January 29, 2009Happy New Year! I hope you had a relaxing holiday season, and have come back invigorated and refreshed.
2008 was a very interesting year: we had a major hurricane that typically happens only once every 25 years; we saw snowfall which is supposed to happen once every 10 years; and we witnessed the election of Barak Obama, the first person of color to win the presidency of the United States, an event many thought they would never see in their lifetimes.
At the university, there were many noteworthy individual and institutional accomplishments of which we should all be proud. Consider the following:
- Higher-than-ever enrollment - 36,000-plus!
- Higher-than-ever fundraising - $85 million!
- An academic program ranked #1 in the nation - Entrepreneurship in the Bauer College of Business!
- Our Cougars winning their first bowl game in 28 years!
- UH receiving the highest, top-tier designation for community engagement by the Carnegie Foundation – the only university in Texas to be so honored!
All of these accomplishments are the result of our team effort. Each and every one of you contributed to these successes. Strong universities are built by people who collectively dream their future, feel passionate about the cause, and take pride in their contributions. Every single one of you, irrespective of what you do – teach, research, advise, landscape, construct – is critical to building our future. I am honored to be on your team, and I urge you to continue doing your part with pride and dedication to help us build a better future for our students and the community.
For your information, here is the latest update on some issues:
The economy and its impact on UH:
All signals from the Texas State Treasurer indicate that the economy is slowing down for Texas and Houston. According to the most recent data, Houston is likely to lose 45,000 jobs this year. Texas is collecting fewer revenue dollars, which means that its capacity to invest or retain the current level of funding for higher education is shrinking. The national economy continues to pose further challenges.
In this environment, we are carefully watching our revenue (endowments, investments, and state dollars), analyzing our spending, and preparing strategies for sheltering our core mission from any negative impact. The Provost will begin budget hearings starting February 6, and I have asked all Vice Presidents to immediately begin to reduce spending and remove dependence on state dollars for functions that can be supported through other means. Specific strategies will be formulated only after all budget hearings are completed. Executive Vice President Carlucci is posting all budget information on his budget website at http://www.uh.edu/af/budgetinfo.htm should you be interested in following the process.
Legislative Session and our legislative agenda:
The 81st Texas Legislature is already in session. Vice President Campbell and his staff track all the bills, provide weekly updates to the Board, and prepare our legislative priorities. If you are interested, please visit their website at: http://www.uhsa.uh.edu/gov/
In a nutshell, we are requesting the Legislature to provide funds for our top-tier initiative, protect our base budget, and fund enrollment growth. Board of Regents Chairman Wilson has been in communication with alumni and has enlisted hundreds of them, who stand ready to support our legislative agenda, in his “Chairman’s Brigade.” In addition, we are positioning ourselves to seek appropriate funding from President Obama’s economic stimulus package, which includes funds for financial aid and the Pell Grant Program, as well as energy, health, and transportation initiatives.
Throughout the coming months, we must remain focused, try even harder, and continue to believe more firmly in our cause. In the end, we must remember that some of the best universities have been built in the worst of times because someone saw opportunities that others overlooked.
Recognition by Carnegie:
Just before the holidays, we learned that the Carnegie Foundation classified the University of Houston in its top tier as a “community engaged university” for our community partnerships and educational curriculum. The application effort was led by a group of faculty and staff and was chaired by Dr. Susan Rodgers and Dr. James Anderson. This is the highest honor that a university can receive in recognition of its outreach to the community, and it is a designation that all of you helped secure.
Capital construction on campus:
Many exciting projects are either near completion, about to begin, or being planned. You can access the latest information on the status of all of them here: http://www.uh.edu/af/constructionprojects.htm
UH System initiatives:
The UH System Board of Regents (BOR) has considered several initiatives, and many of these are now in front of the Legislature for their approval.
- UH-Victoria’s downward expansion to begin in 2010 (approved by BOR)
- UH-Clear Lake’s downward expansion to begin in 2012 (approved by BOR)
- UH-Downtown’s name change (on the BOR agenda)
- UH System at Sugar Land (the management of this teaching center has been transferred from UHV to UH, and a new aggressive strategic plan is being developed for it)
- UH in northwest Harris County (classes will begin in Fall 2009).
To be a true metropolitan system of higher education, the UH System must serve its entire region. Our four universities must work together without duplication, but with lots of coordination to live up to our obligation. Keeping this in mind, a system-level enrollment management plan is being developed with the help of our university Presidents. Along with the access issue, it is now more essential than ever to transform UH into a nationally competitive university – in admissions standards, curriculum rigor, and support and enhancement of student life. Provost Antel has this goal as his top priority.
The Board of Regents has approved a progress card which includes multiple measures. To ensure our progress toward these measures, I have appointed a nine-member Strategic Action Group (SAG) to work with our consultant, Dr. Stephen Portch, and to engage the campus community in identifying specific action items. The report from the SAG will be considered in finalizing the action strategies that will guide our future investments, direct budget reductions, define priorities for a capital campaign, and determine items for state and federal budget requests. I ask you to please participate in the process and help the SAG and the Cabinet to come up with a sound action plan to move our university forward. You can find strategic goals, progress card and the composition of the committee on the web by clicking at: http://www.uhsa.uh.edu/uhstrategic/
Last week, I appointed Dr. John Antel to the position of Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. Today, I ask you to please give him your full support so that, as our chief academic officer, he can advance our teaching, research, and service missions. Please join me in thanking Dr. Jerry Strickland for his outstanding service since July 2008, when he stepped in to handle the Provost’s responsibilities on an interim basis.
Please extend a warm welcome to Dr. William Monroe, the new Dean of The Honors College. And lastly, I would like for you to know that two dean searches – Architecture and Pharmacy – are progressing well.
I hope these periodic updates are helpful to you. As the nation is embracing a new hope, we also need to hope for the very best for UH. I wish you a very happy and productive year!