From my office on the second floor, I can see the two majestic bronze cougar sculptures that grace the entrance to the Ezekiel Cullen Building. Several times a day, people on our campus – students, faculty, alums and visitors – pass by those stately creatures and pause briefly to rub the outsized paws. Maybe it’s for good luck. Maybe it’s a show of respect. Maybe it’s just an irresistible attraction to the cool, polished surface.
But one thing is certain – it’s becoming a tradition. And that makes me glad. Traditions are a vital part of a university’s character and spirit.
Even though it is a young school, relatively speaking, the University of Houston is no stranger to tradition, of course. Our choice of a cougar mascot goes back to this institution’s formative days in the 1920s. Naming it Shasta and originating our “Go, Coogs!” hand sign have been with us since the early 1950s. The annual Frontier Fiesta celebration, which began in the 1940s, faded away after a couple of decades, only to be revived in 1992 by a new generation who recognized the importance of maintaining that connection to our university’s – and our region’s – vibrant western heritage.
In another nod to tradition, this year’s Homecoming game saw our football players sporting “throwback” uniforms, circa 1960s, paying tribute to the student athletes who preceded them nearly a half century ago and reminding us all of our impressive legacy in athletics.
Not as prominent, perhaps, but just as notable is the Cougar First Impressions program, in which our faculty and staff man outdoor information tables at the start of each fall semester to provide warm welcomes and cool water to befuddled students. Is that a tradition? When you do it for 14 years running, with 500 UH employees currently volunteering and countless students getting their careers at UH off to a great start, I would say that definitely qualifies.
Since my arrival at UH, I have been urging our campus community to participate in Cougar Red Fridays, wearing red clothes to show visible support for our university. I’m delighted to see that this is really growing in popularity.
But the tradition I’m most excited about is one that began just this year. Our efforts to achieve Tier One status were realized with the Carnegie Foundation designation as one of the country’s premier public research universities. Looking back from the vantage point of UH’s centennial, in 2027, I hope that we will say that’s when a rich tradition of being recognized nationally for research excellence and student success began.