Task forces report progress: There's lots of work to be done

by Heath Bruce and James Geluso

Daily Cougar Senior Staff

The University of Houston System Board of Regents met Wednesday to hear reports from three Organizational Review Task Forces and to discuss the new multi-institutional teaching center in Fort Bend.

Chancellor William P. Hobby was on hand to introduce progress reports to the board compiled by the Organizational Review Task Forces. "The task forces on Academic Affairs, Administration and Finance, and External Affairs are examining everything we do in this university System.

"It is important to emphasize that this is a mid-course meeting," Hobby said. He added that the work of the task forces, which began compiling information last Thanksgiving, is far from being finished.

"Today's meeting is intended as an opportunity to look at the status reports, assess the direction and the process, and offer any advice that might be helpful," he said.

Hobby also took the time to dispel certain rumors that have arisen during the work of the review. He said people are concerned about this being a waste of time, that the task forces have too much or too little guidance and that the Steering Committee steers too much or too little.

"In the face of all this," Hobby said, "the task forces have accomplished an enormous amount."

Hobby said the reason he was presenting these preliminary reports was to allow the board to ask questions and to give the members of the task force an idea of how best to conclude their work.

The three task forces created by the committee have been studying three possible models of administration: the status quo, referred to as the "strong chancellor" model; a "weak chancellor" model, which would reduce the System to a coordinating entity; and a model which would combine the positions of UH president and System chancellor into one.

The three task forces reported on their progress with varying amounts of information. The Academic Affairs Task Force provided a list of issues that they have been considering and said they expect to have completed their task by Feb. 16.

The Administration and Finance Task Force provided a 110-page report that included a plethora of charts and overviews, but no conclusions about the desirability of any of the models.

The External Affairs Task Force broke down its task into several areas and provided the pros and cons of each model.

Representatives from all components of the UH System were present to discuss these preliminary findings, and it was agreed that a lot of work still needed to be done.

Hobby also delivered a report before the board emphasizing how pleased he was about the new Multi Institution Teaching Center in Fort Bend.

"January 19 was a historic day for public higher education, and a very happy one for all of us in the UH family," Hobby said about the decision of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's decision to allow the new center, which will offer 30 baccalaureate and master's degrees beginning this summer.

Hobby congratulated all of the faculty and staff for working so hard and quickly to make a "very strong proposal that met both the needs of the community and the coordinating board's criteria."

Hobby said that a few things needed to be done before the Fort Bend MITC could become operational. The first thing that needs to be defined is the specifics of the degrees that will be offered.

This includes creation of policy on the responsibilities of the degree-granting "lead" university and the support institutions. A schedule also has to be created to allow students to graduate in a timely manner.

The second thing that needs to be done is the creation of a "consistent, enduring and targeted marketing program based on academic offerings." Hobby said this included marketing the MITC with all UH components advertising individual programs and/or universities.

Also, corporations that employ in the Fort Bend area like Unocal, Texas Instruments, MCI, and Fluor Daniels, will take part in the marketing effort in order to encourage their employees to pursue higher educational goals.

Finally, a support service infrastructure must be created in order to provide university services to Fort Bend MITC students. "Students will be able to enroll, receive financial aid, pay their fees, and use the library and computer labs with a minimum of forms and red tape," Hobby said.

Although the Fort Bend registration process is not yet completed, preliminary estimates show a spring semester enrollment of between 550 and 600.

"Programs such as our Fort Bend initiative mark a new way of thinking about higher education and the delivery of knowledge," Hobby said. "I hope the spirit that has driven this project will continue in all of our university and System efforts."

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