Representatives of the Strategic Action Group (SAG) committees charged by President Renu Khator with determining what steps the university must take to become a nationally competitive research institution presented their findings at SAG’s final town hall meeting.

Capping off a series of six forums for faculty, staff and students throughout April, Khator underscored that executing the strategies provided by the panels requires significant commitments from within and beyond the university.

"We need to have a competitive resource base, public and private, because without resources, we can all dream as much as we want, but it’s difficult to move the needle,” Khator said before a crowd of about 200 at the University Hilton.

Speaking for the national competitiveness panel, Cullen College of Engineering professor Richard Willson said UH is committed to becoming a Tier One institution based upon criteria set by either the Top American Public Research Universities or the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

It’s worth noting that the main place in which we currently fall short – in fact, we meet the great majority of the criteria for each of these – "is in the level of sponsored research conducted on the campus,” Willson said.

While sponsored research will not be increased evenly across all departments, he said, faculty members in departments that can generate it should be expected to do so or contribute significantly in other ways, such as through superior teaching and high course loads.

To help grow the research enterprise, the university must invest in new faculty and support staff to assist in editorial projects in the colleges and help produce large, interdisciplinary center proposals, Willson said. Also, increased availability of child care, enhanced campus safety and more buildings and renovations will improve productivity.

Dan Wells, of the student success panel, said improving the quality of students requires more advisers in high schools and community colleges and providing more merit-based scholarships to top-notch freshmen, transfer students and current students who are excelling.

Wells recommended offering additional incentives for superb teaching and developing a center for teaching excellence that would be faculty-driven, have a research component and address “what is best for our students here."

The university needs to provide more employees and resources to the financial aid office, hire more faculty members and improve course schedules, he said. Also, UH should reassess how it recruits, retains and rewards graduate and professional students, Wells said, adding that existing stipends and teaching loads are not competitive.

Lynn Maher, of the community advancement committee, said her colleagues were emboldened by the recent announcement that UH had received a prestigious Carnegie community engagement designation, because those activities represent “the heart of the university.

She said the panel resolved to “capitalize and leverage what was already in place” and improve collaboration with the community by creating the University of Houston Community Advancement Network, a centralized support system to facilitate such activities.

"It would serve as a portal, as a conduit, of engagement at various levels of the university and the community,” she explained, adding that refining the existing Web-based faculty experts and community resources tools also is necessary.

The university should be better represented on key community boards, provide partnership designation markers to raise public awareness and establish a community advisory board of nonprofit and business partners to “advise the president on the community’s needs,” Maher said.

Sociology professor Joe Kotarba, representing the athletics committee, emphasized that intercollegiate athletics is a very important component to university life.

When we looked at the universities we aspire to emulate – major research public universities –"it’s clear that the vast majority of these universities have strong athletic programs,” he said.

He said UH has made remarkable strides in improving student-athlete graduation rates and that the panel recommends recruiting student athletes with at least a 3.0 high school grade point average, providing academic support and integrating athletes into the mainstream of university life.

UH also needs to maintain outstanding coaches and staff, he said.

Bauer College of Business marketing professor Betsy Gelb, speaking on behalf of the local, national and worldwide recognition panel, didn’t mince words: “Folks, you can’t do everything."

Gelb said the key to gaining prominence starts with identifying “your winners through research, and don’t kid yourself to think you can enhance the image of everything going on this campus."

To get good publicity, Gelb said, UH has to be strategic in choosing which stories to tell.

The panel, she said, insists that the university’s reputation must be built around the quality and accomplishments of its faculty, because that’s what national rankings are largely based upon.

College of Optometry dean Earl Smith III, of the resource competitiveness panel, said UH must “expand and diversify the resource base,” starting with state appropriations, which are influenced by a variety of factors, including line items and formula funding.

Where appropriate, Smith said, UH should work with the Texas Legislature to refine funding formula ratios, and enroll more students in programs that have “high state multipliers,” such as engineering, pharmacy, technology and science. Increasing the number of graduate students and boosting the number of credit hours taken by students each semester would also bring in more money, he said.

He recommended expanding the “entrepreneurial culture on campus” by increasing contract teaching revenue, such as continuing professional education and partnerships with local corporate players, and taking advantage of auxiliary enterprises, such as the University Eye Institute and the Hilton Hotel.

"We need to be good stewards of our revenues and endowments,” Smith said, and raise an additional $1 billion in new endowments by 2014.

More endowed chairs and scholarships will help recruit and retain top-notch faculty and students, he said.