May 19, 2020
Dear Faculty and Staff,
Now that the efforts to reopen the state and the city have begun and we have successfully completed this very challenging semester, it is time to look beyond the immediate horizon. Since this pandemic will continue to challenge us until a vaccine is found, we must address questions like the safe reopening of the campus, the long-term financial health of the University, and life in the new normal. But none of this can be done in a vacuum and we have to consider where we stand in terms of our mission, vision and progress. With that in mind, I am writing to update you on challenges that require immediate attention and serious long-term planning.
Reopening UH: Last week, as Phase 1 in a four-part plan, we opened research labs under strict protocols for social distancing, public safety, personal protection, and mandatory training. Although it was voluntary, we received over 200 requests to open research labs and more than 4,000 people completed the mandatory training required to return to campus. While we understand that there are those who want to return, there are also those who feel vulnerable for one reason or another. There are those whose work allows them to work remotely and be fully functional and those whose responsibilities cannot be performed remotely. We have to consider all these situations. In addition, we have to prepare for managing any COVID-19 cases on campus as well as responding to public health challenges presented to the campus or the city. But all of us are together in ensuring our mission is performed and that we are moving forward toward our goals. To guide our efforts I established a system-wide Reopening Task Force chaired by UHS Vice Chancellor Amr Elnashai and UHV President Robert Glenn. The task force will continue to guide in future phases.
We intend to bring some administrative units to campus in June and the remainder in July. We will be back on campus in the fall for face to face classes, with safety protocols including social distancing, sanitization and practicing good hygiene. Provost Paula Short is chairing a task force for instructional delivery.
All vice presidents have been asked to prepare plans appropriate to their area’s responsibilities and resources. We will make decisions within the framework of the two guiding principles that served us well during Hurricane Harvey – flexibility and compassion. We will release a more specific plan in coming days.
University Finances: It goes without saying that UH, like all other universities, lost revenue during the last two months. Fortunately, we have been able to manage the loss without having to implement furloughs, pay cuts or layoffs as a result of the following:
- A reduction in expenses to conserve our current financial resources
- A pause on hiring, promotion, reclassification, or position funding changes
- Student support provided by donors, alumni, and friends for the Cougar Emergency Fund, and
- Financial support from the federal CARES Act.
While this has been effective, we need to do more. Upon the advice of the Financial Task Force, I am announcing these actions, effective immediately:
- Four of us are voluntarily taking a 10% salary cut for the next six months. This includes UH President Renu Khator, VP for Intercollegiate Athletics Chris Pezman, basketball Head Coach Kelvin Sampson and football Head Football Dana Holgorsen.
- All instructional and instruction-appropriate spaces under any academic or administrative unit will be managed centrally to ensure compliance with safety protocols, including social distancing, and to maximize the space at hand.
- Going forward all units—academic and administrative—will return 25% of the unspent centrally allocated funds (fund balances) to the central reserve fund. Additionally at the end of this fiscal year there will be an additional 25% return of the unspent centrally allocated reserves from administrative units. The annual sweep from academic units will be used for academic initiatives and from administrative units for university-wide initiatives.
Our goal is to face this pandemic as a family, to protect one another, and to come out of it together better and stronger. However, we know that our financial health depends on several external factors, including:
- Enrollment and the corresponding revenue for summer and fall
- State funding for higher education
- Federal stimulus funding to incentivize students directly or indirectly
- Oil prices and the city of Houston’s economy
- Conditions for international students with regard to visas and international travel
- Philanthropic support
The Financial Task Force, under the chairmanship of Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Paula Short and Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance Jim McShan, continues to work diligently in assessing financial tools available to us and their proper use.
Our Strategic Goals: During the past decade, the University of Houston has been engaged, strategically and aggressively, in the pursuit of excellence. We called it our Tier One initiative and focused on five specific goals: student success, national research competitiveness, community engagement, athletic competitiveness and resource equity to make us competitive. As described during the last strategic planning process, we felt that the University of Houston had an untapped potential and that it is within us, the Cougars, to be ranked with the best in the nation and beyond. During this pursuit, we have secured Carnegie’s Tier One ranking, developed nationally ranked programs, recruited National Academy Members, achieved double digit increases in graduation rates, earned a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, completed a billion dollar fundraising campaign, made more than a billion dollar investment in facilities, cultivated a robust residential student population, garnered a No.1 ranking among non-Power 5 athletic programs, and launched the new College of Medicine as a means to enhance our mission to health care.
In January of this year, we began a new comprehensive strategic planning process, “Dare to Dream: UH 100,” to coincide with university’s 100th year anniversary in 2027 co-chaired by Provost Paula Short and Dean Dennis Reynolds. I believe that whether in our personal lives or our organizational planning, we should never compromise our goals. Therefore our overall goal remains the same, the pursuit of excellence; however we must now review our strategies to fulfill that dream.
Since January, over 1200 faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders have shared their thoughts in strategic listening sessions to identify central themes, big ideas, and goals. The Strategic Planning Working Group and the Strategic Planning Management Committee will be using that information to identify themes and key priorities focused on UH’s future. During the summer, work groups will use those key priorities to refine and create strategies to achieve them. Drawing on feedback on the draft plan during the fall, the final plan for “Dare to Dream” will be introduced in January 2021.
The New Normal: We can easily anticipate some changes in the workplace for the next one to two years. The New Normal Task Force, chaired by Chief Energy Officer Ramanan Krishnamoorti and Associate Provost Mark Clarke, has been tackling this challenge since its establishment seven weeks ago. This task force has been advancing ways to rethink the University’s operations as we emerge from the pandemic. As a first step, the task force surveyed the faculty and staff asking for ideas and solutions that address challenges and opportunities in the short term as well as the long term. More than 1,075 of you took the survey and offered us your perspective. While the task force sifts through these ideas, it has already started to implement some ideas such as growing our outstanding efforts centered on Houston Guided Pathways to Success to build student pipelines and offering digital badges and micro-credentialing to people desiring to enhance their skills.
We Need Your Ideas and Suggestions: While my team and I navigate the logistics of returning to campus while maintaining a safe environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors, we depend on your advice, ideas, and suggestions. While there is no playbook for handling this crisis, you can count on our commitment to make decisions with compassion and flexibility. I hope I can count on you to be engaged and offer solutions. Please go to UH Reopening 2020 to share your ideas, advice and suggestions. The information can be left anonymously. On this site, you will be able to easily scroll through the information to expand on these ideas and help us develop our plans.
Let me conclude by thanking you for your resiliency, dedication and support. It is difficult not to see you and be with you in person, but it is gratifying to hear from you. I was able to virtually join the Faculty Senate meeting recently with 100% of the senators in attendance and the Staff Council meeting with nearly 800 people in online attendance. You are all an asset to the University of Houston, and I wish you the best of health and happiness. We will come out of these troubled times soon and will do so even stronger.
With warm regards,Renu Khator