House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, recently announced on the House floor which of the state's seven emerging research universities would be the first to meet the state's criteria (established by a bill he authored in 2009) for classification as a national research — or tier one — university: the University of Houston.

This was not a surprise for Renu Khator, who wears two hats as president of the University of Houston and chancellor of the University of Houston System, overseeing four universities and five teaching centers. In fact, in many respects, the first half of 2011 has been marked by good news for Khator and UH. In January, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching moved the university into its top tier of research institutions. Not long after, UH rose in the esteem of the Princeton Review as well.

The past few months have not been without their difficulties, however. Sensing that the UH System is too focused on improvements at the main campus, community members in Victoria have launched an effort to have the University of Houston-Victoria moved into the Texas A&M University System. Simultaneously, the system and its respective campuses are — like every institution of higher education — facing serious budget cuts that threaten to curb some of their momentum. Elsewhere around the state, questions about the value of academic research have erupted into the public debate.

Khator, a global environmental policy scholar, assumed her current posts on January of 2008 after a 22-year career at the University of South Florida. She recently sat down with the Tribune and discussed, among other things, the tier-one efforts at UH, the budget and the value of research.

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