President Khator's Letters to the University Community

Houston Chronicle Op-ed: Big Win for UH on the Road to Tier One

June 21, 2009

By Renu Khator and Welcome W. Wilson Sr.

There has been talk for nearly two decades about the University of Houston attaining Tier One status. Now, thanks to the Texas Legislature that talk has resulted in bold and decisive action.

With the recent passage of legislation that provides a pathway for the University of Houston (and six other institutions) to achieve Tier One status, we have now taken an all-important first step.

This is a major victory — not just for UH but for Houston and the state of Texas as well. It is the result of countless hours of hard work and commitment by our Harris County legislative delegation, led by the dean of the Texas Senate, John Whitmire, and our six public university partners. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was deeply engaged every step along the way. Gov. Rick Perry and Speaker of the House Joe Straus were also very supportive.

Most would agree that shepherding such legislation through the recent session was a major, if not miraculous, accomplishment, particularly given the current economic climate.

We were able to succeed because of a Legislature that envisioned education creating economic growth, a Houston business community that stood tall and a local community that generated a powerful wave of support. We are especially humbled that the Greater Houston Partnership made Tier One status for UH its top legislative priority.

We also owe this extraordinary success to our faculty, staff and students, whose diverse array of talents have time and again resulted in excellence. With more than 37,000 students from 138 countries, award-winning faculty and nationally ranked programs, UH is well-positioned to take the next step toward national prominence.

Thanks to the Texas Legislature, the path to Tier One status has crystallized from a hazy concept to a clear reality, but important steps remain.

For one thing, we must move forward on the Legislature’s new Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP), in which $50 million has been designated to match private research-focused donations made to UH and the six other emerging research universities. We intend to compete vigorously for these matching funds, and we fully expect our supporters to step up with amazing, and enlightened, generosity.

Additionally, a proposed constitutional amendment calls for a statewide vote in November to establish the National Research University Fund (NRUF), which will make nearly $500 million in now-dormant funds available to help UH and our other emerging research universities bring their teaching and research capabilities up to Tier One standards. We must work diligently to make sure voters understand that increasing the number of Tier One universities in our state will generate wealth, fuel economic growth and create jobs. Based on its population, Texas is estimated to lose nearly $4 billion a year in federal research funds and venture capital largely because it has too few Tier One universities.

For UH to compete nationally for talented faculty and researchers, we absolutely need a predictable and sustained source of additional funding like the NRUF, so passage in the fall is, to say the least, vital. But this is not simply a matter of acquiring the resources to recruit a handful of superstar scientists and cutting-edge research programs.

Tier One status isn’t determined exclusively on the amount of research dollars an institution attracts, but is based on a number of national criteria that the University of Houston must still achieve. We must remain competitive in the overall excellence of our faculty and our academic programs. We must improve the quality of our student body. We must have an endowment comparable to Top Tier universities. We must double the level of alumni giving. We are working hard, and successfully, on all of these factors.

How long will it take for UH to achieve Tier One status?

We’ll be honest — we haven’t gotten this far by being timid. So here is our answer: The University of Houston will receive recognition as a Tier One institution within five to seven years.

Does that sound like a bold prediction?

It is. But we have made tremendous progress during the past year, and we are filled with pride at the achievements produced by the hard work and passion of so many. Why would we think this incredible progress will not continue?

Texas needs more Tier One institutions and Houston, the state’s largest metropolis and a growing presence on the international scene, deserves a truly great public university. Investing in a global economic engine in Houston, which boasts a powerful coalition of engineers, scientists and medical personnel, is a wise commitment and will ensure that Texas continues to thrive for generations to come.

The University of Houston, which enjoys successful research partnerships with the nearby Texas Medical Center and Johnson Space Center, fosters big dreams, and we have bold aspirations. With the additional funding and support to make UH a Tier One institution, we can lead the way to transforming the state’s economy — and of equal importance — the face of higher education in Texas today.

Khator has served as president of UH and chancellor of the UH System since January 2008. Wilson, appointed a regent by Gov. Rick Perry in 2006, has served as chairman of the UH System Board of Regents since 2007. He was recently elected to serve a third term.