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Letters to the University Community Welcome to Faculty

August 21, 2008

On Monday, we will welcome our students back to campus, among them 3,400 freshmen and 2,536 transfer students. We will also be welcoming many new faculty and nearly 1,500 new graduate students who have chosen to make UH their academic home. I have no doubt they will find UH to be a vibrant university reflective of our collective vision and strength. We have much to celebrate: top-ranked programs, nationally recognized faculty, highly successful graduates, celebrated student-athletes and our diverse student body. And add to this our dynamic city, an entrepreneurial community, our passionate Board, hard-working administrators, dedicated staff, and loyal alumni. We have all that it takes to be bold and dream big.

As you begin your semester, I appeal to you to expand the horizon of your leadership. We need to dream big, talk big, and most importantly, walk big. We must take the road that will lead us to our ultimate destination. If we want to be a nationally-competitive, top-tier research university, we must ask ourselves: Are we doing what nationally competitive research universities do? Are we investing the way top-tier universities do? And are we progressing and performing the way nationally competitive universities do?

Of course, I acknowledge that this road will not be easy. Together, we face many challenges including insufficient funding, inadequate space, small faculty size and shortage of staff in critical support areas. However, I also believe that a passionately-supported vision has the power to overcome any and all challenges. The upcoming legislative session is an opportunity for us to argue our case, showcase our value-added performance, and demonstrate the power of our vision. While we do so, we must also work together to ensure that our students are getting the best opportunities at UH to be successful because a top tier university – first and foremost – provides a top-tier learning environment for its students. I appeal to you to work with your department and college leadership to support student success and enhance student learning.

I came to the University of Houston attracted by your collective capacity to dream big. In just seven short months, here is the evidence that I use to find my encouragement:

  • - We have seen freshman applications rise by 15.6 percent and a 22 percent increase in transfer applications.
  • We are adding 53 new tenured or tenure track faculty, whom I had the occasion to meet at faculty orientation. They are coming from some of America’s top universities, including Carnegie Mellon, Princeton, Harvard, Duke, Cal Tech, MIT, Stanford and UCLA. These new faculty have a commitment to making the University of Houston a nationally competitive university.
  • We have seen private giving increase by an overwhelming 40 percent over last year, closing the year with $80 million in philanthropic support.
  • We are experiencing significant increases in alumni participation and an 11 percent increase in alumni memberships. I was humbled to see 280 alumni show up in Fort Bend/Sugar Land area for my first Whistlestop statewide tour to meet our alumni – a sure sign that Cougar pride is strong and growing!
  • We continue to receive support for our vision from the local media.
  • We submitted a $5.5 million request to the Governor's Emerging Technology Fund to recruit a high-profile program cluster. We were told it is one of the best applications they have ever seen.
  •  The federal appropriations process is still under way, but the Texas legislative delegation has supported $5.5 million worth of ideas in comparison to $600,000 last year.

As we begin the semester, I request that you work with your academic leadership (chair, dean and provost) and faculty leaders in the Faculty Senate in further defining our goals of

  1. becoming a nationally competitive research university,
  2. ensuring student success, and
  3. assisting community advancement. In order to be nationally competitive, we need to build engineering and basic sciences, but that alone will not earn us the prize. We must be excellent in the humanities, social sciences and the arts, and we need to strive for higher standings in our professional disciplines. We must also raise our commitment to athletics and the overall student experience.

On September 18, the University of Houston will celebrate the beginning of a new chapter of its spectacular success story in the form of the presidential investiture. An investiture is never about the president; it is a university’s celebration of its past, examination of its present, and affirmation of its future aspirations. I am blessed to be a member of your team as we begin to write this chapter together.

I hope to experience the symbolism of the investiture ceremony with you and look forward to seeing you at many academic, arts and athletic events throughout the year.

Wishing you a productive semester,