Welcome Back and Update

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Welcome back and Happy New Year!  I hope you enjoyed some well-deserved rest during the holidays, and are starting 2016 inspired and energized by two exciting achievements late last year – the granting of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter to UH in October and the Peach Bowl football victory in December.  

As you get settled into the new semester, here is an update on items that you may find of interest.

Campus Carry:  Many times during my tenure I heard your voices loud and clear on the issue of campus carry, and communicated your thoughts to our elected officials every chance I had.  However, as you know, the Texas Legislature passed the Campus Carry law in May 2015, giving us one year to craft a thoughtful implementation plan.  

We can all agree that we are past the debate phase of whether having guns on campus is a good idea.  The law is the law, and we must abide by it. The law, however, gives me some discretion on establishing specific guidelines to implement it, designating weapon-free zones on campus as long as they are reasonable.  

The Texas Attorney General has recently issued further clarification on what is and isn’t likely to be considered “reasonable.”  So, consistent with the law, I have been seeking feedback from all stakeholders.  I formed a committee, which has been collecting relevant information and has set up a website.

The Committee will complete a policy draft that will be ready for circulation and your feedback in early February.  Based upon that feedback, the committee will make its recommendation to me.  I intend to present the policy to the Board of Regents at its May meeting.

Faculty/Staff Salary Increase:  Provost Short is working with the Faculty Senate and Deans to review and revise, if necessary, the distribution model for any salary dollars that will be made available in next year’s budget.  I intend to present this proposal, along with the university budget, to the Board at its May or August meeting.  Please ask your vice president/dean for updates.  If you have any thoughts and input, please share them with the Provost.  

The salary increase distribution model for staff will remain the same.  However, if you have any thoughts on this, please share them with Interim VP McShan. 

Faculty Hires:  A total of 134 faculty hires has been approved for the FY 2016 cycle and two more members of the National Academies joined in September 2015.  They are Maurice Brookhart, member of the National Academy of Sciences, who joined the Department of Chemistry, and Andrea Prosperetti, member of the National Academy of Engineering, who joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering.  

Enrollment and Tuition:  As expected after a successful football season, freshman applications for Fall of 2016 are up 30% as of last week.  We will not, of course, increase enrollment by that percentage, but a larger pool of applicants offers us an opportunity to better manage and shape our enrollment, partnering with UH-Downtown, UH-Clear Lake and UH-Victoria.  We are now looking at tuition and fee options for next year, and a recommendation to this effect will go to the Board of Regents in February or May.

Executive Searches:  The search for the VC/VP for Administration and Finance has been extended and a second group of candidates is expected to be interviewed in February.  In two weeks, I will also announce the search committee for the VC/VP for Research and Technology Transfer.  Needless to say, the committee will need your help in identifying qualified and visionary candidates.

Athletics:  I congratulate our football team and the coaching staff under Head Coach Herman for an extremely successful season.  You may know that it has been 31 years since our Cougars played in a major bowl game.  

I discussed our goals and budget for athletics in all of the 17 forums (five of them with faculty) that I held last semester.  Our goal has been to build a nationally relevant athletics program and we continue to march in that direction.  I look forward to our sustained success on the national stage across all athletics programs.  If you have any concerns/suggestions on this topic, please let me or the Provost know. 

Before I close this topic, I want to thank the Faculty Senate leadership for organizing a successful faculty tailgate at football games throughout the season.  I had the opportunity to meet many of you there, and I hope to see you at our basketball or baseball games.

UT System’s Proposal to Expand in Houston:  Many of you have approached me about the impact the proposed UT System’s presence in Houston may have on your ability to recruit and retain talent in your units.  Your Board of Regents acknowledged your concerns and called for “parity in resources” in their official statement passed at their last meeting.  I support the Board’s position that UH is not afraid of competition, but that we must have resources – in the form of access to the Permanent University Fund (PUF) – in order to genuinely compete.  In the meantime, let’s stay focused on our pursuit of excellence, because in the end, we will be defined by our own successes and not by the actions of others.  Your Board, under the outstanding leadership of Chairman Tilman Fertitta, continues to work on this issue.

As always, I invite you to send me your thoughts or ideas on any of these topics, or any other advice you may want to share with me.  Your feedback is valuable and always welcome.  If you are so inclined, you may follow me on Twitter or read my occasional blog.  Thank you for what you do, and I look forward to seeing you on campus.

With warm regards,

Renu Khator