Dear Faculty and Staff Colleagues
April 8, 2015
It is hard to believe that in five weeks, we will be completing yet another academic year. We will have a record number of graduates and a higher than ever college completion rate. Because of your dedicated work, the University of Houston keeps moving forward.
Below is an update on several relevant issues.
The session is underway, and I am optimistic about a number of issues that are of great interest and importance to us and higher education in general.
Progress is being made on the Texas budget, although some differences between House and Senate versions need to be resolved in conference committee. Notably, both versions include increases in the contribution per Semester Credit Hour to state universities and that is promising. It also appears there is general support throughout the Capitol for authorizing state debt service on capital projects for state universities. Recently, House Higher Education Chairman John Zerwas, M.D., a UH graduate, gained approval for HB 100, which authorizes all seven UH System building projects, from his committee. The Senate Committee on Higher Education, led by Chairman Kel Seliger, has also passed their own version of the bill, SB 150, though the funding amounts are different and will need to be negotiated in the conference committee.
In addition, the Senate Finance Committee authorized a 50 percent increase to the Higher Education Fund (HEF), which supports building construction and maintenance, technology upgrades, and library books and materials. The House version does not recommend a HEF increase. We have also received support in the House for $4 million in start-up funding for development of the Hobby School of Public Affairs - and we appreciate Rep. Garnet Coleman’s help in this crucial matter and his continued support for all issues important to UH.
We are also hopeful that progress is being made in closing the funding gap for Pharmacy schools at general academic institutions (GAIs) like ours, which receive 50 percent of the per Semester Credit Hour allocation compared to similar schools at health-related institutions (HRIs). While the Senate budget bill addresses that inequity, the House version does not. But there is now greater consciousness of this as a legitimate problem, and we are working hard to find a long-term solution in this legislative session.
Finally, House Appropriations Chairman John Otto has proposed a major change in how the state appropriates research to UH and the other "Emerging Research Universities," combining the Competitive Knowledge Fund and the Research Development Fund. The intention to increase research appropriations is commendable, but we must make sure UH is funded appropriately as a Tier One research university as a result of this change.
For more information about these and other legislative issues, please see this timely update from Vice President for Governmental and Community Relations Jason Smith.
Top American Research Universities (TARU)
There are four Carnegie-designated Tier One research universities in the state of Texas, including UH. We are proud of this distinction and now have more to add to it. Released recently, the latest Top American Research University (TARU) report indicates UH is one of four Texas universities to be recognized for notable performance. This year UH is ranked among the top 50 public research universities in five of the nine measures (up from three last year). Our strongest performance is on faculty measures and the weakest is on undergraduate education. While I congratulate you for your scholarly recognition, I also plead with you to keep the campus focused on the importance of undergraduate education.
Other than the 6-year graduation rate, the area begging for attention is the low retention and graduation rates for our students of African American and Hispanic descent. Given the demographics of our region and our school, we can never become a first-rate university without closing this achievement gap. I know your leadership can help improve these vital statistics for us.
We are reviving the grand tradition of holding a University-wide commencement, in TDECU Stadium, complemented by college-level convocations. This is a great opportunity to explore the advantages of having both - a grand central ceremony and individualized college observances. I thank everyone involved in the planning process, particularly college coordinators for their efforts and look forward to seeing you there to honor our graduates.
Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Mack Rhoades, after serving UH for more than four years, is leaving at the end of April to accept a position with the University of Missouri. We thank Mack for his many contributions, including the highest student-athlete GPA and graduation rate to date. I have engaged a search firm to assist us in finding an athletics director who can take us to the next level of athletics excellence. If you have any suggestions or comments, please feel free to email them to me.
Discussion Series with the Faculty
With the changing landscape of higher education, I am looking for your wisdom in positioning UH to make the best of its opportunities. Upon my request, Provost Short organized three "Conversations with the President" for us to discuss pertinent issues. The first of these, focusing on "How to Fund Higher Education?," took place recently and was filled with great ideas. Each forum begins with a faculty expert making his/her initial remarks, followed by a robust discussion with you about our options and choices.
I hope that you can join us for the remaining two meetings:
"How to Diversify the Top?" - 9:30 - 10:30 a.m. April 13
"How to Build UH as a Locally Responsible, Nationally Competitive, Globally Recognized University?" - 10-11 a.m. April 28
They both take place in Rockwell Pavilion.
Campus Values and Culture
On March 17, I issued a letter to all faculty, staff and students regarding campus values and culture. The letter was prompted by allegations of hazing by some members of Sigma Chi. While the investigation is underway, you may visit this webpage for more information about hazing and our commitment to keeping a safe and respectful environment on campus. In a related matter, in response to new federal guidelines on sexual assault, I established the Chancellor’s Sexual Violence Education and Prevention Advisory Committee. This taskforce has now made its recommendations, and I have asked they be implemented immediately. Your leadership in reaffirming the values that ensure a safe and respectful campus will be greatly appreciated.
Faculty/Staff Salary Increases
At the May meeting of the Board of Regents, we will be taking a request for a salary increase pool for faculty and staff. Earlier this year, Provost Short invited faculty members to provide input about the allocation method for this pool, and those responses are being taken into consideration as we develop an appropriate approach to distribution. Likewise, Human Resources (HR) has met with Staff Council and division business administrators to discuss the distribution method for the employee pool. We are committed to creating a review process for awarding merit-based salary increments that is open, equitable and transparent. We will share details for both faculty and staff salary increases once they have been confirmed.
I want to congratulate the new president of the Faculty Senate, Professor Wynne Chin, and the new president of the Student Government Association (SGA), Shaun Theriot-Smith. UH takes pride in its policy of shared governance and these two leaders play valuable roles in that process.
I look forward to seeing you around campus and once again, thank you for being a wonderful member of our University community.
With warm regards,