competitively educated state population
- true global reach and impact.
This is the University of Houston — a university that is part and parcel of this spectacular city and this entrepreneurial state. However, this is not the end of the story. Our next chapter is yet to be written. What will that be?
No matter what we write together, one thing is certain …this new chapter will be big and bold. I have a well-known quotation on my desk which reads, "Make no small plans, for they have no power to stir the soul."
Well, it is time for the University of Houston to stir the soul of higher education in Texas and the nation.
Our nation faces two significant challenges in higher education: affordable access and continued creativity. We know that a vast number of students are not graduating from college. Some do not even begin the journey because they do not believe they can. Others believe they can, but never take the first step. And, yet, there are those who start, but never finish.
No matter what the underlying cause may be, the outcome remains the same — we, as a society, are the losers. We lose the intellectual power necessary to transform our collective future.
I will not talk about the alarming statistics or the disturbing patterns. Suffice to say that we, as a nation, are fast losing our competitiveness in the field of higher education.
To keep America as a leader in the global economy, to keep Texas competitive, and to keep Houston at the cutting edge, it is essential that we make higher education accessible and affordable.
In today's world, where knowledge is power and innovation is the currency of progress, a college education is not a luxury, but a necessity.
We at the University of Houston acknowledge this challenge and thus declare that our first priority is Student Success. We pledge that as a system of higher education, we will provide access to students from all backgrounds, living in any part of the region and the state, and having any level of educational aspirations. We pledge that their educational experience will be top-tier, and their training will be globally competitive.
Our students will interact with all ethnic groups and nationalities, and learn the skills to lead in the global market place. They will be proud of their heritage, yet respect other cultures. They will be leaders, yet have the courage to be led by others ideas. Today, we dedicate this Investiture to our students and their dreams and pledge to raise $100 million toward the goal of student success.
Hurricane Ike forced us to reschedule today's ceremony, which originally included a Scholarship Event, but it changed neither our resolve nor the generosity of our donors, alumni and friends who raised an amount for scholarships unprecedented for a single event in the history of the University of Houston …$One million! Please recognize our alumni and friends for this wonderful show of confidence.
Providing access and opportunity to a large number of students is a laudable goal, but we cannot stop there. To generate intellectual capital, universities must foster and develop new ideas, new discoveries and new knowledge. This is where research universities make a significant global contribution — and they do so across all disciplines — in the humanities, social sciences, arts, education, law, business and, of course, science and engineering.
Commercialization of research and application of knowledge are the tangible outcomes of this endeavor, and we will pursue them. But great universities are great because of their intangible contributions. Their research has the capacity to shape our future 10, 50 and 100 years from now, and in ways we cannot even imagine today.
I salute all the philosophers, social scientists, architects and artists along with scientists and researchers who have made the University of Houston one of America's finest metropolitan universities!
We cannot rest on our laurels, though — there is still much we need to do. That brings me to our second pledge, and that is to make the University of Houston a nationally and internationally competitive research university.
During my 100-day solicitation of ideas, I clearly heard your aspirations for the University of Houston to be a top-tier university. We may use different terms to describe it — top tier, Tier One, or national research university, but they all have one underlying pathway. They all call for the pursuit of excellence!
Today, the faculty and staff of the University of Houston reaffirm their commitment to pursue excellence and thus obtain top-tier status. Four initiatives will serve as pathways to achieving this goal.
Our first initiative, and let me say it enthusiastically and energetically, is the "UH Energy Initiative." This initiative will bring together 70 of our finest faculty from eight colleges, 14 centers and institutes, and multiple disciplines to pursue the highest and the broadest level of energy research, including fossil fuels, bio-fuels, wind and solar.
Houston is the energy capital of the world, and with 3,600 energy companies in Texas, this is a strategic alignment that has numerous benefits for the state and the nation, and provides an opportunity for global impact.
The energy initiative will facilitate relationships with industry partners to understand their needs and grow our capacity to provide the workforce, the technologies and the business innovations needed by Houston not only to compete, but also to lead the energy industry globally.
I am pleased to announce the establishment of the Presidential Energy Advisory Board. In partnership with our faculty-led Energy Alliance, the board will guide the University of Houston's multi-million dollar investment in the field of energy and our desire to become the premier energy university in the nation.
The second initiative, the UH Health Initiative, builds on another of Houston's strengths — healthcare. Houston is home to the world's largest medical complex, the Texas Medical Center. We have many health-related research programs across the university, including science and engineering, social science and social work, and pharmacy and optometry. Our strength lies in the integration of these disciplines and at the intersection of engineering, basic sciences and social sciences, and the UH-Health Initiative promises to accomplish exactly that.
With this Initiative, we will expand our presence and our partnerships with Texas Medical Center institutions, filling gaps that currently exist and advancing strengths already in place. I am pleased to announce we are launching the UH Health initiative with the recruitment, in the next few weeks, of a mega cluster headed by a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Our third initiative — the "UH Arts Initiative" — is equally important to our future. The Arts Initiative will position the University of Houston as a world-class arts destination and as a national innovator in commissioning new work, employing and training thousands of artists, and sponsoring world class arts series.
One of the greatest advantages of living in Houston, as I have quickly learned, is the incredible depth and breadth of the arts. Houston's arts attract nearly 11 million people and generate $625 million in economic activity each year. And the arts here at the University of Houston are a big part of that success. We pledge to expand and strengthen our partnerships with area theatres, museums, performance venues and arts organizations.
Alongside, our faculty will strive for excellence in the liberal arts by pursuing a chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa.
These new initiatives complement our existing commitment to strengthen our centers of excellence, what I like to call our "star programs," many of which are ranked in the top 50, or 20, or five, or even No. 1 in the nation. These include entrepreneurship, health law, optometry, hotel and restaurant management, social work, psychology, chemical engineering, music, management and creative writing. Under the fourth initiative, the Star Initiative, we plan to make our stars shine even brighter.
The twin goals of student success and global competitiveness will have a multiplier effect on Houston and Texas. Our success will create:
To accomplish our objectives, our efforts will be going beyond the classroom. We will be building a stronger athletics program, more residence halls, a better stadium, a more vibrant student life and, yes, more parking! Strong athletics is essential to our future, and I am prepared to do everything in my power to help us achieve that goal.
How will this bold vision become a reality? It will take this entire community to build a great university. Your commitment and passion have the power to transform the University of Houston and make it a nationally and globally competitive university. To dream anything less is to shortchange our students, our region and our state.
In closing, let me read you a poem from Rabindranath Tagore, India's foremost poet and the first Asian to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature.
Tagore wrote this poem as the winds of independence and nationalism were beginning to stir in the land of my birth. Even though the topic is "nationhood," the poem inspires a vision that I believe applies to today's University of Houston
"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
"Where knowledge is free;
"Where words come out, from the depth of truth;
"Where tireless striving, stretches its arms towards perfection;
"Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way, into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
"Where the mind is led forward by thee, into ever-widening thought and action…
"Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake…"
Ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues… let the University of Houston awake!
Let us all be bold!
Let us begin to write the next chapter of the University of Houston, and let's do it together.
ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON SYSTEM
The University of Houston System is the state's only metropolitan higher education system, encompassing four universities and two multi-institution teaching centers. The universities are the University of Houston, a nationally recognized doctoral degree-granting, comprehensive research university; the University of Houston-Downtown, a four-year undergraduate university beginning limited expansion into graduate programs; and the University of Houston-Clear Lake and the University of Houston-Victoria, both upper division and master's-level institutions. The centers are the UH System at Sugar Land in Fort Bend and the UH System at Cinco Ranch. In addition, the UH System includes KUHF-FM, Houston's National Public Radio and classical radio station, and KUHT-TV, the nation's first educational television station.