January 21, 2009It's been one year since University of Houston President Renu Khator took office. While being fully engaged in advancing the university’s educational mission, she has emphasized that the process must be inclusive of the entire UH community.
This was especially evident during the 2009 Staff Council Spring Forum, as Khator told a packed ballroom at the UH Hilton Hotel that everyone is essential to the continued growth of UH and its ultimate goal of top-tier status.
To reach Tier One, she said, UH will need assistance from leaders in business, the community and the legislature.
"Everyone had a hand in making these accomplishments possible," she said. "We all are part of this university, and all of our successes can be attributed to the entire campus community's efforts."
Her enthusiasm was no doubt reflective of the significant accomplishments that took place over the past year. Among the many pride points of 2008 she cited were:
UH receiving the prestigious Carnegie Foundation designation as a community-engaged institution the Cougars winning the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
The C.T. Bauer College of Business’ entrepreneurship program’s number one national ranking
Strong enrollment numbers
An exceptional fundraising year that saw $86 million in donations.
Khator added that the university also needs the full support of its internal community.
"It does not matter what your job is," she said."Whether you're working in construction, landscaping, academic advising, in residence halls or research, I guarantee that your performance has relevance to UH's top-tier mission."
Khator and her cabinet then took questions that had been submitted prior to the forum. An early query focused on the upcoming legislative session and a bill that might result in the state freezing tuition.
Answering the question, Grover Campbell, vice president for governmental relations, indicated that this complex issue has "significant impact on all of higher education."
"We and our fellow state universities have been trying to answer the question of how much formula funding will be necessary for higher education institutions to have zero tuition increases," he said. "Because tuition funds universities’ core educational missions, it’s a pretty staggering number. Just to cover inflation and enrollment growth, it would be $975 million."
Campbell said UH will work with the legislature to reach a solution, and that many legislators are well aware of the impact of tuition freezes.
Responding to a question related to the current economic downturn and its impact on the university, Carl Carlucci, vice president of administration and finance, directed the audience to the redesigned administration and finance Web site (www.uh.edu/af) that was projected on a screen. The Web site contains budget information and documents that are open for public review. Also available on the Web site is information on construction projects, master plan updates and reports on facilities and transportation.
Among these documents is a detailed report from the Texas Controller indicating that during the upcoming biennium, there will be a 10.5 percent reduction in available revenue to be allocated to universities and state agencies.
"That would be about $9 billion," Carlucci said. "In this report is also a four-year estimate of revenues. Based on the controller’s estimates, we may see difficult budgets for the next two to three years."
With regard to the university's budget, Carlucci said that UH departments have been requested to develop budget reductions and reallocation of funds. In examining and reducing expenditures, the university can avert economic consequences, he said.
"The more we do to reduce, to save, to reallocate, the easier it's going to be," Carlucci said. "Our goal is not to lose employees. Our goal is to maintain our workforce. UH is driven by the intellectual ability of our faculty and the creativity and innovation of our staff. Our goal is to preserve these resources. To do that, we have to get serious right now about reducing other expenditures."
In response to a question regarding the possible closing of Cullen Boulevard as part of the master plan, Carlucci said that UH is in discussions with the city regarding such initiatives.
"Before we undertake any of these projects, we have to be sure we know what the impact will be on other areas of the campus and the surrounding communities," he said.
While Khator acknowledged that the country’s economic state will pose challenges for UH, she expressed confidence that the university will remain strong. With everyone doing their part, UH will ultimately emerge triumphant in its top-tier mission, she said.
"Every night, I count my blessings," Khator said. "I learned that from my grandmother. No matter how many challenges there are, I count my blessings. Being here with you at UH is my big blessing. Together, we will continue to make this university a better place for ourselves, our students, our region and our nation."