Dr. Renu Khator – Chancellor, UH System and President, University of Houston
Regarding her own philosophy of higher education, Khator says, “I look at it as a pyramid. You need to have a strong base, with enough affordable, accessible college education for your population to fuel your economy. But at the same time, you must also have the pinnacle of the pyramid, which means the very best in innovation, in research, in scholarship, in the world. At UH, we are committed to those dual goals. We must always take a long, hard look at what we are doing and evaluate our real-world options. But we must always do so while remaining totally committed to the core mission.”
During her first decade of leadership, Renu Khator has guided the remarkable transformation of the University of Houston into a top-tier institution that has become nationally recognized for its unique blend of academic accomplishment, research innovation, athletic achievement, and dedication to the success of a significantly diverse, determined student body.
Today, UH enjoys an enrollment of more than 46,000 students, awards nearly 10,000 degrees annually and has a $6-billion economic impact on the greater Houston area each year.
Since assuming the position of president (and chancellor of the UH System) in 2008, Khator has concentrated on making sure the University reinforces the economic and cultural strengths of the city of Houston. To that end, the University of Houston has focused on energy, the arts, and healthcare while maintaining an overall pursuit of excellence in the higher education arena. Recognizing that a great city deserves a great public university, Khator launched an ambitious program shortly after her arrival to elevate UH’s standing in the academic community. In 2011, in approximately half the predicted time, UH earned Tier One status from the Carnegie Foundation.
That unprecedented success, which both inspired the city of Houston and further motivated the UH community, has been followed by a string of similar feats, including being awarded a Phi Beta Kappa honor society chapter, more than tripling the number of National Academy members on the faculty, and dramatically improving the graduation rates. The University consistently earns accolades for its students’ achievements, such as Princeton Review’s “50 Colleges That Create Futures,” while ranking in the Top 10 in the lowest amount of debt owed by its graduating students.
Staying prepared for that future, Khator has overseen the growth of the campus to nearly 700 acres, with a $1 billion-plus construction program to add and update numerous facilities, including a 40,000-seat football stadium, a completely renovated Student Center, two Health and Biomedical Sciences buildings, a 74-acre Technology Bridge research park, and an unparalleled expansion of residence halls to accommodate as many as 8,000-plus students – among the largest in the state – developing a vibrant residential campus environment that has also enhanced academic performance.
Essential to Khator’s overall objectives has been gaining the financial and civic support of the community for the University, reflected by the steady increase of private donations during her administration, most notably the ongoing “Here, We Go” campaign to raise $1 billion, which has reached nearly 95 percent of its goal. Likewise, UH takes its own community responsibilities seriously and, responding to Khator’s call for increased community engagement, the University has launched its Neighborhood Initiatives program, including an extensive plan to help its neighborhood, the Third Ward, significantly upgrade its economic, educational and healthcare resources.
Khator, who was born in Uttar Pradesh, India, came to the United States without being fluent in English to study at Purdue University, where she earned a master’s degree (1975) and a PhD (1985) in political science. Her alma mater has bestowed a doctor of social sciences, honoris causa, upon her as has Swansea University. She has been inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame and been awarded the Excellence in Leadership Award by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The then-president of India has presented her with the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, the highest distinction bestowed upon a non-resident Indian, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services honored her with its Outstanding American By Choice Award, which recognizes the achievements of naturalized American citizens.
Reflecting her keen appreciation of the importance and complexity of college athletics, Khator has been appointed as chair of the board of directors of the American Athletic Conference. Her growing reputation as one of higher education’s most accomplished leaders led to being named chair of the American Council on Education’s board as well as a position on the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities Council of Presidents. Additionally, she has drawn on her academic training as a policy analyst to serve as chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas board of directors.
Prior to her appointment at UH, she was provost and senior vice president at the University of South Florida, capping a 22-year career at that institution. Khator is the first Indian immigrant to lead a comprehensive research university in the United States and the first female chancellor of a Texas higher education system. She is married to Dr. Suresh Khator, associate dean of the UH Cullen College of Engineering, and they have two married daughters and two grandchildren.