Update: Budget, Mental Health, Search - University of Houston
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Update: Budget, Mental Health, Search

April 3, 2023

Dear Colleagues,

There has been a flood of emails in your Inbox from us, but I feel that I should update you on some critical items.

Mental Health and Well-being: Given the two tragic suicides on our campus in a short span of five weeks, we all are facing emotions that are complex and intense. Provost Chase and I have received many emails, some filled with frustration and anger, and others offering support and advice. I know that you have demonstrated strength and offered support to our students while also experiencing pain and anxiety yourself. Let me thank you on behalf of our students and all of us in the administration for the role that you have played. While we continue to reflect and grieve; we, as a community, must forge ahead and find short and long-term solutions to the issues that have surfaced. Here is a quick list of steps that have been or are being taken.

  1. Agnes Arnold Hall Task Force: Co-chaired by former College of Education Dean and Interim Provost Dr. Robert McPherson and Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance Raymond Bartlett, this task force will offer recommendations on the future of Agnes Arnold Hall by May 15. Implementation will begin immediately thereafter.
  2. Task Force for Mental Health: Co-chaired by Dr. McPherson and Provost Diane Chase, this task will offer recommendations to promote mental health by May 15. Implementation will begin immediately thereafter.
  3.  Strengthening CAPS: I am engaging external experts to review our Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). These experts will come from the nation’s most resilient campuses to (a) review the approach, strategy, structure and resources at CAPS; and (b) offer best practices for us to follow.
  4. Suspension of CAPS Fees: Starting immediately, CAPS will no longer be charging students fees for sessions. Those fees had been put in place to reduce no-show appointments. Fees will be a part of the external review of CAPS.
  5. Toolkit: Preparation of a toolkit that is designed for broad distribution to faculty, staff, students and families to help guide those who are responding to and supporting students in distress.
  6. The JED Campus Initiative:  A nationwide program focused on building a campus that is resilient and caring. We joined this initiative in April 2022, and the group offered recommendations after conducting a thorough assessment of our campus. We will continue to work with them and merge their recommendations with our Task Force on Mental Health.

I have spoken with our faculty experts for advice and my presidential colleagues at institutions that have experienced similar traumas. I have also met with the faculty and staff of Agnes Arnold Hall, to listen to their issues and perspectives. If you have any suggestions and advice for the task forces or me, please do not hesitate to write or submit your feedback on the Task Force website.

Legislative Update: Vice President of Government and Community Relations Jason Smith and his team are monitoring more than 650 bills that, if passed, would have some potential impact on higher education and he provided a recent update.  Five of the bills are of critical importance and I wanted to bring your attention to these.

  1. Base Funding Increase: The House Appropriations Bill includes a 6.8% increase in the base funding for universities with the stipulation that institutions will not raise tuition for the next two years. It also includes funding for other unfunded mandates from previous legislative sessions that have burdened our budget. It has been passed by the committees and will go to the House floor for a vote. This funding will support inflationary increases in salaries and the cost of operations. It will also support any additional lines and academic programs. The Texas Senate has not similarly added any increase to the base or for unfunded mandates in its version of the budget.
  2. Research Endowment: (SB 19, HB 1595, SJR 5, HJR 3) The Texas House proposes to create a new fund, the Texas University Fund, with $4.5 billion. One-third of the income from the fund is guaranteed for the University of Houston to support research infrastructure and capabilities. A portion of this funding will be distributed annually based on two measures: research expenditures and the number of Ph.D. degrees granted. The Senate companion provides only $3.5 billion toward the fund but maintains all other elements of the bill. Neither of the chambers has voted on these yet. The creation of the fund will require a constitutional amendment. We will continue to work hard on these pieces of legislation.
  3. On Tenure: (SB 18) The Senate Higher Committee held a hearing on the bill last week but has not yet held a vote on it. There is no corresponding bill in the House.
  4. Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: There has not yet been a hearing on SB 17, legislation about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs at universities.
  5. Finally, SB 16 prohibiting university professors from compelling students to adopt certain beliefs, has been approved by the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee and will head to the floor. There is no similar legislation in the House.

We continue to work with our legislative leaders and their staff to ensure that our perspective is considered as the legislative process moves forward.

Search Launch for VP of Research: I am initiating a national search for our vice chancellor/vice president for Research for the University of Houston System/University of Houston by appointing a 14-member Search Committee. The Search Committee will be co-chaired by Provost Diane Chase and Dean Daniel O’Connor and will begin its work this month.

New Budget Process: While we will not know our budget distribution until the legislative session ends, we have started our budget process. I know that our needs are always more than the available resources and this year will be no different. Our process will begin in two weeks by making revenue projections and then we will finalize the priority list. From there, we will build alternative plans. Depending on what happens in May or June, we will be able to take a budget to the UH System Board of Regents in August. As I had expressed earlier, talent retention will be our top priority. On the enrollment side, we have not seen an enrollment increase in two years, which limits our ability to enhance revenue. I have asked Provost Chase to review our academic funding model to align rewards with enrollment so that units can plan appropriately. Once the legislature establishes the endowment for research investment (as discussed above), the pressure on the general academic fund to support research will decrease and more resources should be available to support the teaching mission of the university.

Athletics: We will be joining the Big 12 Conference on July 1. Despite the disappointment of not playing on our home turf in the Final Four, we must celebrate the tremendous success of the Men’s Basketball team. We have had three Sweet 16 appearances in four years, and as a result “Houston Cougars” has become a household name. It is time that we leverage it and highlight our academic prowess. As you know, the college sports world is getting more complex and challenging every day, but we can make it worthwhile if we leverage our athletics successes to better serve our core mission and lift the university.

Thank you for your attention, engagement and hard work. I have one final request of you. Without sacrificing academic rigor, if you can please show students that you care, it will mean a lot to them. Meanwhile, please do not forget to take care of your own health and well-being.

With my warmest wishes,

Renu Khator