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Welcome Back, Faculty and Staff

January 17, 2019

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Another spring semester is underway, and I’m delighted to welcome you back from what I hope was a wonderful winter break. I’m invigorated by the enthusiasm, intelligence and dedication I see around me everywhere on campus. You continue to improve our University every day and, for that, I thank you all.

Now, here is a rundown of items of interest as we move eagerly into 2019.  

Legislative Session: The 86th session of the Texas Legislature has convened and, as a state-funded and state-governed university, we are not just passive observers, but active participants in many of these activities. I have already appeared in Austin to give testimony at a preliminary budget hearing. This session, we will be focusing on stable base formula funding, urging the legislature to return to the level we enjoyed prior to the severe cuts that began in 2013. We will also be requesting funding for the growing costs of the Hazlewood program. In addition, we are seeking the restoration of non-formula funding support, an increase in TEXAS grants for financial aid and recompense for Hurricane Harvey expenses not covered by FEMA and insurance funds. 

Along with those general funding issues, we will be making a number of specific requests, most notably:  

  • $20 million in exceptional item funding for the next biennium (and another $20 million over the following 10 years) for the UH College of Medicine 
  • $60 million to support the construction of a five-story, 170,000-square-foot academic building to house the UH Law Center

For additional information, please see the Legislative Agenda. On February 12, we will be organizing UH Day at the Capitol by bringing students and alumni to our state capitol to help illustrate the value of the University of Houston for the state’s economy and to inform decision makers about our legislative priorities. If you can and would like to join us, please let Vice Chancellor of Governmental Relations Jason Smith know.
Transformational Gifts: The University is also supported in large part by the generosity of donors and benefactors. The success of our ongoing “Here, We Go Again” campaign certainly shows that. We appreciate all of the many gifts bestowed upon us, and here are some notable multi-million gifts from the last quarter.  

  1. Two of our outstanding alums and friends – Andy and Andrea Diamond – have donated $17 million to create the extraordinary Diamond Family Scholars Program, which will offer financial, academic, mentoring and other support for college students who are aging out of the foster care system. 
  2. Humana, the prominent insurance company and health care provider, contributed $15 million (over 10 years) to establish the Humana Integrated Health System Sciences Institute at UH, which will work with the Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Social Work and Optometry to enhance the training of health care professionals. 
  3. Hewlett Packard Enterprise made a $10 million gift to partner with UH and expand our Data Science Institute. The resulting HPE Data Science Institute allows HPE experts to serve as lecturers for UH classes and UH researchers to help to solve complex problems for HPE customers. 
  4. Finally, we have renamed an engineering building the Durga D. and Sushila Agrawal Engineering Research Building in recognition of a substantial gift from UHS Regent Agrawal and his wife Sushila that provides support for faculty, students, research and building operations. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to all involved for such enlightened philanthropy.
Budget Transparency: In order to link funding to priorities and productivity we have embarked upon a budget transparency exercise. This exercise is envisioned in three phases: Phase One will look into state and tuition dollars; Phase Two will look into research dollars and Phase Three will review administrative services and support. For Phase One, Provost Paula Myrick Short and Senior Vice Chancellor Jim McShan are co-chairing a committee whose task is to develop a funding model that is transparent, accountable and rewards academic units for productivity based on enrollment and quality. One Steering Committee and two subcommittees involving many faculty and administrators have started their deliberations. This is a challenging task but one that is necessary to make budget decisions transparent. If nothing else, my hope is that the exercise will force us to learn more about University budgeting and to become more strategic and intentional in our decision-making. As the work progresses, you will hear more from the provost.

SACS Accreditation: Congratulations to Provost Short, SACS Self Study leaders and indeed to all of us for getting UH reaccredited for the full 10 years by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission. Many of you labored long and hard to make sure we retained this key academic endorsement, and I applaud your diligence and dedication.

50 in 5 – Next Steps: Provost Short and Vice President for Research and Technology Transfer Amr Elnashai launched the “UH Preeminence: 50 in 5 Initiative” with three open forums last semester, including one sponsored by the Faculty Senate. It is my understanding that Deans, working with department chairs and faculty, have developed plans for increasing faculty support and output. Colleges have also updated their success measures to include scholarly outputs. During the spring semester, additional open sessions are planned to encourage dialogue and discussions, including workshops focused on tactics for increasing citations, effective proposal-writing, Dos and Don’ts for National Center proposals and strategies for increasing research impact. If you have any questions or need more information, please contact the Provost or VP Elnashai.

Executive Leadership: Congratulations to Dr. Michael Twa, who has been named dean of the College of Optometry. Following approval by the UHS Board of Regents, Dean Twa will join the school in June. He comes to us from the University of Alabama at Birmingham where he served as associate dean for research and graduate studies for the School of Optometry.   

In addition, we are now conducting a search for the AVC/AVP for Human Resources, with Senior AVC/AVP Raymond Bartlett overseeing the search committee. Finally, Lisa Holdeman has been promoted to Vice Chancellor and Vice President for Marketing and Communications. Holdeman, who was serving as associate vice chancellor/vice president, has been overseeing our popular “Powerhouse” promotional campaign and is the chief communications officer for the University and system.

Central Management of Classrooms: Beginning in Fall 2019, all classroom space will be centrally managed keeping in mind student needs, faculty convenience and space utilization. A study of classroom usage conducted last year revealed that we may not need to build additional classrooms if we can improve our management. Subsequently, I had asked Provost Short and VP McShan to prepare a plan that will improve utilization while keeping in mind two principles: (1) students, especially freshmen, don’t have long walks to their classes and (2) faculty can stay as close to their offices as possible. The time to take on this challenge is now because we have an opportunity to designate Old Science Building as instructional space if the shortage is accurate and cannot be corrected by other means. To accomplish this task, a draft MAPP policy has been developed by a faculty-administrator committee and is ready for review by the campus. This MAPP outlines the governance structure to manage space utilization as well as the principles to follow in doing so. Faculty and deans have been involved in the process and, upon completion, the policy will go in to effect this August. If you have any questions, please address them to the provost. Let’s make sure that we do this right and do it in a manner that improves student learning outcomes.

UH College of Medicine: Since regular updates are sent out by Founding Dean Stephen Spann and posted on the website, I will only highlight the important markers: LCME application will be submitted by April 1, the campus outpatient clinic is expected to open that same month, and medical residencies in partnership with HCA Houston Healthcare will begin in July. Please know that nearly 7,000 alumni have sent letters to legislators asking them to support our Medical School as well as other requests.

Campus Safety: Maintaining a safe campus has been and continues to be my top priority. Although the recent robberies have been troubling, the response by UH Police Department Chief Ceaser Moore has been assertive, timely and reassuring. Please review this video and message from the Chief.

Athletics: What an exciting time it is for Cougar athletics! We have just hired an outstanding new Head Coach for the football team, Dana Holgorsen, who comes to us with a great track record and home-grown passion. UH fans will recall that Holgorsen previously coached here, serving as offensive coordinator a decade ago when our talented quarterback Case Keenum was setting national passing records. In case you are wondering about the impact of this investment on university’s budget, let me remind you that the University’s support to athletics has been frozen for a few years now,  which means that any increases in salary and support to athletic programs comes from donors, fans and other auxiliary activities like facility rental, etc. 

Meanwhile, the basketball team under Coach Kelvin Sampson has been grabbing its own headlines with a well-deserved national ranking and the longest active home court winning streak in the country. What a remarkable way to inaugurate Fertitta Center, the spectacularly renovated basketball arena. If you have not seen the center yet, may I suggest that you attend a game just to see how fast a first-rate facility can transform a team. 

Wishing you health, happiness and success in 2019! 

With warm regards,
Renu Khator