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New President and Chancellor of the University of Houston, an Opportunity for Reflection

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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Renu Khator, a Professor of Political Science specializing in environmental policy and lately the Provost of the University of South Florida, was named the President and Chancellor of the University of Houston System. For the faculty and staff at UH it’s a refreshing and somewhat surprising choice, indicating an acknowledgment of the University’s unique position and an indication of where we might be headed. At the very least, I like her motto, which seems a perfect fit for UH –

“When life gives you lemons and everyone else is busy making lemonade, think about making margaritas.”

Let’s start by stating the obvious, which is frustratingly not so obvious to many commentators – the University of Houston is not UT, it’s not A&M, it’s certainly not Rice. None of these three neighboring institutions with which it is too often compared is a model to which it should aspire. While each surely shares the common goal of delivering high quality education, a vast gulf lies between the means available, the fundamental character, and the community each institution serves.

Most conversations about the future of the University of Houston start with the quest for flagship status, public image and raising the stats of the average student to something that looks more like the three benchmarks. None of these are goals to be shirked, but they come at a cost that few are willing to recognize. Tuition and fees growing at 7-12 percent annually since a state imposed tuition cap was deregulated several years ago. For a public institution that serves dual, sometimes competing aims of offering both excellence and access, the fee hikes are robbing Peter to pay Paul, sacrificing access for a somewhat misbegotten notion of excellence.

The University of Houston already offers an excellent education with a staggering $3.1 billion in economic benefits estimated for the local economy. Like many University of Houston students I worked full-time throughout my undergrad and continue to do so in law school. Having started out at a more traditional, private east-coast liberal arts college, I understand first hand the differences in an institution that understands working students and one that doesn’t. The opportunity for career-oriented students seeking real-life professional experience is unparalleled. A low cost quality education built around a base students who have already started their careers before or during their education is an educational and economic powerhouse that should be recognized and utilized, not swept under the rug.

Khator’s experience at South Florida gives me hope for a President/Chancellor who understands the unique opportunities and character of the University of Houston and can craft a vision without being tied to an antiquated notion of what getting an education looks like in 2007.

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Category: university of houston

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