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Letters to the University Community March Update 2010

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

Hope your semester is going well. I know you are busy with your daily routine, but please remember to find time to celebrate our successes. What you do individually is critical to what UH does collectively.

Below is a quick update on issues of importance to all of us. If you have questions about any of these items, please do not hesitate to ask the appropriate vice president.

State’s Economy and Budget Reduction: Our state’s economy, while stronger than most, continues to show signs of weakness, which makes the impending 5% budget reduction called by the state almost certain. Provost Antel and Executive VP Carlucci have worked with deans and the Faculty Senate in submitting our budget reduction plan to the state. It is important to be strategic in our approach and that we only make targeted cuts. I am asking that we start implementing immediately the cost-cutting measures in the plan. Should the economy improve and the state spares us from cuts, we can always reinvest the pooled funds toward university priorities.

Faculty/Staff Salary Raises: Retention of talent - in classrooms, research labs, and offices - is critical to our future. We all understand that economic conditions are poor this year, but we also know that no raises were awarded last year. Therefore, salary raises based on performance is our priority in this year’s budget planning.

Student Success: Student success is a university priority. The US News and World Report ranks us low on undergraduate education. We can question the survey’s assumptions and methodology, but we have to admit that our 6-year graduation rate – 42% – is very low. According to national surveys, the expected graduation rate at our peer universities - those with similar missions and demographics - is 55%. To close this gap, the Provost and the Faculty Senate have undertaken many academic initiatives. Below is a nine-point plan that complements those ongoing initiatives.

1.      Offer an exceptional living/learning experience for our students – the goal is to have 25% of students live on campus.

2.      Offer exciting and relevant educational programs that expose students to three unique experiences - global, research, and service-learning.

3.      Realign admission standards to ensure that entering students are academically prepared to succeed.

4.      Recruit competitively through TierOne Scholarships – the goal is to build a $14 million fund for this purpose.

5.      Keep opportunities open for low-income families – our Cougar Promise program now guarantees free education to students with annual family incomes of $45,000 or less.

6.      Offer incentives to graduate – our Cougar Pledge program allows students to keep their tuition the same for four years as long as they stay on track for graduation.

7.      Build nationally competitive athletics programs.

8.      Expand opportunities for honors programs in departments and colleges, as well as expand The Honors College.

9.      Instill a culture of excellence in student support and services that promotes student success.

Tier One Funding: The Constitutional Amendment approved by voters in November set aside a pool of funds for emerging research universities, as long as they meet certain criteria. Three of these seven criteria are yet to be defined by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Our priority is to meet the necessary criteria as soon as possible and access the designated funds.

Campus Facilities: We are transforming the physical space on campus. Approximately 3.4 million sq. ft. of space - including the Energy Research Park - is either under construction or renovation. This ambitious $500 million undertaking is mostly financed by bonds and private philanthropy. New projects include classroom buildings, research and lab buildings, parking garages, and residence halls.

METRO: We continue to work with METRO to enhance public transportation choices for our students, staff, and faculty. Construction of the Southeast Line rail has already started on Wheeler Avenue, where relocation of utilities has begun, and we hope to sort out the details of the University Line very soon. METRO officials made a presentation to the UH community two weeks ago. Nearly 150 people attended. Many questions, however, still remain unanswered and many issues still remain unresolved.

Red Fridays: Thank you for wearing red on Fridays! It is awesome to see more and more red items - from polo shirts and ties, to scarves and hoodies - worn by students, staff and faculty. And Red Fridays is extending beyond our campus borders. Alumni and community friends throughout the city have picked up the trend and are now wearing red on Fridays to show their support for UH.

Follow me on Twitter: You can follow me on Twitter under UHpres if you care to know what I am doing or thinking.

Let me conclude by saying it is really heart-warming to receive the news of our faculty and student achievements almost every day. I know you work hard and accomplish great things under very difficult circumstances. You are the reason why I have so much confidence in reaching our Tier One goal. Thank you.    

Renu Khator