Faculty and Staff Update
January 26, 2015
Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed some well-deserved rest during the holidays. I wish you the very best in your personal and professional lives. Given that oil prices are dropping and the biennial session of our Texas Legislature is underway, we are guaranteed to have a busy and challenging year. I’m confident we will work through it and keep our momentum. Here are a few updates that should be of interest to you.
Challenges to Houston Economy
The continuing drop in oil prices is starting to test Houston’s economy. Of course, no one expects the history of the 1980s will be repeated because Houston has a significantly more diverse economy today. Experts tell us it should be a relatively short period of depressed oil prices. Nonetheless, the oil and gas markets have caused concern locally and globally. It is possible the state budget may be impacted adversely, but it is too early to say anything. Here at the Energy University, we are following the trends carefully.
We have submitted our priorities and requests to the Legislature and I, along with our UH System Board of Regents members, have personally visited most of the Houston delegation members. Our agenda is a simple and defensible one, calling for fair and equitable distribution of resources. Our top priorities for the University of Houston are:
- Full funding for new students. In response to state’s call to close the achievement gaps, we have grown in enrollment and now it is critical that we receive full funding for new and existing students from the legislature in order to fulfill the goal.
- Performance-based funding. We are fully in favor of a performance-based funding model; however, we ask for two things: (1) that institutional history and missions be taken into consideration; and (2) that the model encourages institutions for improved behavior rather than punish them for their historical trends. A redistribution of resources produces winners and losers, but a withholding of resources until performance is proven encourages positive behavior. The University of Houston has made tremendous strides in raising the graduation rate and while we are not where we should be because of historical trends, we believe that we should be rewarded, not punished, for the efforts.
- Equity funding for Pharmacy Program. Our Pharmacy program, despite having the same curriculum and certification as others in the state, is funded at half the level for each FTE than other programs in the state simply because ours is not organized as a Health Science program.
- Funding to build a Health and Biomedical Sciences II building. Despite a large increase in enrollment, we have not received any construction funds since 2006. Of course, the same holds true for all state universities, and we are all requesting that TRBs (Tuition Revenue Bonds) be funded this year. We have a good, experienced team working for us: Jason Smith as our Vice President for Governmental and Community Relations; Darrin Hall as our liaison for local and federal priorities; and Robert Miller (Locke Lord LLP) as our external consultant. But no one can bring the same passion and expertise each of you has for the issues that directly involve you. So, we plan to keep you engaged in our legislative endeavors. Finally, we will be celebrating UH Day at the Capital (the day when we paint Austin red!) on Feb. 23. To play an active role in this important event, please contact VP Smith or the Faculty Senate.
Faculty/ Staff Compensation
I know compensation is a matter of great importance to everyone. We have reserved funding for a salary increase to be approved by the Board in the new budget, with the details and method of distribution still to be determined. Provost Short has been working with a compensation committee to formulate a long-term strategy focusing on faculty, intended to inform and guide us in the future. As an immediate issue, we need to find the best method of executing raises for both faculty and staff based on performance/merit. In the past, we have tried several different distribution models, and all seem to have pros and cons. I invite you to tell us if you have any thoughts about how we could distribute raises based on performance/merit. For instance, should the distribution be left in the hands of departments, colleges and divisions, or should we have central guidelines? Should the salary increase be based on one year’s performance or more? Should there be a limit of percentage increase or absolute dollars or none? Please share your thoughts with me, Provost Short or the compensation committee as you find convenient.
UH Health Initiative
A planning committee is hard at work in developing new health programs to serve the needs of the community and this includes plans for a medical school. I strongly believe we should not have a medical school just for the prestige of having one. There is only one reason we are in conversations about a medical school: people in the community feel that, given the vast amount of assets already at UH, we should be exploring ways to meet the needs of primary care physicians who would serve in community-based clinics. In the last few months, we have reviewed the data, and there appears to be a compelling case for this. We continue to seriously consider this mission and explore the possibilities. If you are interested in this initiative, please reach out to Dr. Earl Smith, who serves as our Interim Chief Health Officer.
Global Campus Initiative
Dr. Jeff Morgan and his team continue to explore a model that will allow the University of Houston to play a bigger role in the global arena. According to the data I have seen, a vast majority of our students take at least one online course and those who are enrolled in online courses are taking a higher credit load and consequently progressing faster toward completing their degrees. While UH offers a huge selection of online courses, there are few complete online degrees available. In the coming months, we will be looking to offer a complete virtual campus – but it will have to be a unique and relevant model. If you are interested in this initiative, please get involved with Dr. Morgan in the Provost’s Office.
College of the Arts
The first-year funding to establish the College of the Arts has already been approved. This initiative should come to fruition in the next few months.
UH Sugar Land
Many thanks to the Sugar Land Taskforce, which has completed a very difficult goal of designing a strategy that would allow UHV to grow as a self-sustaining campus while allowing UH Sugar Land to find its own identity as a branch campus of UH. We will continue to implement the recommendations of the Taskforce this year, which will mean a stronger set of offerings from UH in Sugar Land. Meanwhile, we have included a TRB request to start expanding our presence in Katy.
I hope you watched – in person or on television – one of the most exciting football games ever, with our Cougars and the University of Pittsburgh Panthers meeting in the Armed Forces Bowl. This game, which we won 35-34 in the closing minutes after a 25-point rally, has been labeled as the third biggest comeback in the history of bowl games. You have probably followed the hiring of our new football coach, Tom Herman. Now we have several valuable pieces in play for a nationally competitive athletics program—new football stadium, nationally acclaimed football coach, nationally recognized basketball coach, a #7 ranked baseball team and a nationally ranked golf team among others. The renovation of the basketball arena is the last remaining piece in gaining national credibility. On behalf of athletics, I thank you for your support in accomplishing this goal. At this point, the Athletics Program is ready to compete and bring in additional revenue on its own. We have 17 teams, and they would love to have you as their fans, so please support those sports closest to your heart. We have emphasized academic performance of our student athletes as a top priority, so I am pleased their latest academic results are the best we’ve seen so far, with 11 sports programs posting a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better. We can, of course, do even better, and I will keep pushing our Athletics staff to stay focused on the academics.
I hope you find these updates informative. I wish you a most wonderful year. Your individual successes make our collective success possible, so thank you for everything you do every day. Because of you, I feel privileged to be a part of the University of Houston!
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