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Faculty and Staff Update

December 06, 2016

Dear Faculty and Staff,

As the fall term and calendar year draw to a close, I hope this has been a rewarding experience for you, and that you will find time to enjoy the upcoming festivities. In a few days, some of our colleges will hold convocations to celebrate the success of 3,227 students who have completed all the requirements for their degrees. Their degrees will be conferred in the UH General Commencement graduation ceremony in May of 2017. Please know that their success is your success and their celebration is the celebration of your dedicated work at the University of Houston.

With this email, I wanted to bring some other important issues to your attention.

Legislative Session: The 85th Legislative Session will begin January 10, 2017, and it is anticipated to be a difficult one. In preparation for the session, which includes our biennium budget, we were asked by the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker to assume a 4 percent reduction. In addition, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has given notice to all universities that he would not approve any additional state-funded personnel hiring during the interim and allow the Legislature to make that determination during the upcoming legislative session. It will be upon us to convince the legislative and executive leadership of the value of our work and the need for their investment in us. Our first priority will be to get the 4 percent reduction of funds restored.

We will also be asking the Legislature to fund enrollment growth and the unfunded costs accrued due to Hazelwood exemptions, which cost the UH System $13 million in FY 2016. The request to receive equity in the funding of Pharmacy and Nursing students is another priority that we will take to the Legislature.

In January, Vice Chancellor Jason Smith will provide a detailed agenda about the University priorities and begin issuing timely updates regarding the status of legislative activity affecting our items.

Latest on UH Health: As you know, we have been planning to offer a Doctor of Medicine degree at the University of Houston focused on primary care with special emphasis on mental and behavioral health issues. The goal is to prepare physicians who will be passionate about population health leading to preventive care in community-based clinics and who will continue to serve their communities with their skills.

To prepare a business plan for the College of Medicine that would host the proposed degree, Dr. Steven Spann sought the help of experts. But I also did my own independent homework and called the presidents of several universities where new medical colleges have been recently established, and they shared the following four insights with me.

  1. If not protected properly, a medical college can become a drain on an institution’s existing resources. With this in mind, we have planned to keep our medical college’s budget totally separate from the University’s budget. The firewall between the two will ensure that undergraduate students do not bear the cost of the medical college and that existing units are not taxed for this purpose.
  2. All institutions hosting a medical training program must aspire to become a center of excellence in at least one or two areas of medical research. Consistent with our mission, our aspiration will be to excel in research that works toward eliminating health disparities and helps us understand social and cultural determinants of health.
  3. The budget of the medical college should be consistent with its mission. Our draft business plan calls for a $54 million annual operating budget, which is comparable to the budgets of other similarly focused medical schools in their full maturity. At the $54 million level, the budget of the College of Medicine will neither be the largest nor the smallest at the University of Houston.
  4. The medical college will take many years to build its own research portfolio, but it will position other colleges to experience an immediate positive impact on their research. With this in mind, I am asking that at least 25 percent of the faculty in the College of Medicine should have joint/affiliate appointments in other colleges.

We intend to move with caution and take our time planning the right product. Needless to say, this is an ambitious undertaking for the University, and it is not possible without your active engagement and constructive advice. If you ever have any questions or seek updates on this issue, please contact Dr. Spann.

Neighborhood Initiatives: We are making encouraging progress on our far-reaching project to help the Third Ward revitalize itself. We are the tools of transformation; the transformative leadership is coming from within the Third Ward. Along with helping six public schools in the area, we have now taken the commitment to help create 25 new small businesses during the next five years. Toward fulfilling this goal, the Bauer College of Business has already launched its Stimulating Urban Renewal through Entrepreneurship (SURE) program, which is now training its first cohort of potential business owners from the Third Ward.

Please allow me to remind you that the foundation of the Neighborhood Initiatives program is the work that you have already done, and continue to do, in the neighborhood through your engagement and research. You are touching lives and making a difference. Dr. Elwyn Lee shall be providing you with regular updates on our activities and progress on this particular initiative; however, you can always contact him directly for further information.

Executive Searches: The search for the Vice President and Vice Chancellor for Research and Technology Transfer has concluded and an announcement is planned later this week. We have also recently announced the appointment of Dr. Antonio Tillis as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. Additionally, Dr. Juan Sanchez Muñoz has just been selected as the sole finalist to be the next president of the University of Houston-Downtown. And I have also announced the search committee for the University of Houston-Clear Lake President position. The hard work and commitment of our various search committee members who are helping identify talented and productive candidates to fill these important positions is greatly appreciated.

Athletics: What a year it has been! We won against Oklahoma and Louisville and lost against SMU and Memphis. We lost our football coach but made ourselves a national brand in the process. Who would have thought that UH would be lauded in the New York Times Sports section for its tenacity to progress against all odds? Yes, the element that creates magic is not with anyone else, but within us!

For the fourth year in a row, the UH football team will participate in a bowl game, this year in the Las Vegas Bowl against San Diego State at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 17. Our Athletics Director Hunter Yurachek and I look forward to naming a new head football coach soon. I am confident we will find the right individual to lead our athletes, leverage the richest recruiting grounds in the country, and continue to create more magic. Go, Coogs!

Our basketball season tipped off recently, and Head Coach Kelvin Sampson has the team playing with passion and precision. This is the last season in Hofheinz Pavilion so come and live what is soon to become the nostalgia. After the last game is played, we will begin a massive, $60 million makeover of the arena, transforming it into our magnificent new Fertitta Center.

I also want to applaud the Men’s and Women’s Track & Field teams, which have been invited to compete as the USA Team at the 2017 Summer World University Games August 19-30, 2017 in Taipei City, Taiwan. Congratulations to Head Coach Leroy Burrell and all the Cougar athletes who will be representing UH in the international spotlight.

Campus Safety: The safety and security of everyone attending or visiting our campus is a top priority and we continue to use our resources to best advantage and improve procedures at every opportunity. We have increased the security personnel and have installed more cameras, but in the end, a crucial factor in protecting our University is you – your involvement and your own preparation. Please keep yourself informed and alert by regularly visiting the CougarSAFE site.

I wish you and your loved ones a very happy holiday season! Get some rest and enjoy the company of your friends and family.

With warm regards,
Renu Khator
Renu Khator
President