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Back to School at University of Houston

School’s back in session at UH, though there seem to be more downed limbs on campus than students. Those who did show up found classes that were about one-third full in most cases; some came to campus to find their professors absent.

UH president Rena Khator did declare the week to be exam-free and encouraged those students who couldn’t safely make it to class to not worry about coming in. But with the city still in recovery mode, the decision to open campus so early was questionable.

“It’s a bit of a safety hazard, with traffic signals down and everything,” a UH professor, who asked to remain anonymous, told Hair Balls. “(Opening campus) is (Khator’s) first bad decision.”

Caitlin Cuppernull, the editor in chief of The Daily Cougar student newspaper, interviewed Khator this morning. She let Hair Balls in on the official line in regard to why campus is open: Khator says it’s essential to Houston’s return to normalcy and necessary to continue to fulfill the university’s “educational mission.”

The question of why that mission can’t be accomplished with some make-up days at the end of the semester elicited a response that, to us, seemed like public relations 101. Khator repeatedly emphasized “organizational resiliency matched with individual compassion.” Cuppernull told Hair Balls that when she asked whether the school would lose some state funding if it stayed closed for too long, Khator played the old “Don’t ask me, I’m just the president” card. State funding is just not that big of a concern at public universities, you see.

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Students who came to campus were at least treated to some air conditioning and running water. Power is on, except at Cambridge Oaks and Cullen Oaks student housing, and water pressure is back to full in almost all buildings. Clean-up crews – a mix of UH staff and outside companies – are working overtime to get campus back into shape, though the 9 p.m. citywide curfew means they have to stop work around 7:30 or 8 p.m.

Head of Plant Operations Dave Irvin (who echoed the “resiliency and compassion” motto) told Hair Balls he expects most of the debris to be cleared within a couple of weeks. Harder hit structures like the Architecture Building, which lost one-third of its roof and had standing water in its library, may take up to a couple of months to get fully repaired, though Irvin says students should be able to get back to work in all facilities by tomorrow.

There’s one definite upside to opening the university – area families who remain without power can at least stop by the University Center to grab a burger at Wendy’s. – Blake Whitaker

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