President Khator

Dear Colleagues,

I hope you and your families are safe and healthy. We have come to the end of this very unusual spring semester. Thanks to your efforts, which included transitioning thousands of classes and services online, more than 6,000 students will graduate next week.  Congratulations … to all of us!

Here are some important updates for you.

Reopening the University: Earlier this week, Gov. Abbott announced a plan to safely reopen Texas.  I had already appointed a UH System Reopening Task Force under the co-chairmanship of Vice Chancellor Amr Elnashai and UHV President Robert Glenn.  The task force approved seven guiding principles and nine questions to be answered before reopening the system universities. In consultation with the task force, we are reopening the University in four phases: (1) research operations (2) low-touch, low-risk administrative operations (3) all operations and athletics, and finally (4) classroom instruction.

On Tuesday, May 5, research labs at UH can be opened by those researchers who wish to do so. This is voluntary, not mandatory.  Certain administrative services necessary to assist the researchers will also open. The Division of Research will soon send out an email with details.

A few measures have been taken to ensure a safe working environment as we reopen that include:

  1. Anyone working in a lab will be required to complete a training module, pass a self-health screening test and is expected to cooperate with contact tracing. The training and screening can be found on AccessUH beginning Friday, May 1.
  2. All CDC and state rules of social distancing will be followed, including the use of face masks if anyone is working in close proximity of others (within 6 feet).
  3. UH Facilities will adhere to strict rules to clean and disinfect common spaces and arrangements must be made to clean and disinfect lab areas per CDC guidelines.
  4. Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 or suffering from any respiratory illness will not be allowed in labs.
  5. Lab personnel will follow proper UH protocol if a positive COVID-19 case is identified in a lab.   

We are closely monitoring public health conditions in the state and the city and will provide further instructions for the next phase based on future developments. Until then, all faculty and staff –with the exception of those who choose to open their labs or are classified as essential support personnel – will continue to work from home.

Summer semester: All summer sessions will be taught online. In view of financial difficulties faced by students, the Board of Regents  has waived some fees for summer enrollees, saving many more than $300 per student. At this point, our summer enrollment looks very strong and we hope to continue the trend.

Fall semester: We expect to resume face-to-face instruction in the fall.  However, we are making plans for three scenarios: fully online, fully on campus, and some form of hybrid. Depending on the public health conditions in the city, we will make that determination sometime in late May or early June.

Commencement: Knowing that our students want to walk across the stage, we have postponed May’s commencement exercise until fall. However, several colleges are hosting virtual memory-sharing events, and we will also do something symbolic to recognize this very important milestone in our graduates’ life.

Emergency aid to students: The CARES ACT included $18 million in direct emergency aid to UH students.  From these funds, we are able to provide support to more than 26,000 students. While we are grateful for these funds, we know that the need is far greater than the allotted funds.  The Cougar Emergency Fund, which is supported by donations, will offer additional assistance to students in need. Finding another way to help, our IT department secured 300 loaner computers for students who were without that vital educational tool.

University Budget: Our fiscal year ends at the end of August, so it is difficult to predict the exact loss of revenue for the University.  The final number will depend upon three factors: state budget reduction, summer and fall enrollment, and available federal or state stimulus funds. Looking at the impact of COVID 19 on the overall economy and the declining state resources because of the oil crisis, it’s logical to assume that our budget will be stressed. I have appointed a Financial Task Force under the chairmanship of Provost Paula Short and Senior Vice President Jim McShan to review all financial tools at our disposal. We are preparing for the worst while hoping for the best and always keeping the well-being of our Cougar family in mind.

Thank you, once again, for your dedicated service.  If you have any questions, you can direct them to the chairs of the Financial Task Force or send them to COVID-19 email (coronavirus@uh.edu) or check the COVID-19 website for updates and new information.

Please stay safe and healthy!

With warm regards,
Renu Khator

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