Letters to the Houston Community

President's Spring Update

March 30, 2009


Hope you had a relaxing Spring Break! I know many of you had to use your time off to simply catch up with work. But I still hope that a change in routine provided you with some solace to rejuvenate your spirit. Here is a quick update on various issues that may be of relevance to you.

Economic Downturn and Fiscal Responsibility: The economic news continues to be a subject of anxiety both personally and institutionally for us. To be fiscally responsible, I have asked all presidents and vice presidents to immediately review their revenue and expenditure patterns and make appropriate adjustments. Our core mission is student success and our strategic vision is to make UH a nationally - and globally - competitive research university. We must take precautionary measures to withstand the multi-year economic downturn. We are fortunate to be in Texas and in Houston. Nonetheless, our endowment is down by more than 30% and we have been asked to identify a budget reduction of 2.5% in the current year by the Governor. All of this means that we must focus, prioritize, and change the way we spend.

The Stimulus Package and Its Relevance for UH: The Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act (or The Stimulus Package) offers three main avenues of support for universities:

Direct funds to students through Pell Grant and other financial programs;

Funds appropriated to federal agencies for research programs and infrastructure, including NIH ($10.4B), NSF ($3.0B), and DoE ($51.5B); and

Funds appropriated by states through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund.

On behalf of the University of Houston, we have identified several projects that meet the criteria for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, including the repair and renovation of existing buildings, making buildings hurricane-hardy, and the construction of new research space and infrastructure on campus. Among the new projects are:

  • UH Energy Research Center
  • Wind Energy Center Blade Testing Facility
  • Vision Institute Surgery and Research Center
  • Campus Utilities Infrastructure

Funds from NIH, NSF and DoE, however, are accessible only to faculty through competitive grants. I urge our faculty to work with the Office of Research to identify any and all opportunities to secure these funds to advance our research. Several members of the Board of Regents and I have already visited our Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., to apprise them of our research initiatives and facilities. Now, it is up to our faculty to aggressively seek this funding.

Congressional Support: We are grateful to our Congressional delegation for believing in our capabilities and helping our researchers become a stronger part of the national research agenda. The initial review of the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill shows that three UH projects have been successful in receiving funds:

476,750 for the Center for Clean Fuels and Power Generation, from the U.S. Department of
Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy;

2,378,750 for the National Wind Energy Center, from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; and

143,000 for UH cell differentiation project in the Institute for Molecular Design, from the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services

State Legislative Session: Our Office of Governmental Relations reports that a total of 7,144 bills have been filed this year (1,244 more than last year!), of which several hundred have an impact on UH. Thanks to our collective energy and vision, nine bills have been filed to create additional top-tier universities in Texas.

Additionally, over a dozen bills have been filed to limit or reregulate the tuition-setting authority of university boards. I have testified ten times already and many more testimonies will take place before the session is over. VC Grover Campbell (from Austin) and AVC Barbara Stanley (from Houston) will continue to guide us and our involvement during the legislative session. The Faculty Senate has a committee that can help guide our faculty's participation in the process. Be reminded, however, that as a state employee (this applies to both faculty and staff), any contact you make with your legislator must be done on your own time and using your own computer or phone.

It is time for us to make our case and prove that as a top-tier university, we can serve the city, the region, and the state better. Here are the guidelines for communicating with legislators:
http://www.uhsa.uh.edu/gov/process/letter_writing.html

Transportation: As you may have already read elsewhere, METRO will bring its Southeast Line to the UH campus by 2011 or 2012. Negotiations on the University Line are continuing.

Tuition and Fees: All university chancellors have appealed to the Texas Legislature to fund us fully based on the funding formula so that tuition can remain constant during these tough economic times. Members of our legislative delegation understand the connection between state funding and tuition increases. Meanwhile, the report from our Tuition and Fee Committee, which recommends a range of increase of 0% to 5%, depending on state funding, has been posted.

Tuition and Fee Committee recommendation: http://www.uh.edu/af/budgetFY10.htm

Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee recommendation:
http://www.uh.edu/af/TPAC_recommendation.htm

UH System: In order for us to serve our region fully, it is essential that all universities work together and complement one another. Under the direction of AVC Ed Hugetz, Provost John Antel, and our three presidents, a system-wide Enrollment Management Plan is in development. A central part of this plan will be pathways for students and faculty to move seamlessly within the System, thus adding value to the System. Within the next few years, we hope to serve a larger - and more diverse - share of the regional student population, while simultaneously increasing the national competitiveness of the University of Houston in terms of faculty, students, and research.

Strategic Plan: The Strategic Action Group (SAG) has been hard at work in preparing the first draft of our strategic plan. This plan will lead UH to become a top-tier university that provides a top-tier learning environment to our students and is relevant to our community. Athletics competitiveness is one of the six UH goals, just as is the goal of raising sufficient resources to accomplish our task. A summary of the draft was presented at the UH Spring Faculty Assembly by the chairs of the six committees working on the plan. In April, SAG will hold several town hall meetings and I hope to see you there for your invaluable input.

The Cougar Spirit
: In the big scheme of things, it may seem mundane, but expressing our pride plays a significant role in advancing us forward. I am calling for our alumni, wherever they live and work, to begin Red Fridays (to wear red on Fridays). May I ask you to be part of the Red Friday Campaign as well? Your pride will be contagious to students and alumni alike.

I wish you continued success in all you do - in the classroom, in the research labs, and in our front-line and administrative offices. Your dedication and work continues to march us towards excellence. Everywhere I go, I meet our proud graduates who never fail to tell me how much they appreciate their education.

Warm regards,
Renu Khator
President, University of Houston