President's Update - Legislature, Commencement, Fall Semester
04/13/2021, 10:35:01 AM
President Khator - smilling

Dear Cougar Community,

We are almost at the end of the academic year, and what a year it has been with the global pandemic, an economic downturn, issues related to social injustice and hate crimes. Even during these times, our UH community has continued to educate students, conduct research and serve the community.

  • Despite the historic challenges, we served a record number of students with 20% instruction in face-to-face classes.
  • Dedicated researchers have been in their labs since May and have attracted more funding to support their work than any year before this.
  • Our student, faculty and staff volunteers have been compassionately helping those in need in the community throughout Houston.  
  • Engaged staff members have been on campus meeting the needs of nearly 3,500 residential students, keeping classrooms and labs sanitized, maintaining building, keeping our technology platforms functional and managing the logistics of 14 in-person graduation ceremonies to celebrate our graduates.
  • Enthusiastic student athletes have been traveling and competing in all 17 UH sports and the athletics staff have been on campus daily to ensure their safety and wellbeing. 

What we have been able to accomplish this year is a testament to our commitment and resilience. While the pandemic is not yet over, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Your continued support will be needed in the coming weeks and months as we transition into a more “normal” environment. Here is an update for you on some other important issues.

Fabulous Final Four! You must have watched Cougars dance all the way to the Final Four after 37 years. We can celebrate the fantastic run that our men’s basketball team has had this year. For a few days, all eyes were on the University of Houston and as people learned about the basketball team, they also learned about many other wonderful things taking place at the University. Moving forward, this Final Four Basketball team has redefined success for Cougar athletics. It was not just their exceptional athletic skill that was eye-popping.  The culture of excellence and solidarity that these athletes put on display was even more inspiring.  Now we truly can’t wait until the next year.

Nationally Ranked Programs: Congratulations to the faculty and staff of the programs that have beaten heavy odds to climb to the Top 50 U.S. News & World Report graduate rankings this year. These include Legal Writing, Political Science (my home department), and Part-time MBA. The top programs with 97 and 95 percentile placement are Health Care Law and Intellectual Property Law in the Law Center. Forty-eight of our programs are in Top 100 and 12 programs are in the Top 50. Congratulations to all!

Graduation Ceremonies:  Graduation offers a truly unique lifetime experience for students, and they want to memorialize it by walking across the stage.  It was with heavy heart that we had to cancel the in-person ceremony for 2020 graduates, however, recent health trends are allowing us to plan for an in-person graduation this May. On behalf of our graduates and their parents, I want to thank the commencement staff and volunteers for making this day a reality for thousands of our graduates. I look forward to being with you at several ceremonies and thanking you in person for your participation.  The majority of the graduation ceremonies will be held outdoors following CDC guidelines. Live streaming will be available for those who cannot attend. For the safety of our graduates and staff, guest tickets are limited to four per graduate and the platform party will include only the speakers.  As a final note, vaccines have been made available for the participating staff as well as the University community, including students and faculty.

Legislative Update: With only  seven weeks left in the Texas Legislative Session, there is momentum behind the major pieces of our legislative agenda that can be viewed here. The Texas House and Texas Senate in their respective budgets have already funded our request for continued support for the UH College of Medicine, including elevated formula funding afforded to Health-Related Institutions. In addition, a rider that would direct the state to study the economic benefits of elevating an additional Texas university to a Top 50 ranked public institution, as consistent with our new Strategic Plan, has also been included in both the Senate and House appropriations bills. At this point, none of the budget bills have included additional funds to cover enrollment growth since 2019. But we are very hopeful that additional dollars will be added when the House and the Senate meet to work out the differences between the two budget bills.

On another note, a bill filed by State Sen. Borris Miles and State Rep. Garnet Coleman encouraging additional investment in mental health services for our students has already passed the Senate Committee on Higher Education, and we are hopeful that it will also soon be considered in the Texas House.

Summer Semester:  We will continue to conduct the summer semester in a hybrid manner.  Our COVID 19 Coordination Committee is encouraging faculty and staff to get vaccinated and return to campus in a manner that is appropriate for your work. Should you come to campus, please remember that face coverings are required as is adherence to other CDC guidelines and University safety policies. Until June, the default expectation is that if you can perform your work from home, you should please do so.

Fall Semester: Our plan is to hold a “normal” fall semester with a safe and gradual transition to campus. The planning assumptions are that (1) everyone returns to campus in fall and that (2) we keep everyone safe following CDC and state guidelines.  With this end in mind, I am asking vice presidents to begin planning for the transition keeping in mind the mission, values and vision of the University as outlined in the strategic plan. We will continue to review scientific data, monitor regional virus conditions, work with other universities and then issue more specific guidelines about the transition in the first week of May.  While conditions seem favorable today, we understand that the virus is unpredictable, and therefore we must remain flexible in our planning and subsequently rely more heavily on department chairs and supervisors to make prudent decisions within the broad expectations outlined by the University.

Let me conclude by saying that the challenges of the last year have made me realize more than ever how fortunate I am to be a member of the University of Houston family.  Your dedication and support have shone through brightly during these dark months. Now, it is time for us to make the transition in a way that makes us even more nimble and innovative so that we can rise and soar together.

Please consider taking the vaccine and stay safe.

Renu Khator
President, University of Houston

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