This past week representatives from STAMATS, a higher education consulting group that is assisting the University of Houston-Downtown on its name change, visited the campus and met with students, alumni, faculty, and staff. The discussions were varied, but quite helpful. I had an opportunity to participate in a few of those meetings and would like to share my thoughts and observations.
As a new president, I arrived at a time of considerable change and controversy. A few years ago, the former president of the University of Houston-Downtown, Max Castillo, suggested that UHD change its name. Last year, after considerable discussion, the UH System Board of Regents voted to change the name of UHD. We are now in the process of selecting a new name.
There is a lot of unease and anxiety on campus. Understandably so. Alumni are proud of the institution they attended, as are our current students. Some feel they are being forced to give up a name they love. Others are worried that they will lose connection to UH.
Be assured that whatever name is ultimately selected, this campus will remain a very important part of the UH system. UHD, no matter what the name becomes, will remain Houston's University of access and opportunity. But, we are a long way from choosing a new name. At this point, we are simply renewing the discussion. STAMATS is helping us in that process.
There are a number of very good reasons for changing the name of UHD. First, unlike most systems, where there is usually one university from a university system in a city (such as U.T. El Paso, U.T. San Antonio, etc), Houston is home to four separately accredited universities from the same system, two of which are just a few miles apart from each other, UH, (often called 'main campus' or 'University Park campus') and UHD. UH is bigger and more established. It is a research university, has more alumni, and has a very good football team. So, UH clearly has established name recognition.
Proximity and similarity of names causes some confusion, which is the second problem. Many people do not realize that UH and UHD are two separate universities. Some students apply to one university, but show up at the other. Companies get confused when they are asked to give to UHD. Some respond, "We already gave scholarship money to the main campus." They don't realize that UHD is a separate university and must raise scholarship money for its own students.
Third, UHD lacks a clear identity. Very few people know what UHD does or can describe how it is different from UH. In fact, a survey done last year found that when Houston residents were asked to name four-year universities that serve the city of Houston, only 5 percent included the University of Houston-Downtown in their lists. Of those, a large portion thought UHD was a branch campus of UH, others thought it offers doctoral programs or had a Division I football team.
Fourth, UHD is located downtown, but our students come from all over Houston. Thirty years ago, 90 percent of our students resided within the inner loop. Today, that number is down to just 40 percent. UHD serves the entire city of Houston. We have students from as far south as Kemah and as far north as Montgomery County. We have learning centers in several parts of Houston. So, we are more than a downtown university--although we love our location! The current name simply does not reflect our service area.
Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, UHD is now in the process of planning for its future. We have begun discussions on where we can excel. We are developing exciting goals and work plans. We are laying the groundwork to build a very different university over the next few years.
This is a great opportunity to select not only a name, but to build our reputation as a new and very distinct university. You probably have already seen our billboards with the slogan, "At UHD, We are Making a Name for Ourselves!" Those are UHD students on those billboards. Several of the students have won major awards. In the coming months, we will be telling their stories, along with the stories of our great faculty, staff, and alumni. We are doing great things, and we will do a better job of getting the word out all over the city.
During this next year, we will make great strides in building a new university. We will build pride, we will build identity, and we will build reputation. And, Houston will know us by what we do. Help us to build that reputation and help us become a great university.