2022 President’s Fall Address
President Renu Khator
October 12, 2022
2022 Fall Address
Good morning and welcome to the annual Fall Address. It is my honor to gather with you today to reflect on our collective achievements. To everyone in the audience, thank you for coming. And thank you to those of you are joining us virtually.
Dr. Shattuck, thank you for that warm and gracious introduction. You are known for your passion for students, and I think you have won all the teaching awards that UH has to offer. So, I know in this new role you will be extremely instrumental in helping us achieve our next milestone. Thank you for your kind words as well.
To our Concert Chorale, under the direction of Professor Betsy Cook Weber, it was absolutely magnificent! You were great, you were wonderful, as usual. I am so proud to have the School of Music at the University of Houston.
Please give one more hand to our Concert Chorale!
We work so very hard at the University of Houston, and this is our opportunity to reflect on our collective achievements and to take a glimpse at the road ahead. We have been on a path to build a powerhouse right here at UH. Now, we’re daring to set our sights on becoming one of the nation’s top 50 public universities.
But none of the dreaming would be possible without the support of our Board of Regents. The tone is set at the top. Please welcome…
--The Honorable Tilman Fertitta, Board Chairman
--The Honorable Jack Moore, Board Vice Chairman
--The Honorable Durga Agrawal, Board Secretary
--The Honorable Doug Brooks
--The Honorable Beth Madison
--The Honorable Alonzo Cantu
--The Honorable John McCall
--The Honorable Ricky Raven
--And our new student regent, the Honorable Edward Carrizales,
--We also honor our late regent The Honorable Steven Chazen who passed away last month. He will be sorely missed.
Thank you all for your unwavering support.
At any given time, the UH System Board of Regents consists of 10 members, but there are many others who have generously given their time and support as board member before. May I ask our former regents to please stand?
--Please also welcome President Loren Blanchard from UH-Downtown who is here with us this morning.
Thank you all for taking time from your busy schedules to be with us this morning.
UH in Houston
While we are a globally known university that attracts students from over 170 countries, our foundation and strength are local.
Our goal of embracing Houston first is bigger than the goals set by flagship universities in 37 other states because Houston’s population is larger than 37 states.
According to the Department of Education, Houston is served by eight 4-year universities. University of Houston enrolls just about as many students as all of the rest combined. With 47,000 students, University of Houston is the third largest university in the state of Texas.
During its existence, the University has produced over 350,000 college graduates. Considering that the majority of our students live and work in the Houston metro area, we can take pride in saying that we are the primary engine of Houston’s educated workforce.
We are also the strongest university engine driving Houston’s research. According to the National Science Foundation’s data, UH brings in and spends more research dollars than any other university in Houston and ranks 3rd in the state among all public and private universities.
According to the data from AUTM, the leading technology transfer resource, University of Houston also leads in technology transfer measured by income from faculty patents and ranks No.1 in the state.
Of course, it all begins with the quality and caliber of our faculty. UH is home to more members of the National Academy of Engineering than any other university in Houston and ranks 3rd after the state’s two other flagships, which, of course, receive funding known as PUF.
When it comes to the members of the National Academy of Inventors, UH ranks first in the state of Texas.
University of Houston’s founders dreamt of a university that provides access to all and we have done so while building a top-quality learning environment, AND with fewer resources than most. But now we dream even bigger for our university and on behalf of those we serve. In order to do so, we will need help. Let’s hold that thought for later and first look at what and how we have done in the core areas of our mission.
University of Houston is about opportunity and transformation--opportunity to follow your dreams and the ability to transform your life and of those around you.
The interest in the University of Houston is stronger than it has ever been. Over 38,000 prospective freshmen applied to the University of Houston for Fall of 22, which is twice as many as in 2010.
According to Bold.org, University of Houston is the 3rd most searched university in Texas by prospective students and parents. And 12th in the nation.
Our ratio of freshmen to transfer students has shifted significantly in the last few years. More and more students want to begin their journey at the University of Houston, and we anticipate that this trend will continue to climb. We are truly becoming the university of first choice.
We remain committed to our mission. Our student body reflects the shifting demographics of Houston. In addition, 45% of students are the first to go to college in their family, 41% of students are from low-income families and receive a Pell Grant. It is worth noting that we serve almost twice as many low-income students as other flagships in the state.
While making college more accessible is laudable, it is the success of our students in completing their degree that is of real importance. Literature points to some barriers and first among them is the cost of attending college. So, let’s talk about that.
The cost of attending college is not simply tuition — which has gone up less than the rate of inflation at UH — it is also the cost of living, transportation, books, and, of course, lost wages while they’re attending college.
Realizing this, UH has increased its financial aid. Last year, we distributed $230 million of aid, thanks to federal and state programs and our generous donors. This number does not include federal stimulus funds, which were another $55 million dollars to our students.
As you can see, we have made a concerted effort to minimize the financial burden.
The average student debt at the time of graduation, which is going up nationally, has not gone up but has actually reduced at the University of Houston. This allows students to start their careers on more stable financial ground.
Social mobility is a newly developed measurement. Top performing universities on social mobility are successful at enrolling students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and helping them graduate and move up the economic ladder. The University of Houston ranks in the top10% of universities nationwide and among the best in Texas on social mobility.
Dollars spent per student is another important criterion because it includes not just instructors but also advising, financial aid, counseling, campus activities. At the university, we have made it a priority to make student support the top budgeting item. Among all the universities that do not receive additional funding such as PUF, we spend the most per student, thus helping students succeed.
There are numerous studies to suggest that students coming from under-resourced communities — such as first-generation college students, students with low income, and African American and Hispanic students — tend to be at a higher risk of not graduating.
Given our demographics, we know that unless we succeed in helping ALL of our students graduate, we cannot, as an institution, be successful. Our efforts are paying off. The graduation rate gap between white and Hispanic students has been cut in half from 7% at one time to 3% today.
The graduation gap between white and African American students has been cut in one third, as well, and is better at UH than state and national averages, but we still have a way to go.
The same gap between those who receive Pell Grants and those who do not is 1% today, down from 3% just 7 years ago.
No matter what role they play at the university, our staff have been focused on supporting students. They found creative ways to support students online during the pandemic and are now finding new ways to reengage them after it. All services deserve our special thanks, but I would like to call out one support service today and that is the Counseling and Psychological Services or CAPS.
Mental health is a big issue on every campus. We needed the team to step up during the pandemic and now again as we return to normalcy. Thank you CAPS for your support. May I ask the CAPS Team to please stand for recognition?
Finally, studies show that students succeed when they are inspired by the success of those who have travelled a similar journey. In this context, we have worked hard to raise the diversity of our faculty.
Right behind them are our graduate students from under-resourced communities. As you can see, the University not only helps undergraduate students move up the ladder, but it is also instrumental in increasing the social mobility of our advanced degree graduates.
Overall, our graduate enrollment is up but let me give a special shout out to the Cullen College of Engineering for increasing their doctoral student enrollment by 36%.
When given opportunities, our students overcome barriers and outshine the competition. UH students are winning more Fulbright Awards than most and traveling abroad for learning. And we keep on doing it, year after year.
Our undergraduate program in entrepreneurship housed in the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship has been ranked #1 in the nation for several years but particularly for last 3 years in a row.
20 graduate programs are ranked among the top in the nation. They range from Law Center to Engineering to Education, CLASS and Business — also among the best are programs from Pharmacy and Social Work.
Research and Faculty
As a research university, our equally important mission is to enhance the intellectual capital of society. It is done through research and discovery and measured by publications that are cited by other researchers around the globe.
Three of our researchers are among the world’s most cited names. Drs. Zhifeng Ren, Zhu Han and Shuo Chen, may I ask you to please stand for recognition?
Another measure is the external funding received to support the work that our researchers are conducting. Our reported research expenditures for this year are $250 million, which puts us as the number one university in Houston and #3 in the state for research.
With the 2022 addition of the Center for Building Reliable Advances and Innovations in Neurotechnology, or BRAIN, UH is now home to 9 national research centers, seven of which were added in the last 7 years.
Our researchers are involved in cutting-edge, impactful and timely research.
I am blown away every time I learn of what their work could mean for our future. For example, breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women. Professor Meghana Trivedi and her colleagues from the College of Pharmacy have discovered a protein that is related to breast cancer stimulated by estrogen. This revelation can lead to improved treatment for 80% of breast cancers. This discovery alone could change and save the lives of thousands of women in coming years.
Worried about climate change and rapidly melting glaciers? Dr. Pietro Milillo,from the Cullen College of Engineering is now able to monitor glaciers with unparalleled clarity, which has never been seen before.
Lithium is a precious resource used in rechargeable batteries in our phones, laptops, and electric vehicles. However, 80% of lithium is controlled by China and is projected to be in short supply soon. Can we find a new source for lithium? Dr. Kyung Jae Lee from Petroleum Engineering thinks that it can be produced from petroleum-based rock brine. It can truly change the way we think and do business.
It should come as no surprise that our faculty are winning national awards for their work.
While we have grown the members of the National Academies of Engineering, Sciences and Medicine, it is particularly noteworthy that we are also growing our own faculty to that coveted recognition.
This year’s honorees included Dr. Pradeep Sharma from the Cullen College of Engineering who was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. If you remember, last year, he won one of the most prestigious honors, the Guggenheim Fellowship, just last year. Dr. Sharma please stand and be recognized?
Another professor, Dr. Leon Thomsen, from the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics also became a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Dr. Thomsen will you please stand and be recognized.
With the addition of these two illustrious faculty, our total number of academy members is an impressive 21.
We have another Guggenheim winner this year -- Professor Keliy Anderson-Staley from the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts. Professor Anderson-Staley’s work is featured in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, the Library of Congress and of course, our own the Museum of Fine Arts. Professor Anderson-Staley, will you please stand?
Two of our professors were named Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors.
Six professors were honored as Senior Members of the Academy for producing technologies that have brought or aspire to bring real impact on the welfare of society. If any of you new members or senior members are in the audience, allow us to recognize you by standing up please?
When it comes to facilities, this year has been truly exciting. We opened two major building projects.
This is the new signature building for our Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine in the life sciences complex across the bayou. The building is surrounded by beautiful trees and includes meditation rooms on every floor for added benefit. As a fun fact, it is furnished with wood from the trees that had to be taken down during construction.
Another iconic building is the new home of the UH Law Center. The John M. O’Quinn Law Building is equipped with modern learning spaces, a courtroom, and of course, and meditation rooms. As a fun fact, this beautiful building was designed by an all-female architect team.
The next project to complete will be the new tower of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership, expanding its size from 80 beds to 150 beds. With this new space, the college can not only train students for large-scale operations, but it will also be able to accommodate larger academic conferences, parents’ day and game-day festivities right here on campus.
Finally, the Judy Cook Building in Third Ward will house the College of Education’s ACES Institute. This institute focuses on connecting our students and faculty with Third Ward community partners to help improve residents’ quality of life. The building will open very soon.
Several new building projects are in the design or programming phases. At the core of the campus will be the Innovation Hub. This 70,000 square-foot, high-tech complex is set to open in Fall of 2025 and it will house a maker space, entrepreneurship center, the Energy Transition Institute, innovation programs, and faculty labs.
A brand new 42,000 sq ft. Food Hall featuring cuisine from budding chefs will open next Fall. It will be located on top of the hill where the old Student Center Satellite building used to be.
The Hobby School of Public Affairs’ new home is in the programming stage. The new 60,000 square-foot building will offer state-of-the-art teaching and collaborative spaces for students, faculty, and staff.
A new academic building housing technology programs in Sugar Land is in the planning phase and should break ground in Summer 2023.
Finally, a new research and education building is in the programming phase in TMC3 of the Texas Medical Center.
Several other major renovation projects are also underway. Our existing building in TMC is being renovated to house the new UH Population Health Initiative.
The Core Renovation project, which included major renovations of six buildings is half-way finished with McElhinney renovations set to be completed next year.
University of Houston was founded to embrace and uplift the community and we take this responsibility very seriously. All of our faculty are assigned a small portion of their time for service. Most of our staff are engaged in community service projects. Many of our students directly engage in a community service project as a part of their coursework. And I want you to know that you are making a difference.
In 2016, we started a comprehensive Third Ward Initiative. One of the pillars of this initiative was to partner with 6 neighborhood schools to help them improve.
When we partnered with them, all of these schools were in the “Needs Improvement” category for 2 straight years, meaning that they were below average with a failing rating. This year, with the exception of one school that was exempt from the Texas Education Agency rating, all of the other schools received a passing rating of C or better, with one receiving a B and two receiving As. We offer our congratulations to the leadership of these schools and thank them for allowing the University of Houston to be a small part of their successful journey.
Another unit worthy of your applause is Arte Publico Press, the oldest and most accomplished publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by U.S. Hispanic authors. This year is the 40th anniversary of Arte Publico Press. Please give a big hand to its founder and dreamer Dr. Nicholas Kanellos and Arte Publico for giving voice to the Hispanic community throughout the United States and the world.
Coming out of a deadly pandemic, we realize the value of health care for all but particularly for those without access to health care. Kudos to the College of Nursing for opening up a nurse-managed clinic to treat people experiencing homelessness in Midtown. This is the latest addition to the long list of outreach already being done by several of the colleges, including the Graduate College of Social Work, College of Pharmacy, College of Optometry, College of Medicine and others.
Donors and Alumni
None of our dreams can turn into reality without the support of our generous donors and alumni who continue to give their time and wealth to support our mission.
This year, we broke our annual fundraising record and raised $181 million. This is the highest level of annual fundraising ever achieved in the university’s history.
The university is transforming because more and more donors are making transformational gifts of $1 million or more. Their gifts will make an impact for generations to come.
We are extremely grateful to our Board Chairman, The Honorable Tilman Fertitta, for making a $50 million gift to the newly named Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine. The Fertitta family has long been committed to helping Houston and it was their passion to reduce health disparities in our city that led to this naming gift.
Courtesy of the global energy group Shell, we received a $10 million gift to launch the UH Energy Transition Institute. Shell USA and Shell Global Solutions were impressed to see the depth and breadth of the talent at UH and saw us as a fitting partner in helping Houston redefine its future as the energy capital of the world.
Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor who gave $50 million and challenged us to raise another $50 million, we have a $100 million fund for the Aspire faculty recruitment program. This fund enabled us to bring 17 endowed chairs and professors to the University thus far. At the conclusion of this program, we would have added 40 researchers to our already talented faculty base, allowing the university to soar higher and higher in coming years.
On March 7th, the University of Houston’s birthday, more than 22,000 people made a gift for UH Giving Day totaling $3.3 million to support various programs. I know everyone in the audience made a gift. Thank you for your generosity.
Our proudest legacy, our alumni, are in the world shining a bright light on their alma mater. This year, Forbes listed four of our alumni on their 30 under 30 list. As you can see, they come from a wide variety of fields from writing to sports tech, and jewelry to community advocacy.
We survey to gauge the opinion of UH alumni. The results of the 2005 and 2022 surveys show that our alumni have always felt good about the university. 99% of them reported having a positive perception of the university, whether excellent, good or fair in 2005 and also again in 2022. What is fascinating, though, is the dramatic shift from those just feeling good about the university to now feeling excellent about it. A real story of good to great, thanks to your efforts!
Excellence, excitement, and anticipation – these three words can sum up UH athletics.
It has been six months, but I cannot forget the day when the Cougars defeated the Arizona Wildcats and found their rightful place among the Elite Eight in college basketball. The destination was sweet but the journey of getting to the destination despite all the injuries and barriers was even sweeter. This year, the NCAA Final Four will be played in Houston; so, anticipate an exciting season as Cougars display their excellent athleticism in hopes of competing on their home turf.
The women’s Swimming and Diving team won the Conference Championship yet again… their 6th straight championship! Congratulations!!
Men are not to be left behind. Winning its 7th straight championship is our Men’s Indoor Track and Field team!
Houston Cougar football finished last season by defeating Auburn near their home in Alabama, winning the Birmingham Bowl. The team started this season with a heart throbbing win at UTSA and defeated Rice for the seventh consecutive season to retain the Bayou Bucket trophy. We have struggled this year but if the 4th quarter of the last game against Memphis, on Friday, is any indication, this is a team full of talent and a team that does not quit.
Talk about anticipation. In ten months, we will be a part of Big 12 and will play host to many formidable opponents at TDECU Stadium.
Big 12 is an athletic conference but its impact on UH is far beyond the boundaries of athletics. The new conference will give us new academic peers, which means new possibilities — educational and research — to expand our horizons in all directions. So, get ready to move into the new era, Cougars!
The Road Ahead
While we have accomplished a lot, much more remains to be done. Let me highlight our challenges, which then form our priorities for next year.
First and foremost, we have to double down on student success and increase our 6-year graduation rate. While we are better than state and national averages — but who wants to just be average — we need to go beyond that in order to be a top 50 public university.
Our goal is to achieve a 70% graduation rate as soon as possible.
Graduation is important but equally important is the skillset that students are graduating with. What can we do for our students that gives them a competitive advantage… that is uniquely Houston… that takes advantage of the vibrant economy around us? Let’s imagine a scenario where every student has a chance to, or perhaps is required to, complete at least a semester of internship before graduating… a scenario where a student dreaming of starting her own business can get an internship to be exposed to Houston’s innovation ecosystem now? Or someone who plans to run a non-profit one day be placed in a similar organization today? We do thousands of internships, but [it’s] not [required for] everybody at this point. Let’s take the challenge and at least explore the possibility of making this happen.
If we want to fulfill our obligation to the city and the state, we also need to double our research output. University of Houston is capable of attracting 3 to 4 times more federal dollars to our city than what we do currently but to do so, we have to take our infrastructure and faculty strength to the next level.
Our goal is to increase our NSF reported research expenditures to $400 million per year. To do so, over the next 5 years, we need to invest $300 million to recruit researchers and build shared research facilities. We are requesting the Texas legislature to invest in the University of Houston in the same manner that they have invested in building state’s two other flagships through the Permanent University Fund or PUF. Please support me and your government relations team in making our case during the next legislative session.
During this past year, we have launched three new university wide initiatives: UH Population Health, Energy Transition Institute, and UH Innovation. These new platforms are designed to enhance your capacity to train students in areas that are cutting edge and to conduct research that is solving today’s complex problems.
Our campus in Sugar Land is growing. I think the next phase of evolution there is to form public private partnerships and build out the campus to accelerate our academic and research footprint in Fort Bend County. We have engaged professional expertise to evaluate this possibility.
In anticipation of growth on the Katy campus, we have requested the state legislature to fund another academic building in Katy. I look forward to seeing more robust offerings to compliment the offerings by UH Victoria and Houston Community College to serve that region.
Next year in 2023, we will join the Big 12 conference. It will be easy to play in the new conference but winning there will take some work. The $150 million Houston Rise campaign for athletics is a step in the winning direction. At the front and center of the campaign is the Football Operations Center, which we need to build and build it very quickly. The campaign also enhances support for student athletes. As we start to welcome Texas teams to TDECU, we can expect bigger crowds. Therefore, fan experience will also be our focus in the coming year.
2027 marks a very important milestone in UH’s history. It is the university’s 100th birthday and our opportunity to celebrate the mission, history, and traditions that have sustained us for a century. We have big plans for the centennial including a centennial plaza right at the heart of the campus.
I am setting up three task forces this Fall to begin the process:
- An Academic Task Force headed by Interim Provost McPherson to bring forward ideas for speakers, seminars and discourses.
- A Physical Campus Task Force headed by Senior Vice President Raymond Bartlett to work on ideas to enhance our physical campus.
- And a Celebration and Events Task Force headed by Vice President Eloise Brice to plan a yearlong series of festivities to commemorate this milestone.
If you are interested in being a part of any of these task forces, please send me or the taskforce chairs an email expressing your interest; so, we can include you in the process.
While speaking at a public event, I mentioned all these goals and someone asked, “Will you ever say it is time to rest?’ I’m sure you may be saying the same thing right now.
“Rest?” I replied, “How can we rest when the force of momentum is behind us, when our own energy is pushing us forward? When the stars are aligned and when the timing is right?”
It is a privilege to be on an upward trajectory but when we are moving upwards and climbing the hill, every step seems harder than the last one. Every step gives us two choices — either we look back and say we have come far enough, or we look forward and say we are so close to the top.
We have had a tough two years as we faced the pandemic. Every unit has faced internal challenges and together we have faced external challenges like inflation, lack of engagement, mental health, and a tight talent market pool. However, we are a university. Our mission is to build a brighter future by training the next generation. Despite all the rhetoric, I can assure you that we, as educators, are more needed today than ever before.
So, I urge you to keep your passion alive and remain committed. You are our force, our energy. Make sure that you are taking care of your own health — physical and mental — because we are not stopping, we are moving forward. Our mission is yet to be fulfilled, our vision is yet to be realized, and our best days are yet to come.
Thank you to each and every one of you for what you do! I appreciate you.