2020 President’s Fall Address - University of Houston
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2020 President’s Fall Address

President Renu Khator
October 28, 2020

2020 Fall Address

Thank you, Dr. Cortina…you have been an amazingly steady voice during these unsteady times. There are a lot of skills that you bring to the table, but it is your positive attitude and energy that are most admirable. Thank you.

To our wonderful Concert Chorale, thank you. Even on a virtual platform, you are amazing.

Good morning! It is my honor to bring you this year, like every year, highlights of our collective achievements.  Different today is that I am standing in an empty Moores Opera House. But looks can sometimes be deceiving. Generally, our faculty and staff fill these seats…but since we are on the virtual platform and since the attendance is not determined by the number of seats here, we have extended the invitation to our alumni as well, allowing me to address many more of you.  Thank you for joining us today.

Let me begin by thanking our Board of Regents whose vision, support and dedication are the starting point of everything we do.

  • --The Honorable Tilman Fertitta, Board Chairman
  • --The Honorable Gerald McElvy, Board Vice Chair
  • --The Honorable Beth Madison, Board Secretary
  • --The Honorable Durga Agrawal
  • --The Honorable Doug Brooks
  • --The Honorable Alonzo Cantu
  • --The Honorable Steve Chazen
  • --The Honorable John McCall
  • --The Honorable Jack Moore
  • --And our student regent, The Honorable Alvaro De la Cruz

We also owe our gratitude to former regents whose passion and guidance has helped us become the university we are today.  

Also joining us virtually are: Interim President Antonio Tillis from UH-Downtown, President Ira Blake from UH-Clear Lake, and President Robert Glenn from UH-Victoria.

Thank you for taking time from your busy schedules to be with us this morning. 

As I started to prepare for this year’s Fall Address, one word kept coming to mind: resilience.  Yes, our story for 2020 is the story of resilience. Last year was defined by the force of momentum, especially as we received the approval for the College of Medicine, met the national target for graduation rate, and of course, had a spectacular basketball season. But then came the pandemic and the world turned upside down for all of us, everywhere. We were caught off-guard, felt unprepared, but then embarked on a journey that took us into uncharted territory. It tested our grit and resilience.

As is said, “Resilience is not what happens to you. It is how you react to, respond to, and recover from whatever happens to you.” People and organizations respond differently to crises. According to Dalai Lama, the difference is caused by one factor, compassion.  In his words, “The greater the force of your compassion, the greater your resilience in confronting hardships.”  This year’s Fall Address is dedicated to all those whose compassion for the University of Houston, for our students and our mission, has given us resilience and has allowed us to not just float but forge ahead.

It was on March 11th that the NBA and NCAA halted their seasons. This was soon followed by Harris County’s stay-at-home order. We were in the middle of our Spring break and had two choices: give up or find a new way to continue.

Like most other universities, we did a quick assessment of our abilities.  Yes, we could operate virtually but it was an untested environment.  Only 20% of our faculty had ever taught an online course. Half of the students had never enrolled in one. Staff had never thought about virtual delivery of critical services like mental health counseling or disability support.

Nearly 6,700 students were living in our residence halls. More than 3,000 international students were left stranded, unable to return home as international flights were cancelled. And then there were other questions: Is there enough bandwidth to stream thousands of courses simultaneously? Can intellectual property be protected? Can clinics be taught online?

After serious deliberations, we extended spring break by one week to give enough time to the faculty and staff to shift to the virtual platform. Kudos to our faculty and staff who were committed to the mission. I must say that when we resumed operations on March 23rd, we were in a different world.

  • Nearly 6,000 courses had shifted online.
  • 100% of the faculty were teaching online. 
  • Most student support services from advising to career counseling to health and fitness had moved online.
  • Residence halls were left open and at least 1800 students stayed.
  • Buildings were closed; however, 500 plus employees continued to maintain services that were necessary for the rest of us to work virtually. While everyone did their part, I think the teams that physically remained on campus deserve an applause.  Thank you for your commitment.

In the following weeks we faced additional challenges that we had failed to take into consideration. Some students had no functional laptops with which to take online courses.  Others had no access to broadband or a strong enough Wi-Fi connection. Many had no jobs and many were under severe stress for having to look after children, elderly or sick. At this time, we appealed to our donors and alumni to support those student needs that we could not support from our restricted funds. The response was swift and immediate and we raised $1 million dollars.  Additionally, University IT loaned out 300 computers for students. We also reimbursed housing, meal and parking costs to students.

Five weeks later, the semester ended and our seniors graduated even though there was no formal ceremony to mark it. We were still left with two major challenges: research and finances.

For a tier-one research university where at any given time, hundreds of research experiments are underway, the physical closure of the campus can spell a serious and sometimes irreversible loss.  On May 6th, we decided to open research labs and offices, of course, after taking all safety precautions at the time. 4,000 faculty and staff took mandatory COVID 19 training and received clearance to return to campus.

For the summer months, we could have decided to close our housing, but did not.  Many of our students had nowhere to go and even if they did, campus housing was a safer option for them than returning home. We could not close our eyes to the plight of the students and continued to house over 900 students throughout the summer months.

All classes for summer were conducted on a virtual platform.  Realizing the devastating loss of jobs in the nation, the Board of Regents allowed us to waive fees, translating into a 20% discount for students. By now, we were also able to pass on $18.5 million dollars from the CARES ACT to our students. Faculty and staff reached out to students in a more personal and compassionate manner than ever before. The result was a 23% increase in summer enrollment…and a 36% increase in semester credit hours!

By the end of August as we closed our financial books, we had incurred nearly $80 million dollars in losses.  We took aggressive and proactive steps to mitigate these losses. First and foremost was a freeze on discretionary spending and hiring, which saved us over $50 million dollars from March through August. That, along with the help from the CARES ACT enabled us to stabilize our budget for the remainder of the fiscal year. Many functions and units underwent consolidation or reorganization, resulting in the elimination of some positions. The end result was that our faculty and staff had to take on extra responsibilities and do more with less.

Unfortunately, the rough patch is not yet over.  We could incur another $100 million in losses depending upon several factors:

State’s economy, state’s funding of higher education, federal support, and above all, the state of the pandemic itself which will determine whether or not it is safe for us to have a more normal spring semester. Our goal will remain providing a safe learning environment to our students and a safe working environment for our faculty and staff.

It is during a crisis that one can gauge the character of a person or an organization.  I can honestly say that members of the Cougar family stood together like sequoia trees whose roots are not independently deep but are intertwined with each other for support and nourishment. Like sequoia trees, we are giants in our ambitions, overpowering in our impact and hardy in our character and we do this by being a part of each other’s survival… by being a family.

In June, our world was once again torn apart by the grief, anger and pain experienced by so many following the tragic death of George Floyd. The fact that he was a neighbor and a former resident of 3rd Ward, whom people knew, made the pain even more intense. At that moment and since then, we have challenged ourselves to listen, respect, think and act. Kudos to our students who took the lead in so many ways by volunteering to virtually mentor neighborhood children and distributing food but also by writing petitions, speaking out, coming to the table, and engaging in dialogue, and all of this while honoring freedom of speech and valuing diversity of opinions.

In August, we began the Fall Semester. We had to prepare for it with one over-arching goal--provide a safe and engaging learning environment to students. We also leaned on established guiding principles learned in Hurricane Harvey: flexibility and compassion.  Because the virus is unpredictable, we had to be predictable in our ability to shift and adjust. 

As we opened in Fall,

  • 259 classrooms had been equipped with new technology for professors to offer HyFlex courses. 
  • The entire schedule had been redesigned.
  • The University had developed extensive safety protocols including a testing site, 100 rooms for quarantine, a fleet of contact tracers, and mandatory training.

In a pandemic, we need planning, and cooperation, but we also need luck.  Our planning has been extensive. The cooperation from faculty, staff and students has been excellent. And of course, we have been lucky. It makes me humble to be part of such a resilient family.

2020 Fall Address on Rankings/Student Success

It has indeed been a challenging time; however, our work has not stopped nor has our momentum diminished.  This year’s US News and World Report Ranking shows the University of Houston moved up 9 spots to rank 176th among all universities and 87th among all public universities in the nation. In the last 5 years, The University of Houston has improved its ranking more than any other Texas university.  

Analysis shows that two factors are largely responsible: a rise in the university’s reputation and an increase in the 6-year graduation rate. Reputational score is based on an annual survey of other university presidents, provosts and deans of students. We know that our quality has been solid but I believe that two events may have helped bring this quality into national focus: opening of the College of Medicine and sustained success of the Cougar basketball team! 

On the 6-year graduation rate, we started with a 7-point deficit from the expected rate only a few years back. This year, we have not only matched but surpassed this benchmark.

The University of Houston also has the lowest student debt among all peer institutions in Texas.

We are also investing more in our students than any other research university in Texas with the exception of those receiving PUF.

Enrollment trends indicate that students and parents value a degree from the University of Houston.  Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, we have enrolled a record-breaking class of students this fall…47,100 to be precise!

Our students have come from all over the nation, with the largest feeder states being California, Florida, Louisiana, New York, and Texas. Of course, serving Houston is no small feat either. As the fourth largest city in the country, Houston’s population is larger than 37 states.

Student access is important but just as important is student success. Talk about resiliency, despite all the challenges, freshmen progressed better this year than any time in history. 

They took more credits and earned better grades. For this, the credit goes to our faculty who have gone beyond their expected time and duty to keep students engaged. The credit also goes to staff who got creative and switched to virtual services from telehealth to tele counseling to tele fitness.

It is one thing to succeed in the classroom but quite another to defy odds and win national honors. Here are two of my favorite examples.

  • Hana Mohamad, an Honors College student and psychology major, was selected as a 2020 Frederick Douglass Global Fellow – one of just 10 college students from across the country to receive the prestigious award.
  • Mike Floyd, an Honors College student and political science major in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, was named a 2020 Truman Scholar by the Harry S. Truman Foundation. The Truman is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious national fellowships in the United States.

Our heartiest congratulations to both Hana and Mike. You make us proud!

Among this year’s new enrollees are 30 very special students. These are exceptionally bright and compassionate future doctors. Consistent with our mission of the College of Medicine, the founding class of 2020 is talented, diverse and fully committed to reducing health disparities. Attending the White Coat Ceremony and listening to the oath that our new medical students wrote themselves was one of the most cherished memories of the year for me.

Research and Faculty

As a tier-one research university, our mission is to advance the frontiers of knowledge. In thousands of labs and offices, our professors, post doctorates and graduate students tackle global challenges on a daily basis.

Despite serious disruptions, our researchers have performed better this year than ever before, crossing the $200 million mark on NSF reported funding. At least 32 of these awards were over a million dollars including:

  • a $10 million grant to Professor David Francis of the Department of Psychology to improve learning abilities of non-English-speaking students in middle and high schools and,
  • an $11.8 million grant to Dr. Ezemenari Obasi of the College of Education to reduce health disparities.

The University of Houston also received 3 new national research centers bringing the total national centers on campus to 8. It is quite impressive considering that we had only 2 such centers five years ago.

More than grants, our researchers have responded to the immediate crisis at hand. Please allow me to highlight a few here:

  • Professor Shaun Zang in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry transitioned his knowledge on biotherapies to find an injectable vaccine that can neutralize antibodies to protect cells from infections from the COVID-19 virus.
  • Professor Gomika Udugama-sooriya in the Department of Pharmacological and Pharmaceutical Sciences is applying his cell-screening technology to identify peptides that can bind to ACE2 receptors. In partnership with industry, he is exploring nasal spray or eye drop products to combat the virus.
  • Professor Navin Varadarajan in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering is developing a novel intranasal vaccine technology to address a multitude of respiratory viruses, starting with COVID-19.
  • Shifting to immediate needs, researchers from the Gerald Hines College of Architecture and Design dropped everything to produce face shields to help protect healthcare workers.
  • During the weeks when the Texas Medical Center reported a shortage of PPE, Dr. David Brammer and his team provided full body overalls and air purifying respirators to TMC to support their needs. 

On a personal level, Raul Silva, a registered nurse from the College of Nursing, heard that the city of New York did not have enough frontline healthcare providers so he decided to travel to New York to volunteer at a Brooklyn hospital.

While healthcare is the most obvious frontier to combat coronavirus, it is not the only one.  Professor Zhifeng Ren collaborated with Medistar to come up with a specially designed air filter that could catch and kill the virus instantly. Think about airports, airlines, office buildings, schools that could become usable spaces by purifying the air. Their filter is already in use at selected locations including a convention center, hotels and schools.

Professor Rheeda Walker of Psychology has appeared on many national and local media outlets for her path-breaking work on coping with life during the pandemic’s isolation while also addressing African American adult mental health.

The University of Houston also filed the largest number of patents this year than ever before. The National Academy of Inventors inducted 4 new members from the University of Houston faculty, making us one of the top innovation institutions in the nation.

With such a high level of activity, it is not surprising that faculty are receiving top national honors for their achievements. I am proud to note that Dr. Pradeep Sharma of the Department of Mechanical Engineering has been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship. This rare and prestigious fellowship is awarded to those who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship. Congratulations, Dr. Sharma.

Another top national honor is Sloan Research Fellowship which this year has been won by not one but two of our faculty members. Drs. Jakoah Brgoch and Judy Wu are stellar researchers in our nationally ranked Department of Chemistry. Congratulations to you both!

Just three weeks ago, Professor Cristina Rivera Garza in the Creative Writing Program was honored with McArthur Foundation’s Genius award. Exceptionally rare, this award brings with it $625,000 dollars to support Professor Garza’s creativity. I am currently reading her book, Grieving, and it is mesmerizing.

UH Libraries are home to several rare and special collections. Thanks to an endowment by the Hollyfield Foundation, the M. D. Anderson library is now able to acquire and preserve source materials that document the social, cultural, and political history of LGBTQ communities in Houston.

While it is important to celebrate the productivity of our faculty, it is also important to understand the profile of this illustrious faculty body.  We pride ourselves in having one of the most diverse student bodies; however, for many years, we could not say the same for our faculty. A few years back with the help of an ADVANCE grant from NSF, we took it upon ourselves to diversify the faculty.

In the last 5 years, the number of ethnically and racially underrepresented faculty who are tenured or tenure-track at UH has increased by an impressive 42%.

  • 117% increase in African-American women faculty
  • 45% increase in Hispanic women faculty
  • 31% increase in Hispanic male faculty, and
  • 26% increase in overall Women faculty

All of these are in tenure-track and tenured positions. The results have been so impressive that last month, the Chronicle of Higher Education featured the University of Houston captioning, “You think you can’t afford to transform your faculty? The University of Houston begs to differ.”

It has taken a lot of hard work and commitment by a lot of people from the provost to deans to department chairs and faculty to transform the academic culture. Our work and our progress will continue.


If you visited campus during the summer months, the only noise you may have heard was the noise coming from construction sites.  After stopping work for a few weeks in March, our construction projects were back on track in April. Three projects were completed this summer. Built on the same location as the old quads, the new Quad is a housing option that invites students to experience connected living while enjoying outdoors. Nestled around five green courts, The Quad has 1,197 beds in 7 townhomes, 257 four bedroom suites and 35 single bedroom units.

Two parking garages also opened: Garage #5 at the Elgin entrance and Garage #6 at the University Gateway which will provide an additional 5,000 parking spaces. Just to be clear, our masterplan does not call for building any additional garages at this time.

As the severity of the pandemic hit us in March, we reassessed our construction needs and decided to put several projects on hold. Some projects, however, are continuing. Among them are

  • The College of Medicine building in the Life Sciences Complex, where construction is now underway.
  • The John O’Quinn Law building, home of the Law Center at a nearby but new location
  • Renovation of McElhinney with new space for the Hobby School for Public Affairs
  • Expansion of the Graduate College of Social Work
  • Student Health Building
  • Melcher Pool refill and renovation as home to the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
  • Second tower for the Conrad Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management
  • Advancing Community Engagement (ACE) building off Cullen Blvd to serve as home for UH programs in 3rd Ward
  • Renovation of Roy Cullen, home to our liberal arts and social sciences departments.
  • And finally the Auxiliary Retail Center on the hill that currently houses the Satellite.

In case you are doubting the wisdom of continuing construction during these difficult financial times, let me assure you that these projects are funded either by bonds, or donor gifts exclusively given for the building project, or state funds allocated for construction only.  None of these funds can be used for general operations of the university.

The University of Houston System public arts celebrated its 50th anniversary by releasing a coffee table book which has received much accolades and admiration. Last year, we added a new dimension to the public arts program by inviting temporary exhibits.  The first one displayed with funding from the Brown Foundation was Mobius Houston. This year, the campus is ready to show off the new exhibit, Color Field. I hope you can find time to walk around the campus and enjoy this beautiful display of colors.

Donor and Alumni

On August 31st, we concluded our $1 Billion system wide “Here, We Go” campaign by raising $1.24 billion dollars and thus outperforming our own ambitions. We thank campaign co-chairs: Mr. Tilman Fertitta, Ms. Beth Madison, Mr. John Nau, and Mr. Marvin Odum. What spectacular leadership you all provided us! You inspired us to dream big, challenged us to be relevant and forced us to stay focused.  You led us from all directions, often making calls for us and introducing us to people who cared about Houston and our role in Houston’s future.  Thank you again!

Funds raised from the campaign are supporting:

  • Hundreds of students with the $215 million fund specifically designated for scholarships and fellowships.
  • 55 endowed professorships and chairs
  • 29 buildings—some new and some major renovations
  • 12 centers and institutes, some new and some continuing ones

$17.7 million has been given by the faculty and staff across the eight years of the campaign! Two years ago, the University of Houston began a new tradition to celebrate the University’s birthday on March 7th – the creation of UH Giving Day. This year, 6,000 donors stepped forward to give $11 million dollars on that day!  We thank you for your generosity.

People often ask me, “What do you think is the biggest achievement of UH during your tenure?” My answer is simple, “Alumni pride…the fact that more alumni can stand taller today and say that I graduated from the University of Houston.” But you don’t have to take my word for it. 44% of alumni who have given to the university graduated in just the last decade. We feel humbled to see this level of support and thank our alumni for their love and pride in their Alma Mater.

Our alumni have big hearts, not just for the University, but also for the city and the community. It was evident through their acts of kindness the last few months.

  • Take the story of Carlos de Aldecoa, a graduate of 1997. After his aunt was diagnosed with COVID-19, and the number of COVID-19 cases started to rise, Mr. de Aldecoa shifted his business operations from producing distilled spirits to making hand sanitizer. Named after de Aldecoa’s 5-year-old son, Carlos IV, the C4U hand sanitizer was born. Producing as much as 15,000 gallons per day, C4U is now sold in retail locations across the country.
  • Marvin Odum, graduate of 1995 with an MBA, was named COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Czar for the City of Houston by Mayor Turner, who by the way is also our graduate.
  • Avi Katz, graduate of 1997, was moved by the selfless service of frontline workers, police and healthcare professionals and started distributing free coffee as a way to say thank you.

Our University has received generous support even from those who are not among our alumni. At this time, please allow me to pay our tribute to an icon who did not graduate from the University of Houston but who cared about it just as much as any of us, Mr. Gerald D. Hines.  While paying tribute to his legacy, Pulitzer Prize winning architect Paul Goldberger described Mr. Hines as someone “who saw buildings as part of a community’s culture, not just structures… that better buildings would make a community look, feel and actually be better.” We could not agree more.  What an honor it is that Mr. Hines trusted our College of Architecture to bear his name forever.


It is not possible to talk about the University of Houston without talking about its athletics and it is not possible to talk about UH Athletics without talking about Coach Bill Yeoman, a giant who we lost this year. Coach Yeoman coached the Cougars for a remarkable 25 seasons from 1962 to 1986 and was the first representative from the University of Houston to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. His 160 victories are the most in Houston's history. Off the field, Yeoman played a key role early in the integration of college athletics with the signing of running back Warren McVea in 1964 as the Cougars' first African-American Football student-athlete. We are grateful for having had Coach Yeoman in our lives and we will miss him greatly.

Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, Cougar athletics has had some special moments like winning conference championships in Women’s Swimming and Diving, Men’s Indoor Track and Field and Women’s Indoor Track and Field.  I am also thinking of men’s basketball team. This year, Cougars accomplished something that they had not in the previous 30 years.  For the second straight year, our 21st ranked Houston Men’s Basketball program was named the 2020 American Athletic Conference Champions. The last time the Cougars won back-to-back regular season championships was in 1983 and 1984, when UH made it all the way to the NCAA tournament final. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we can have a meaningful season this year so our athletes get a chance to show their grit and athleticism.

Athletics is not just about sports and championships; it is primarily about education. I am pleased to say that all 17 sport programs finished with 3.0 or higher grade-point averages this past Spring, a first in school history.

Ten years and $10 million dollars later, the Cougar baseball team moved into its home in Houston’s Player Development Center, UH’s baseball HQ. I have been told that this spectacular facility is the best in the nation and we will be able to enjoy it once Cougars return to the field in spring.

We waited 317 days to see Cougar football jerseys on the field again on October 8th. I would say that the show was worth the wait.

Looking Ahead…

As we embark on the next year’s journey, our world is full of uncertainties. However, even in the midst of these uncertainties, some things are certain. It is certain that there will be need for learning even if delivery systems and modalities change. It is certain that there will be need for institutions of higher education even if their scope and structures change. It is certain that there will be need for a workforce even if their skill sets change.  And it is certain that there will be need for leaders, innovators and risk takers even if their styles and attributes change.

So the question for us is how do we take what we know is certain and position the University of Houston to embrace, adapt and shape the new world.  And can we do that with the goal of making this new world a better, stronger and more equitable place?

With this in mind, I have established a Task Force on the New Normal.  After all, we have a wealth of knowledge and expertise among our faculty and staff to anticipate changes, draw up scenarios and consider new pathways. The taskforce is preparing white papers on a number of topics like,

  • What will the classroom of the future look like?
  • What will the work place look like?
  • How will the future talent be recruited?
  • How will research collaborations work?
  • What will college athletics look like? What will be the best platform for future Cougars to show off their talents?

In the coming months, we will be taking the expert scenarios, holding campus-wide discussions, refining our plans and positioning the University of Houston for the next phase of our journey.

“New Normal” will define our tactics but not our mission or vision.  We undertook a separate exercise to revise our mission, vision and goals. This year-long exercise has produced a draft document, or I can say our draft strategic plan, that will take us into our centennial year and beyond. When the pandemic hit us in March, we were in the middle of intense conversations with stakeholders.  We thought the virtual platform for such an exercise would prove to be a barrier but in fact it turned out to be a reminder that things are changing fast and we cannot rely on old methods of conducting business.  A draft of the strategic plan is now ready for campus and community wide feedback. With the vision of connecting potential to opportunities, and relying on our values of inclusion, innovation, collaboration, and resiliency, we hope to make the University of Houston a premier destination for students seeking affordable access to nation’s top ranked programs. 

More specifically, our goal is to grow the University of Houston as one of the top 50 public universities in the nation.  Since we are ranked at 87th on the US News and World Report, our short-term goal is to improve our ranking to top 75, which would put us along with or ahead of institutions like LSU and Oregon State. In order to do so, we have to do three things: increase our 6-year graduation rate to 70%, invest more in student support and raise the reputation of the university.

To improve the graduation rate, we have to keep student success as our no-excuse priority. Since it is a rolling average of 4 years, it will take longer than we would like but rest assured that each step we take to help our students succeed is a step in the right direction.

To increase student support, we will have to make student scholarships as our priority and will have to appeal to the legislature for equitable funding to support a diverse student body.

Finally, to enhance the university’s reputation, we will have to strengthen our research to serve Houston and Texas in building a more robust economy and a more equitable society.  It would mean infusing innovation throughout the university.

And finally, it would mean building a nationally competitive athletics program that serves as a window and invites people to see the university’s enormous capabilities in all other fields.

In 6 short years, the University of Houston will enter its centennial year. To celebrate the milestone, I had set up, in May, a centennial masterplan committee which is recommending that we transform the campus into a walkable, pedestrian friendly, collaborative space by planting trees, shading walkways and enacting gateways at some of its entrances.  Included in the plan is a recommendation that we build a centennial plaza, a vast green space expanding from E. Cullen to McElhinney Hall, highlighting the existing iconic fountain and two Cougar statues.  Yes, it would mean building a new building for the College of Education on a new site. The vision is so powerful and I wanted to share it with you.  Of course, we have to do a feasibility study to see if it is practical.

Ambitious goals, high rankings, beautiful buildings, accumulating championship rings--all of these are laudable goals but they have no value if they don’t help us create a community of learners and educators that values human dignity, respect for one another, and empathy for each other’s anguish.  It is the desire of our faculty, staff and students to create a more just, equitable, free, non-discriminatory environment for all at the University of Houston.

Let our history serve as a reminder of who we are.  We are one of the nation’s most diverse and inclusive universities located in one of the most tolerant and forward-looking cities in America. While we are proud of this, we are not perfect.  Our consciousness was jolted this year as we read accounts of senseless deaths in places like Minneapolis, Louisville and Atlanta, but we were shaken up more as members of our own Cougar family shared their personal stories and expressed their own fears and anxieties.  Clearly, our work is not complete.  We can do more.  Clearly, we can protect freedom of expression while being respectful to others’ realities.

The events of the recent past have forced us to review our own policies and practices. Departments and staff organizations have held workplace conversations on social justice issues, academic units have sponsored webinars and forums with internal and external experts, and faculty members have joined the broader community conversation on solutions to challenging issues.  Introspection is the attribute of the strong; indifference is the excuse of the weak. I ask you today to participate in our university’s effort through the Racial Equality and Social Justice Committee in a vigorous dialog and pledge to create an environment where we have the courage to embrace our values, where we shed off our preconceived notions, where we don’t minimize others by dismissing their feelings, and where we are ready to change.

Having different viewpoints, no matter how uncomfortable they make us, is our academic right and allowing ourselves the space to express them is our academic responsibility. To shy away from it is to kill our soul.

I am humbled to be at the University of Houston and am proud to be on your team.  Thank you, each and every one, for your support and dedication.  Let’s go out and vote, let’s stay healthy. And continue to build a strong and bold, University of Houston!