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President's Fall Address

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Renu Khator
University of Houston
Fall Address
October 14, 2015

This year we celebrate great accomplishments and the achievement of a significant milestone. 

Vision starts from the top, and the wind beneath our wings is the vision of our current regents. We are extremely grateful to them and our former board chairs and board members.

As I begin my 8th Fall Semester, I am reminded of the moment – after my first 100 days of “listening and learning” – when we launched our pursuit of excellence and national competitiveness under the banner of Tier One!

We knew then that this was going to be a journey with many stations or milestones along the way, each of them making us stronger and taking us closer to our destination.

We also knew that being a nationally competitive university would require excellence in all aspects of our university life, from research to undergraduate teaching, to professional training, to community service, and to sports.

That journey has taken us to several milestones. In 2009 after losing our designation a year prior on the Top American Research University (or TARU) rankings, we regained it and placed in three of the nine measures in the top 50 nationally.  

Then, in 2011, we were recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in its top category of Research Universities or Tier One.  

In 2012, we were placed on the Princeton Review’s list of best national universities.  That same year, we saw the University of Houston appear on the U.S. News & World Report’s listing of national universities for the first time.

This year, we have reached a very significant milestone, which I will disclose near the end of this address.

National Competitiveness

First, I would like to review our performance this past year.  We use a Board-approved Progress Card to measure our progress historically. In addition, we use various national rankings to measure our progress and performance in comparison to our national peers.

This year our performance report by TARU shows a decisive improvement.  After four years of consistent ranking among the top 50 in three of its nine measures, the University of Houston placed in two additional measures, for a total of five.

Top American Research University TARU

In fact, in the past seven years, we have consistently solidified our position on every single TARU measure, from moving up five places in total research, to as many as 93 places in average SAT of our freshman class.

TARU Improvements

Our sponsored research crossed the $150 million mark during a period when the total pool of federal funds remained flat.

Research expenditure top $150 Million

To move our performance exponentially, we knew we had to do something bold and different – and the strategy was to bring one or two federally funded and nationally designated centers of excellence to UH.  With this in mind, we selected a few key areas where we were strong, and invested time and energy in building and promoting them. 

Thanks to our faculty and the quality of their work, we received…not one…or two…but three new national centers this year.  These centers, together with the one we already had, have already brought in $17 million of additional sponsored research funding.  If done right, each of these centers has the potential to bring approximately $100 million in new federal funding to the University in the coming years. 

Federal Funding

Beyond the dollars that can be counted, there is a world of discovery inhabited by those who create new knowledge with their powerful writing and publications.  The Publication Index consists of the number of publications by a researcher, while the Citation Index consists of the number of times their publications are used by other researchers.

Publications and Citations

UH faculty members have followed a consistent path of excellence on both of these important indices, placing us ahead of several AAU universities.

Refereed Citations Surpass AAU

We welcomed 142 new faculty members this year, included among them is our newest member of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Maurice Brookhart in the Department of Chemistry. He is very proud to be here, and we welcome him to the Cougar Nation.

Maurice Brookhart

Quality of research, both sponsored and non-sponsored, is directly related to the quality of graduate programs.  With the rise in research activity, it is not surprising that the national recognition for our graduate programs has soared.  Nine graduate programs now rank in the top 50, and 27 rank in the top 100, almost double from six years ago, according to the U.S. News & World Report.

Nationally Ranked Graduate Programs

The 2015 Legislative Session was one of the most successful when it comes to serving our students.  Thanks to the support of our legislators, the University of Houston and our system universities not only received an increase in our base funding, but also $362 million toward the construction of seven new buildings. 

With these new buildings on this campus, and at UH-Downtown, UH-Clear Lake, UH-Victoria, UH Sugar Land, Katy and Pearland, we will be able to provide access closer to home to millions in the region. 

With more locations providing access, UH has enrolled a record 42,738 students.  Our undergraduate enrollment has seen a solid five percent increase to reach 33,344 students.

Fall Undergraduate Enrollment

Our freshman class stands at 4,099 students with an ever-rising average SAT score of 1151…

Average SAT Scores on the rise

Some 32 percent of these students come from the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Yet, our commitment to serving students from underserved communities remains as strong as ever, growing by 34 percent since 2008.  During a year when high school graduation rates for African Americans declined overall in the state, our own African American enrollment has grown by 10 percent.

Commitment to Underserved Students

The College Score Card released by the U.S. Department of Education in September indicates that, in comparison to the national average, UH is lower on cost, higher on retention rate, at par on graduation rate, and higher on salary earned.  Needless to say, we have been – and continue to be – a great value for our students.

Now, despite these successes and our consistent annual progress, the six-year graduation rate continues to be our toughest challenge.

Even though we have increased this rate by ten percentage points during the last six years – which is rare for any Carnegie-classified Tier One university – we still need to do better. This single measure keeps us from making advances on the USN&WR rankings.  However, the good news is we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Last year, at the direction of the Texas Legislature, we introduced our UH in 4 program.  As expected, this initial cohort returned to school at a much higher rate and completed more credits, with better GPAs than others.

If we extrapolate this promising trend and stay committed to the goal of student success, it is likely that our six-year graduation rate will see an even greater improvement in the future.

UH in Four Six Year Graduation Rates

I’m also pleased to state we are now awarding more institutional merit-based scholarships, while simultaneously expanding our financial commitment to students of all economic backgrounds.

Merit Based Scholarships

Consequently, we are awarding more degrees than ever. And our students are gaining skills that are nationally and globally competitive.

Undergraduate Degrees Awarded

Moores Concert Chorale

Power Across Texas Energy Innovation Challenge

Serving our community and neighborhood through service learning has always been a vital part of our mission.

Thanks to the generous funding by the Texas Legislature, the Hobby Center for Public Affairs has become more empowered to contribute toward that community mission, while conducting cutting edge research and preparing students for public service and related careers. 

We continue to take a three-prong approach to serving our community and neighborhood: education, employment and health. 

On the topic of health, the University of Houston added a program in nursing education to its extensive portfolio of health professions programs. 

We continue to move forward and explore the creation of a medical school that could train preventive and primary care physicians who would specialize in the use of computer science and big data while working in community-based clinics.  Our goal is to partner with others in the city and become a part of the solution by providing access to healthcare, particularly to underserved communities in our region and the state.  

To lead this effort, I appointed Dr. Steve Spann to serve as the Planning Dean of the Medical School.  

Everyone will be impressed with his credentials, touched by his commitment to community medicine, and encouraged by his interdisciplinary approach that builds upon the collaborative strength of many disciplines in the University.  

With so many projects on the move, I also felt a need to appoint a Chief of Staff in my office.  After a national search and upon the recommendation of a search committee, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Michael Johnson as Chief of Staff.  Prior to coming here, he worked at Purdue University and, as a Captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving as Chief of Staff to a Commanding General. 

While it is easy to dream, all these dreams take hard work to realize. To meet our growing aspirations, we need to grow our capacity to invest.

Despite a challenging economic environment, we crossed the $100 million fundraising mark for the fourth year in a row!

Fund Raising, $100M mark for 4th year

More than 65,000 donors opened their hearts and wallets to us this year.  It is evident that our alumni continue to support us, our donors continue to give us hope, and our city continues to believe in us.

Because of their faith in us, we are able to launch new programs, support new students, and build new facilities.

Our campus landscape continues to improve and we have several projects underway. Two facilities in particular are worth noting: The Multidisciplinary Research and Engineering building, which should open in September of next year, and the Biomedical and Health Sciences Building II, which will officially break ground in November.  This nine-story structure will be home to the School of Pharmacy and outpatient clinics. 

Since our residence halls are nearly full, we are going back to the drawing board for additional student housing.  

Also on the drawing board is a new home for the UH Law Center.  We have completed a feasibility study and hope that philanthropy will help us realize this project.  We know that a new facility is not only needed, it is also critical to enhancing the national competitiveness of the UH Law Center.

Construction Projects

Related to national prominence, our professors’ work was featured in many national outlets, including twice in TIME magazine alone.

Time Magazine Features

The University's name was highlighted in 27 countries and 600 cities across America worth $23 million dollars of publicity with this year’s university-wide commencement featuring Matthew McConaughey, who was voted among the top 5 commencement speakers of the year.

The University will no doubt receive even greater national and international attention early next year, 

Commencement Speaker

as we have been selected by NBC News and Telemundo to host the final Republican presidential candidates’ debate on February 26, 2016.  This will be the final GOP debate before the pivotal “Super Tuesday” primary elections in Texas and eight other states on March 1, 2016. 

This event will shine a powerful spotlight on our campus, offering us the opportunity to showcase our student successes, research innovations and unmatched school spirit.  As the University becomes a part of our nation’s political history, the debate will further confirm our status as one of the country’s powerhouse institutions.

2016 Republican Candidates Debate at UH

It is not possible to leave the topic of national competitiveness without pointing out the 5-0 start for our new head football coach Tom Herman.  Winning is gratifying, but it is more gratifying to see the student section filled with thousands of engaged students and future alumni.

UH Football Team Ranked

Our Baseball and Men’s Indoor Track & Field teams won American Athletic Conference championships, while the Golf team advanced to NCAA championship for the two consecutive years.  All of these accomplishments have been accompanied by the strongest academic record of student athletes in the history of our program.

Athletic Championships

We have traveled a long road together, but a longer journey lies ahead of us.  The landscape of higher education is changing at a rapid pace and in these changing times, simply staying still is regression.  We must assess, anticipate, and act, playing on our strengths. 

In my very first address seven years ago, I said that our individual efforts are like small streams of water flowing from the mountain top. Individually, they seem insignificant, but after time, they merge together and become rivers, and after some more time, rivers merge into the powerful ocean. What may seem insignificant turns into the force of nature.

Journey Ahead

This metaphor leads me to the big announcement mentioned at the beginning of this address.

slide 36

Our individual efforts on behalf of undergraduate students, like small streams of water, have led to the University of Houston’s entry into the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s most selective academic honor society. This is a historic moment for us. 

Everyone – in their own way – made this accomplishment possible.  But I would like to recognize the role of two individuals who championed this six-year long effort – Dean Bill Monroe and Professor Andrew Davis … along with the Honors College staff and organizing committee members who provided valuable support along the way.  

The designation is granted not to the institution itself, but to the Phi Beta Kappa faculty, we salute our entire PBK faculty. 

When I was asked in Denver how I felt after the crucial vote granting us PBK status, my immediate response was, “Extremely proud.  In fact, out of all the achievements for the University of Houston, this is the one I am most proud of.”  This is true for two reasons.  First, this designation is in recognition of our commitment to undergraduate education, to liberal arts, to the very core foundation of being an educated person.  Second, this designation proves that diversity and excellence are not mutually exclusive.  

We have taken this institution of incredible diversity – with a large number of first-generation and low-income students, and we have transformed it into a place where our students have a chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in the nation. 

Everyone at the University of Houston has made this possible. Congratulations and a big, Texas-size THANK YOU to everyone. May God bless you!