Senior Staff Writer
A member of the University of Houston community has crossed over into the political arena. Gabriel Vasquez, an assistant professor of communications, recently won an uncontested race for the HISD's District I school board position. His district encompasses the Heights, Northside, Shepherd Park Plaza and Garden Oaks.
In describing his qualifications, Vasquez said, "I bring a fresh look and new conviction about what can be done (for HISD)."
Though he ran unopposed, Vasquez put significant time and effort into winning support since deciding to run last January. Vasquez said, "(It is) because we started early (that) we won so many endorsements and support."
Vasquez said that his running was not specifically anyone's idea, but rather a natural outgrowth of his years of work in public service and leadership positions. As a recent special project, he surveyed some HISD parents, principals and students on how to improve communication and enhance parental involvement. He plans on implementing his constituents' suggestions.
Vasquez, who was born in Corpus Christi but raised in Austin, holds numerous degrees, including a bachelor of science in speech communication from Illinois State University and a master's degree in communication with a public relations concentration and a Ph.D in public affairs and issues management, both from Purdue.
Instead of going directly to college after high school, he worked in the restaurants his family owned. When he returned to school after ten years, he said he "sat down and thought about what had made (him) successful in the family business. It was not the business and technical skills, but rather the people skills that had made (him) successful."
As a parent and a voter, Vasquez is keenly aware of the challenges facing HISD. He said that there are "a lot of problems that need to be addressed." He cited problems with buildings, overcrowding, and the possibility of some schools losing Texas Education Association accreditation.
He also said that HISD has an image problem which has resulted from years of good investigative reporting, and "the district not handling PR and public issues well."
Vasquez also acknowledged that many HISD teachers are angered over the district's $110,000-a-year PR representative. "I don't think the issue is about money (the PR representative) is receiving." The problem is the money the teachers aren't receiving.
As for policy, he said he has "some things (he'd) like to introduce," but added that it will not be likely to happen for two to three years. He said he has become acclimated to his new position and has learned the "ins and outs of ... the bureaucracy."
He believes his background in public relations, both as an academic and as a consultant, will help him handle the media. He plans to "be as clear and focused about the message as possible.
"My job as a trustee is to represent the district and its policies ... and to initiate policies." He also noted that he will serve as a liaison between the administration and the constituency.
Students and professors expressed their support and belief in Vasquez's ability.
Public relations graduate student Suzanne McConaughy said, "He knows how to find and present the messages that his constituents want to hear; he does not need to hire a PR person."
Public relations graduate student Diane Hauser said, "Dr. Vasquez knows what's going on in the city, state and nation. (He is) keenly aware."
Anderson Chen, another graduate PR student, finds Vasquez "genuinely concerned about the importance of education ... and his style of interacting with people is warm. He is very reachable."
UH political science professor Richard Murray said that it is "a good thing that a member of the university faculty is involved in community affairs; I applaud a young Ph.D willing to take the time (to contribute to the community)."
As for the implications Vasquez's new office has for the university, Murray called it "one of a number of indicators that UH is trying to be a good community force ... not an ivory tower, (but) a part of Houston."
Vasquez is often asked if he aspires to a higher political office. He said, "More people talk about my career plans than I do now. I (will) focus on learning, research and service."