Since taking over as the new University of Houston president in January, Renu Khator has been on an extensive charm offensive.
She's met with all types of groups and she's taken surprise tours of campus buildings.
One thing she hasn't done yet: visited a dorm.
UH on-campus housing
Which is bad news for any Coog student or alum hoping the school might yet be seen as something more than a commuter school.
"I have not been to the residence halls," Khator says. "I have been to many buildings, but I haven't covered that."
She doesn't sound all that excited about the prospect. "I don't know [when I'll visit]; one of these days, when my calendar has a window of two hours or so I'll go over there," she says.
We can't say we blame her: UH's Moody Towers and the Quad can be pretty dispiriting places. But even though UH is building a new 1,000-room dorm and has a waiting list for rooms, Khator says the present number of on-campus students (about 4,000) is "a very good number" for a campus with an overall enrollment of 35,000.
She says she'd like to give students from outside the Houston area an opportunity to attend UH, but the bread-and-butter of the university — the commuters who hit campus for a few hours a day and then leave — isn't about to change.
"Even with resident halls, we have to be completely committed and open to those students who are place-bound and do not want to live in a dorm," she says. "They are living right here and if they want to come to the university, we should be very welcoming."
So, if you're one of those alums or students hoping that UH will one day have more of a traditional-college feel to it, with dorms and full-time campus activities, it looks like it's instead going to be more of the same.
Unless Khator visits Moody Towers and is so taken with it she decides to go on a building spree. And unless Moody Towers has changed drastically, you shouldn't bet on that.
Throughout her glad-handing and speechifying tour, Khator has professed her love for all things UH, saying she has been completely taken with the university. She's also professed a love for college athletics, stemming both from her time as a student at Purdue and as the head of the University of South Florida, which used football success to build a growing reputation.
She's been in the UH job more than four months, and before that obviously boned up on Cougar history in order to impress the selection committee, so we thought we'd hit her with a UH Trivia test.
The results: disappointing. UH media-relations head Eric Gerber, sitting in on the interview, sometimes came to her aid, but otherwise things were grim.
Houston Press: First question — outside the window, by Moody Towers, is Lynn Eusan Park. Who was Lynn Eusan?
Renu Khator: Oooh, I didn't even know there was a park. Sorry. I'm going to have to take a walk. Eric, do you know?
Eric Gerber: Lynn Eusan was the first black homecoming queen and died violently and was honored, although I don't think there's a sign there.
HP: Name three members of Phi Slama Jama.
RK: Gee, I don't know — what is it?
HP: You don't know what Phi Slama Jama is?
RK: No, I do not. Phi Slama Jama?
HP: The UH basketball team that came within one basket of winning the Final Four.
RK: Oh yes, absolutely, that's true. My husband is the big athletics fan. I remember talking with him a lot and him pulling it up on the Internet.
EG: And, ummm, one of your regents was a member of Phi Slama Jama — Lynden Rose.
RK: Yes — he was one of them, and talks about it, too.
HP: Not memorably, apparently. In the most recent Academy Awards, a UH alumnus was up for Best Director. Who was it?
RK: I don't know.
EG: Julian Schnabel, for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. A very esoteric movie.
HP: (Thinking "Very esoteric? Nice attempt at a save, Gerber.") Okay. There are at least five prominent, big-time rappers who have been UH students. Name one. (Acceptable answers: Chamillionaire, Paul Wall, Lil' Wayne, Master P and Big Moe.)
RK: I don't know. I don't know rappers. This is not fair.
HP: All right, name one astronaut.
RK: Oh, astronaut — I know several. I don't know if I could name one, but I know we had several. I could name you the one from Purdue.
These are all not-fair questions. You can ask me how many years old the university is, when it was established, which was the largest gift. Things like that I can answer.
HP: (Thinking "Biggest gift? We're sure you can answer that.") What's the trophy called that's given to the winner of the UH-Rice football game?
RK: I don't know that, but I can tell you how this started [Khator makes the "Cougar Paw" hand sign]. Do you know that?
HP: The hand sign? Yeah.
RK: (Bitterly disappointed) Really? Because so many people, I've found, don't know that. But I know that.
HP: Too bad it's not on the test.
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RK: This is unfair. No professor here can give you a test without warning you there is going to be a test.
HP: Come on — you knew there'd be questions. Last one: Within a plus-or-minus of two, how many times has the State Bar of Texas brought charges of ambulance-chasing against the man whose name adorns UH's John O'Quinn Law Center?
RK: Gee, that's a politically incorrect question. I'm not going to answer that.
As we say, disappointing. But remember, Coogs — the next time some professor tries to hit you with a pop quiz, feel free to cite the Khator policy banning such things.