September 10, 2021
Dear Faculty and Staff,
We are in the fourth week of the fall semester, a very challenging time indeed.
We thought we would have a much more normal semester, but the spread of COVID-19’s Delta variant has made it a very anxious time once again. I thank you for persevering in face of physical, mental and emotional challenges. We are doing everything possible to add value to our students’ learning experience, and we can take satisfaction from that.
Here is a quick update for you.
New Era for UH Athletics: Today, the University of Houston was accepted to become a member of the Big 12 athletic conference as soon as 2023. Joining the Big 12 Conference is another step in our institutional journey and signifies the tremendous growth and success we’ve attained both as a University and athletics program during the last decade. This leap to a Power 5 athletic conference signifies a substantial opportunity for the University. Having a relevant and successful athletics program can be a tremendous asset in building a university’s academic prowess. It is interesting to note that all but three AAU public universities have a Power 5 athletics program. On this momentous occasion, I would like to remind you that you have been a major part of the journey that started nearly a decade ago as we stepped up boldly to engage our alumni and invest in athletics. Now, we need to once again capitalize on the opportunity that has been presented to us as we showcase our University as one of the preeminent academic and athletic institutions in the country.
Enrollment and Student Success: This fall, the University of Houston has enrolled more than 47,000 students, more than in the fall of 2019 and almost the same as last year. However, our records show that students are taking fewer credits, which is a nationwide trend and accounts for a 2.6% decline in semester credit hours (SCH) for us. Interestingly, the graduate enrollment is at an all-time high, as is the interest in the University of Houston reflected by the record-breaking number of freshman applications received. Right now, 90% of the student housing is occupied and more than 70% of our classes are meeting in a face-to-face format. There were many logistical challenges in opening the campus, and I thank chairs and supervisors for helping faculty and staff members find creative solutions. Although the campus is open, we remain agile enough to take whatever action may be needed to continue keeping our environment safe for learning and working.
Merit Increase and Other Budgetary Decisions: The Board of Regents in its August meeting approved the budget as presented for FY 2020-21. I have shared the details with you in my previous updates, but here are the highlights:
- Realizing the increase in productivity (both enrollment and research awards), the Board approved a 2% merit pool for eligible faculty and staff. This is in addition to the one-time merit pay distributed in August.
- An increase in graduate student pay
- An adjustment to staff salaries to raise the minimum wage from $9 to $11 per hour. It is a part of our plan to increase it to $15 in the next few years.
- 25 new faculty lines to enhance student success and research capacity
- New staff positions, particularly in the Student Accessibility Center and research lab maintenance.
- Seed funds to start Aspire Initiative institutes
- Seed funds for the Carbon HUB Initiative
- Launch of the Population Health Initiative
I thank you for your discipline in curtailing discretionary expenditures and having an increased enrollment last year, making these crucial investments possible. We cannot do everything, but we need to stay focused on the strategic plan and priorities to push toward our goal of becoming one of the Top 50 public universities in the nation.
COVID 19 Precautions: Extending the “soft opening” policy for classroom instruction for an additional two weeks and implementing the Temporary Remote Work/Sick Leave Guidelines for COVID-19 Related Reasons have helped our ongoing efforts to keep our campus community as safe as possible while still meeting our educational mission. In addition, the COVID Coordination Committee continues to meet regularly and monitor the situation. The COVID website provides detailed information about safety, reporting and campus resources. I ask you to seriously consider getting a vaccination as well as following CDC guidelines that include wearing masks in indoor public setting. Please encourage your colleagues and students to follow these vital CDC guidelines and to think about vaccination as a preventative tool. It is important to remember that we spend more time off-campus than on-campus.
Let me end by asking that you please take care of yourself. The stressful circumstances can impact our wellbeing negatively. It is important to find a hobby that can take our minds off of daily hassles. Personally, I have found solace in painting, something I did as a teenager but then never touched again until it became a tool to break the monotony of virtual meetings. I encourage you all to find your own diversions. Thank you once again and stay safe.