Fifty Shades of Red

Is red really red, or is it a collection of shades that look like red?

Come and walk the grounds of the University of Houston on any given Friday and chances are that you will be overwhelmed by a sea of red. Nearly 70 percent of the students, staff and faculty will be wearing that distinctive school color. The sight is so compelling that I have had many visitors comment, “Wow…your campus is all red.”

A Friday at UH

A Red Friday at UH

But if you look closely, what people describe as “red” turns out to be more like 50 shades of red, anywhere from almost-orange to maroon-look-alike to pinkish red. Yes, there is an official “Cougar Red” red, but many people still wear all shades of red because they don’t want to repeat the same outfit. I mean, just how many truly red outfits can you really have? (Disclaimer: two-thirds of my own closet is now red.)

Yet, to a visitor, it looks as if everyone is just wearing “red.”

I often wonder how and when shades can lose their individual differences and become a single chromatic phenomenon? Last month, I was wearing a maroon-pink suit to a meeting. The first comment I heard as I walked in the door was, “There is the lady in red!” I was surprised. First of all, it was not Friday. Second, the suit was not red by any stretch of the imagination. And finally, I was not even in Houston. Yet, because I wear red so often, my suit was immediately perceived as “red” before it looked maroon or pink to these people.

To me, the different shades of a color are natural and, in their way, important. They expand our limits and add value in reminding us that we have a common ground. The varying shades also remind us that commonality is not automatic; it has to be built and nurtured.
Every organization is shaped by two opposite forces: those that unify its members and those that divide them. A successful, high-functioning organization strives to strike the right balance because neither is good in its extreme. Too much uniformity may lead to complacency. Too much divisiveness may lead to conflict.

My organization–the University of Houston–continues to flourish with the healthy interplay of forces that simultaneously unite and divide us. We all are the same in many ways – our mission, core values, commitment, logo, color, team and the list can go on and on. But we are also very different– the disciplines that we teach in, or the departments that we work in, or the ideologies that we believe in, or the approaches that we take to fulfill that common mission. And, of course, we are also divided by gender, color, race, socio-economic status, neighborhoods and many more such factors.

The secret of our success is remaining divided and yet united. Our strength comes from recognizing our differences but still relating to one another so naturally that we appear as one. The significance lies in the strength of our unity, and not in the elimination of the differences.
An orange-red looks red if it is surrounded by other reds, but it will be perceived as orange if standing alone. A strong organization is not the one that ignores its divisions but one that builds a compelling sense of unity that transcends its differences.

So, I am proud of our own red and even prouder of the 50 shades that also contribute to our greater sense of “red.” I salute those who unify our cause and mission, and I applaud those who challenge us to be different.

(But, hold on, Cougars. Let me be very clear. I still love it when you wear your Cougar Red on Fridays!)


13 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Red

  1. I unfortunately cannot wear red at my place of employment, as our staff is uniformed, but I proudly wear my UH Class ring each and every day. I also make sure to change into something red immediately after leaving work. Your article is extremely well written; and while light-hearted, it conveys a deep meaning to those of us who are part of the Cougar Pride and to those who understand the power that our unity can provide!

  2. I would like to steal the idea somewhat.would you join with the League of Women Voters in wearing red,white, and blue plus any political bottoms you have.

    Sent from my iPad We appreciate your membership in the league. Carolyn Mata, President Lwvha


  3. Dr. Khator, thank you for the insight and your wonderfully unique “UH” point of view. As an alumni from the early 90’s, and a UHAA Life Member I have been and continue to be very happy with your leadership for UH and your persistence as a voice for change (a divider) from our past in order to make UH a much better university, a much better campus and a higher achieving university than when I graduated.

    You, the board, the faculty, the high achieving student body and recent alumni have made our university more valuable and as a result my degree is more valuable too.

    Your vision has been challenging, your goals for UH were and continue to be high. Your influence, drive and service to our University has paid dividends for all Cougars. Excellent work, please keep it up.


  4. Hello Dr. Khator. I recently read where State Senator Whitmire isn’t happy about the possibility of utilizing the new rule you and the board were supposed to consider, making incoming freshmen live on campus.

    My understanding is the new rule was being considered in order to help graduation rates. If so, then please do not back down from this issue Dr. Khator. This is the time to be a DIVIDER. You have helped lead UH to new heights and as Chancellor of the UH System, you should point out to the senator how UHD and UH-Clear Lake are meeting the needs of the non-traditional students, and doing so in a great way.

    Please continue your work to make UH a better university, not to keep it cemented in the past. UH’s graduation rates are not good, not good at all and the flagship University of Houston is primed for a break out, to become a great institution, one on the same level as other great urban universities like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (both with more endowment, higher graduation rates, more alumni participation and both higher ranked by most all publications than UH).

    College isn’t for everyone, and great colleges are for even fewer people. UH was once a decent public university, I know because I graduated from that decent public university. Please don’t let it go back there or allow the flagship to stagnate. Continue to move UH forward and do not allow anyone to place UH in the past.

    The flagship University f Houston needs to attract better incoming students and demand more difficult standards for transfer students. Better students, more involved students = more involved alumni = more investment by those alumni. It’s a logical relationship.

    The Houston area is chuck full of UH “graduates” who don’t give a darn about the school. The smaller number of “alumni”, active participants who have a connection to their university, donate, invest their time and energy into UH want you to stay the course. We want more active “alumni”, NOT more apathetic graduates.

    Thank you Dr. Khator for this outlet to contact you.

    Active alumni of the University of Houston

  5. WOW! Your words have moved me to reflect and smile. Our essence can truly be found in our unique experiences and daily contributions. Looking forward to reading more of your reflections. Go Coogs!

  6. Pingback: Big Rocks, 50 Shades…and other lessons learned… | ALL IS WELL

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