Happy New Year and welcome back! The academic year, 2017-18, has been unusual, with weather, and not the academic calendar, dictating when and how we start the semester. Having been in the classroom as a professor in Florida, I know how challenging it can be to redesign the course to fulfill the learning objectives. I appreciate your patience and flexibility in adjusting your course delivery and timeline twice in one year. I know that you are giving your students the content and support that they need to be successful. I wish you all a very productive 2018 because your individual successes define our collective success.
Here is a quick update on some items of interest as we begin our journey through 2018.
Institutional Values and Expectations: In light of the recent hiring of two new staff members for our football program, it is important that I address the issue directly and reassert the values and expectations of the University of Houston. It is natural for questions to be raised and doubts to surface. Of course, in this instance, we undertook an additional review above and beyond our traditional hiring practices for faculty and staff in any academic or athletics program. We also examined and strengthened our already strong Title IX compliance infrastructure by requiring our coaching staff to undergo additional training about the law and our policies as well as about our culture of reporting. And finally, we included a morality clause in the contracts to provide an additional safeguard.
While all of these steps were important, none could ever replace the role of the institutional culture that we have built based upon our values, expectations and behavior. Our values of mutual respect and accountability are clear. Our expectations of an environment that is free of harassment, discrimination and fraud are even clearer. Our faculty and staff in all units – academic, administrative and athletic – expect that their colleagues maintain the highest level of ethical and moral behavior. Our zero tolerance policy toward harassment, discrimination and fraud is protected by a strong compliance infrastructure. However, in the end, it is up to us – individually and collectively – to uphold these values. I urge you to speak up if you see something…don’t be a bystander and don’t let unacceptable behavior occur. These types of matters can all be reported through our online compliance portal as well as to our campus police or our Title IX Coordinator.
Commencement Exercise: The 2018 Spring University commencement exercises will take place in May in a sequential format, all carrying the title of “University Commencement” but also identifying the participating colleges. Our staff will continue to provide support and supervision while a jointly developed protocol manual will ensure the highest level of experience for all students and their guests. I urge college leaders to line up the best speakers possible, and I stand ready to assist.
While assembling in a single, large venue to share the common experience is important, nothing is more important than allowing each student to walk across the stage amid the applause of his or her family and friends. With the ever-expanding number of graduates at each ceremony, it is impossible to honor both practices without forcing students to wear regalia twice. For any logistical questions about commencement, please contact the Provost’s Office.
Faculty Senate Officers: Congratulations to the new slate of Faculty Senate leaders, who take office Thursday, January 25. Dr. Daniel O’Connor, professor and chair of the health and human performance department, will serve as president. Dr. Raul Ramos, associate professor of history, is president-elect and Dr. Bradley McConnell, associate professor of pharmacology, is secretary. I offer my sincere thanks to Dr. Cathy Horn for her invaluable leadership of the Faculty Senate during the last year. The Faculty Senate continues to play a crucial role in our process of shared governance, one of the fundamental principles of this University, and we appreciate the hard work and valuable guidance they provide.
Current and Forthcoming Construction Projects: The 9-story Health II building – which is home to Pharmacy, HHP, various clinics, Student Health Services, the College of Medicine start-up, and research labs – has been completed and is now mostly occupied. It is a wonderful space, and if you have an opportunity to walk by, please do so. The Fertitta Center is progressing well and is slated for completion by the end of this year.
Now, we shift our attention to three sets of upcoming projects: (1) Core Renovation Project, which involves six buildings; (2) Life Sciences Renovation Project, which involves four buildings; and finally (3) Health III, which will eventually serve as the home of the expanded College of Medicine. Several other projects are currently in the fundraising phase, and we expect them to get to the approval phase sometime in the future.
Naturally, there are always questions around renovation and construction. I have asked Facilities Department to put as much information as possible on its website. Since the Core Project has already started, let me address it first. A steering committee consisting of deans and faculty is guiding the project under two outcomes that I hope to achieve: (1) we should fulfill the need for classrooms first; (2) spaces should be re-assigned based on needs and proximity for academic collaborations. It is a rare opportunity for us to plan six buildings all at once, and I hope that we can take a more strategic view of space allocation than simply replacing new spaces for the old.
The first Core building under renovation is the Science Building; however, it will not be ready for permanent occupancy until 2024. Between now and then, the renovated Science Building will be used as swing space to relocate units from other buildings while their spaces are under renovation.
Provost Short and Vice President of Research and Technology Transfer Elnashai are currently finalizing the plan for renovating life sciences space based on the ideas and proposals that you have submitted to them. We hope to start this project soon.
Health III (home to UH College of Medicine) will enter the design phase now and will be completed by 2022.
Please direct any questions on construction and renovation projects to Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration McShan or Provost Short.
College of Medicine (COM): The Next Steps: Our proposal to house an M.D. degree is currently under review by the UH Graduate and Professional Students Committee. Our plan is to present it to the Board of Regents at the next meeting on March 8. After the board approves, the proposal will then be forwarded to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for their approval. Simultaneously, the newly established Medical Education Committee, under the supervision of Dr. Stephen Spann and Provost Short, is continuing its work on preparing material for the Liaison Committee for Medical Education (LCME) accrediting agency. Finally, we are starting to build the leadership and staff of COM as expected by the LCME. With the help of a faculty search committee and an expert search firm, I have launched the search for the Founding Dean of the Medical School. Please follow the development of the College of Medicine on the website.
New Athletics Director: Chris Pezman has joined us as our new Athletics Director. He is a UH alumnus with a bachelor’s degree in economics and master’s degree in hotel and restaurant management, who lettered on the football team for three seasons, even serving as captain in 1992. He later served as assistant athletics director for football operations at UH during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and was most recently at UC-Berkley as a senior associate athletics director. Along with an obvious passion for his alma mater, he brings a wealth of professional experience. Equally important, however, he is dedicated to upholding the exacting standards that this University demands of all its athletic personnel and our student-athletes.
Our $1 Billion Campaign: Thanks to your leadership and support, we have raised $806 million toward our lofty goal thus far. Our progress to date demonstrates the transformative power of philanthropy and the collective vision for a vibrant, healthy University, committed to the long-term success of our students. As I thank thousands of donors, I also want to acknowledge this year’s Faculty and Staff Campaign Co-Chairs – Founding Dean of the College of Nursing Kathryn Tart and Reuben Parrish, assistant director for health education – who have graciously accepted the charge to lead this ambitious undertaking.
Mark your calendar for this year’s Faculty and Staff Campaign Rally festivities at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 31, in Cullen Performance Hall.
To learn more and become a part of this exciting venture, I encourage you to visit this website.
How About Some Basketball? This Saturday, Coach Kelvin Sampson’s team defeated No. 7 ranked Wichita State in a decisive victory. How fitting, since it was also the 50th anniversary of the “Game of the Century” when the Cougars beat UCLA in the first regular season game broadcast on nationwide TV in prime time. It literally changed the course of basketball history. This season, the men’s team enjoys a 15-4 record, and this is truly an exciting team to watch. We have many conference games lined up, including one against No. 12 ranked Cincinnati. The UH women’s basketball team is also having a successful season with the overall record of 15-6. I want to acknowledge that Texas Southern University has been a great host to us by opening their arena while ours is under renovation. If your time permits, please come and enjoy a game.
This is all for now. Than you for all you do!
With warm regards,