Commitment starts from the top…

Last Wednesday, we said farewell to three members of our Board of Regents: Nelda Blair, Jacob Monty, and Mica Mosbacher.  On that day, I felt particularly grateful as I thought of the legacy they were leaving behind. It was during their term that the University of Houston achieved its Tier One status from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  It was during their term that ESPN Game Day was held on campus in response to our nationally ranked Cougar football team. It was during their term that UH became the university of first choice, as the average freshmen SAT rose steadily to 1140. And indeed, it was during their term that 21 buildings at the cost of $1 billion were designed and constructed.

Of course, it takes a great community to build a great university, but the commitment must start from the top.  Our board members have shown an unwavering support for making the University of Houston an institution of which Houston and Texas can be proud of. Regent Mosbacher encouraged us to embrace change and have patience, since all good things take time.  Regent Monty always reminded us of our duty to serve the under-served and stay persistent. Regent Blair, who served as board chair for two years, was amazing in so many ways.

Yes, she really was amazing.  Just to give you a glimpse of her leadership style, here are few passages from the letter that I wrote in her Memory Book.

“I must admit that your first appearance on the campus as a board member was extremely intimidating…radiant red clothes, stiletto heels, large patterned handbag, bold jewelry, and a champion’s walk…it was the true ‘I have arrived’ look! We, the administration, huddled together and pondered over our future.  What followed was a deafening silence, for none of us had encountered your leadership style before.

Over the next few days, we googled and learned everything we could about you from secondary sources, but nothing was of much comfort. It seemed like your interests and achievements covered every facet of life from sports to television to courts and public office. Then came the retreat and you won us over with your sense of humor and the no-nonsense approach to everything.

You never, for one day, micro-managed anyone or anything, and yet you knew exactly where all the major issues stood on any given day. You could get to the bottom of an issue irrespective of how muddy the context was, how hidden the agendas were, and how loud the voices were. You had a clear view of your principles and you stood firm on them.

Every single day, I felt empowered yet accountable, under pressure to perform and yet fully supported to get the job done. I felt overwhelmed by the ‘Uniquely Nelda Look,’ and yet totally comfortable as myself. If it is not true leadership, I don’t know what is.

Thank you, Nelda!  You will always be in our hearts and you will always remain our Chair Blair!”

Today, I salute our regents–current and former–for their commitment to excellence, for their countless hours of volunteerism, and for their unwavering passion for all of our universities. We know that we stand tall on your shoulders! Thank you.