Communications From the President - 2010 Fall Address - University of Houston
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2010 Fall Address

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President's Fall Address - 2010

Last year, when I stood before you to deliver my first Fall Address, there was much cause for celebration… Proposition 4 had just been approved by the voters of this great State of Texas.  There was sense among all – students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community – that the UH Tier One express was gathering speed and moving forward steadily and resolutely on its journey.

Today, thanks to you, there is cause for celebration again!  The Tier One train has traveled a remarkable distance! 

  • Our enrollment is at 38,774 – an all-time high!
  • The Honors College has welcomed its largest and strongest freshman class ever at 467...  including 16 National Merit Scholars and 39 Tier One Scholars.
  • The 6-year graduation rate is above 45% – an all-time high!
  • Total research expenditures are at $99 million – an all-time high!
  • Research awards are at $114 million – an all-time high!
  • Our private giving is at $102 million – an all-time high, despite a sluggish economy!
  • Our alumni participation is at more than 12% – an all-time high!
  • We at UH, along with our 3 other sister institutions are serving over 65,000 students and have opened a new teaching facility in Northwest Houston!
  • And, our football team… even though going through a difficult patch right now...  will rebound and fight back!

So let’s take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of the past year and look ahead at the steps we need to take, while recognizing the individuals who are making a difference.

You may recall that we have a strategic plan with 6 goals that track our progress toward becoming a nationally-competitive university.  Let’s begin with the most important goal of all, student success.

Student Success

This year, we opened our doors to the largest student body ever while preserving our commitment to diversity, but that is only half the story.  The other half of the story is their success!  If there is one measure that captures the spirit of student success in any university, it is the 6-year graduation rate, because it tells us… 

  • If we are recruiting our students right, with an eye to their academic preparedness,
  • If we are orienting them right, with the goal of giving them a solid start,
  • If we are supporting them right, with the commitment of seeing them graduate,
  • If we are training them right, with relevant and engaging programs, and
  • If we are treating them the way they deserve to be treated, with care and compassion.

I have always believed that if we define our success by the success of our students, we will see more of them succeeding and eventually graduating from college.  Last year, I pleaded with you to make student success our “No Excuse Priority” and raise the graduation rate.

Here is our historical graduation rate.  As you can see, in 10 years, we improved our graduation rate by 10% – a 1% annual average increase.  The blue dotted line shows the expected graduation rate based on the national average of universities similar to ours.

It was clear that we had to actively and strategically break this pattern, and we did so by implementing a 9-point Student Success plan.  In just one year, the results are spectacular. 

In 2010, we increased the graduation rate by 10%...  10 years’ worth of progress in 1 year! 

My gratitude and congratulations to you!  You have proven that when you set your mind to it, you can achieve anything. It takes a combined, concerted team effort to move the graduation rate needle, and I know that everyone has played a role.  But, let me ask one particular group today to stand and take applause for everyone – our academic advisors.

As well as we have done this year, the blue dotted line illustrates that a long and challenging road is still ahead of us.  Our 6-year graduation rate is still below the average rates for public universities in Texas and in the nation.  In coming year, we must continue to build on our successful efforts.  Our goal is to reach the target of 54% within the next 4 to 5 years.  This goal is an essential element of building a Tier One university.

The 9-point Student Success plan includes many components, and among them is offering a living-learning environment on campus for our students.

Today, I am pleased to see our brand-new Cougar Village filled with 1,000 freshmen who identify themselves as the “Class of 2014.”  It is a new day and a new expectation at UH.  The Cougar Village is truly a Tier One facility with seminar rooms, computer labs, and classrooms. 

The key factor that makes our residence halls a living/learning facility, rather than just a place to house students is the faculty-in-residence program. 

Dr. Raul Ramos, professor of history, is living in Cougar Village with his wife and two sons, ages 4 and 6!  Similarly, making their home in Moody Towers are two other faculty-in-residence, Carroll Blue, research professor in the Center for Public History, and Catherine Horn, associate professor of educational psychology, with her husband, and two daughters, ages 5 and 8.   These dedicated faculty members who are making a difference.  

And on the topic of campus life, I must mention our totally remodeled dining facility, the Fresh Food Company.  If you happened to be there on the first day of classes, as I was, you would have seen many students, their eyes wide-opened and jaws dropped, as they filled their plates with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies after a delicious, made-to-order meal. 

Yes, it is the latest generation dining facility not just in Houston, or Texas, but in the entire Southwest.  It is the largest such facility in the nation. 

Again, many hands were involved in the transformation of our student living spaces on campus, but let me applaud two individuals whose teams made all the difference: Emily Messa from Administration and Finance and Javier Hidalgo from Student Affairs.  

Another point of our plan was to recruit nationally-competitive students using Tier One Scholarships. 

A privately raised fund of $14 million has helped us recruit our first class of Tier One Scholars whose average SAT is… are you ready?… 1440!  I spoke with two of them at the Cougar Village opening.

Tyson Adams, a 4.0 grade point average and National Merit Scholar, came to UH because of the Entrepreneurship Program...  and Amy Rodriguez gave up an internship and full ride scholarships at Rice, Texas A&M, and the University of Colorado because of our Hotel and Restaurant Management program!

During my investiture remarks, I, on your behalf, promised to raise $100 million toward undergraduate scholarships and programs.  You will be pleased to know that we have raised $63 million toward that goal. 

As a metropolitan public university, it is our mission to provide access to students, irrespective of their financial ability. Our Cougar Promise program offers free education to students coming from families with less than $45,000 annual income.  At the moment, we are supporting 1,675 students under the Cougar Promise program.

While facilities and funds are important for student success, it is really the faculty who ultimately make the difference.  They produce students who win national honors like…

  • Erica Fletcher, 2010 “Top Ten College Women” by Glamour Magazine, a very rigorous and talent based competition.
  • Matthew Reichl 2010 Goldwater Scholar
  • Mariana Guerrero 2010 Rotary Scholar

Needless to say, all three are honors students with double or triple majors.

We are equally proud of the Student Government Association under the leadership of President, Prince Wilson and his active participation in many meetings, committees, and task forces where SGA represents the interests of our students. 

Last year, the Board of Regents doubled the funds that we use to recognize outstanding teachers, and it is my honor to ask our Outstanding Teaching Award winners for 2010 to please stand and be recognized. 

Our staff members are a key stakeholder in student success.  Like they have been doing for several years, 500 of them under the leadership of Staff Council, and particularly of Ann McFarland made a great “first impression” on our students.  In all, they answered 75,000 questions from our students in the first two days.  On behalf of our students, thank you to all our wonderful staff. 

Before I close this topic, let me express my gratitude to the Faculty Senate under the leadership of President Mark Clarke for their exceptional leadership in the area of student success.  Their unwavering focus on student achievements and on enhancement of faculty teaching is making a difference.


Now, let’s turn to our Tier One journey in research and scholarship.  Our explicit goal is to be a nationally competitive university.  We will reach that goal when we are listed in the top group of public research universities, not just in Texas, but in the nation.  Other than AAU, two organizations rank universities based on their research performance – The Center for University Performance through The Top American Universities Report (TARU), and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  

TARU is published every year and therefore, we can gauge our annual progress.  It measures 9 areas of performance, and this is how we stack up from 2009 to 2010. 

In 2009, UH was considered a “Top 50” public research university in 1 of 9 areas of measured performance.  This year, we made the “Top 50” list in 3 areas of performance.  That is quite an impressive journey in one year!  Congratulations in truly moving the needle!

Our goal is to consistently finish in the “Top 50” in 5 of the 9 measures, and finish in the “Top 25” list in 1 of the measures. 

Let’s review our performance in these specific areas.

As you may recall, last year we broke our research awards record by surpassing the $100 million mark.  It was a big accomplishment for us. This year, we raised the bar to $114 million!  Our total research expenditures rose to $99 million as a result, placing us 3rd among all Texas universities, public or private.   

Our faculty have achieved this success by thinking strategically and finding ways to leverage their individual and university’s collective strengths.  If one word could capture the force that moved the needle, it is synergy – multiple faculty writing multi-million-dollar proposals in areas of synergistic interests with other institutions in Houston!

While every single award, however large or small, is important, it is difficult to build a sustainable $200 million institutional portfolio that we desire to build, without a substantial number of multi-million dollar awards.  In 2007, only 13 awards were million-dollar-plus awards.  This year, there were 31.  Kudos to our faculty!  May I ask all our faculty with million-dollar-plus awards, whether as single PI and co-PI, to please stand and be recognized? 

Where do we go from here? 

Our goal is to raise research awards to $200 million a year, and research expenditures to $150 million a year, a very ambitious goal, indeed, but a necessary one if we want to be a Tier One university.  It is certainly my hope that our focus on energy and health – facilitated by our partnership with the energy industry (symbolized by the Energy Advisory Board) and our membership in the Texas Medical Center – will help our faculty accomplish these goals.  In the end, we realize that we have to increase the number of research faculty and staff in order to reach our targets.

National organizations often use sponsored research as a proxy, but we all know that it only captures the work of half the university faculty.  The other half is captured by their publishing, performances, and honors, all of which bring national visibility. We celebrate every kind of recognition for our faculty.  

However, today I would like to highlight those faculty who have received national awards recognized by either TARU or AAU.  Your names are on the screen, but may I ask you to please stand?

Let me take a moment to point out that our already strong and distinguished faculty roster has become even stronger in the last three years with the addition of Dr. Jan-Åke Gustafsson, Dr. Andrew Veletsos, Dr. Kaspar Willam (WEE-lam), and Dr. Surendra Shah.  They are all members of either the National Academy of Sciences or the National Academy of Engineering.  Interestingly, I should note that the last sitting member of any National Academy was recruited by UH in 1984! 

Retention of faculty and staff is equally important.  I am grateful to our regents for allowing us to give merit-based salary increases to our faculty and staff. 

Last, but not least important, we celebrate the latest in national rankings of our academic programs...

  • 6 academic programs are now ranked in US News & World report for the very first time –
    1. Biological Sciences,
    2. Earth and Atmospheric Sciences,
    3. Part-time MBA,
    4. Electrical Engineering,
    5. Computer Science, and
    6. Environmental/Environmental Health Engineering
  • Our Mathematics programs have moved from #84 to #68 in US News
  • The UH Law Center now has 3 programs in the “Top 10” in the nation in US News (healthcare law, intellectual property law and part-time law)!
  • And the Association of Research Libraries has moved the M.D. Anderson Library from #81 to #74 in their rankings, a remarkable achievement in 1 year.  



Let’s move to facilities.  Needless to say, our faculty need the facilities in which to teach, learn, and conduct research. A few years ago, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, UH had the state’s biggest space deficit.  With support from the state, and through the creative use of other means of funding, including philanthropy and borrowing, we are taking big strides to fill the space gap.  I am pleased to say that we currently have more than 2.6 million square feet of space being designed, built, or renovated. 

Facilities opened in the last three years include Calhoun Lofts, Cougar Village, Fresh Food Company, East Parking Garage, the renovated Hilton Hotel and parts of the Science and Engineering Research Center tower.

Under planning, construction, or soon to begin construction are the Fleming Building expansion, new Cougar Place, Cougar Village Phase II, various UH Energy Research Park buildings, Valenti School expansion, Stadium Garage, Blaffer Museum expansion, a new classroom building near Bauer College, and the Health and Biomedical Sciences Center.

Let me turn to athletics!  Do you see UH spirit here?... 

Athletics, to me, is not about entertainment – it is an essential part of providing a comprehensive experience to students.  

Our football team has lifted the Cougar spirit as never before.  More than 11,500 fans bought season tickets, an increase of 82% over last year.  We faced a setback in California, but setbacks are part of the journey.  We are Cougars and we will rise again.

Come November, we will have a basketball season to look forward to under Coach James Dickey’s leadership.  New coaches for women’s basketball, men’s golf, baseball, and volleyball signal a new era for Cougar Athletics… a winning era, an era of national competitiveness!

But, college sports is not just about winning on the field or the court.  When I hired Mack Rhoades, I said that I wanted to see better academic success of our athletes.  Here is the report one year later: 

  • 11 of 12 teams raised their academic progress report this year.
  • Our student-athletes are at their highest ever grade point average, as of the Spring semester.
  • On the first day of classes, I encountered 3 student athletes waiting in front of the large lecture hall 40 minutes before the class was scheduled to start.  Why?  They wanted to grab seats in the first row, a requirement of their athletics leadership program. 

Congratulations to the coaches, the Athletics staff, and the student-athletes!  Our goal is to have a nationally-competitive athletics programs…it is part of our Tier One aspirations. 


Great universities are built by great communities.  Houston is a great community and it has taken the challenge of building UH into a great university, one that provides access, but does not shy away from excellence in the national and global context.  They have shown their support in multiple ways.

  • Last year we raised a record-breaking $102 million in private and corporate support!  This is an overwhelming vote of confidence from more than 25,000 individuals – alumni, friends, corporations, and foundations – who wrote checks for UH.
  • More than 12% of our alumni are now giving back to the university, up from 5.3% just 3 years ago.
  • More than 175,000 community visitors have come to campus to enjoy our arts events from the Blaffer Museum, Moores School of Music, School of Theater and Dance, and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.
  • Our legislative delegation has been unified in its support for UH.
  • Major civic and business organizations continue to rally behind our vision.


Finally, thanks to the great work of our media relations team, local and national coverage for our university and faculty has doubled and tripled.  You could not have missed seeing Professor Don Nieuwenhuise.  He appeared in more than 250 local, national, and international news reports to discuss the Gulf oil spill.

We are on a great journey, but let’s not forget the challenges ahead.   Last year, we took a 5% reduction in our state budget.  Even though only one-fourth of our operating budget comes from the state, state funds are our lifeline.  We have been asked to plan for another 10% budget reduction and, looking at the economy, it may very well be taken from us.  All over the nation, universities – public and private – have experienced serious budget reductions.  We are fortunate to be in Texas, and in Houston, where the economy is stronger and more stable in comparison.  Nonetheless, we must prepare for the worst.

During these difficult times, some may doubt our ability to make forward progress, and some may question our goals, including our goal to become a Tier One University.  Let me ask you to imagine two travelers embarking on a journey.  They walk from morning to noon to afternoon.  By now, the sun has become unbearably hot, the travelers are exhausted and the destination seems impossible to achieve.   The first traveler says, “I can’t walk any more. I have better chance of surviving if I stop, stand still and let the hot afternoon pass.”  The other traveler says, “The sun is too hot, but standing still will not reduce its intensity. I must find some shade, and if I can do that, I can continue walking.”  Who do you think will not only survive but complete the journey? 

When the sun gets hot for us, the option is not to stand still, but to find shade. Our strategic plan is our shade.  If we follow it, we will not only survive the heat, but will complete the journey.       

Provost Antel and Executive Vice President Carlucci have begun the process of planning for budget reduction in consultation with our governance groups.  Tough choices will need to be made, but together, we can make them. We will continue to focus on our big rocks – student success, energy, health, the arts, and our star programs.

Meanwhile, the pre-legislative session has begun in Austin. We hope to convince our lawmakers that the best of the universities were built in the worst of times.  Despite economic hardships, now is the right time to invest in building a healthy economy and a healthy society.  Universities do exactly that on a long-term basis and, therefore, are a good investment.

Higher education will change dramatically in next ten years…we have a choice to either be on the receiving end or the leading edge.      We will continue to engage our alumni and the community. Making UH a nationally competitive university is not a choice we make...  it is an obligation, we must fulfill for Houston and for Texas.  


In closing, I would like to express my deepest respect and admiration for all you do, every day, each one of you!  You have moved the needle and you will move the mountain.

Thomas Jefferson said, “In time of need, one man with courage is a majority!”  For our university, you are that majority.  What you do is important.  You are important.  You are the pride!