Administration News

EXCLUSIVE: Facebook messages between Whitmire and Haston stir tension

[alert type=”green”](Editor’s note: This conversation was released by Haston exclusively to The Cougar. The Facebook messages were not edited for grammar or content.)[/alert]

State Senator and UH alumnus John Whitmire publicly opposed a plan to have mandatory freshmen on campus living starting fall 2015. Student Government Association President Charles Haston stood by the UH administration in its decision to revitalize UH and take steps towards becoming a fully designated Tier One university. Haston invited Whitmire to attend the first student senate meeting on Sept. 3. Below is the Facebook message thread that took place on Aug. 21 in which Whitmire accepted and then rejected SGA’s invitation.

Charles Haston: I’m sure you meet so many people that you don’t remember me, but my name is Charles Haston and I’m the Student Body President at the University of Houston. We met at the alumni gala in the spring. I know you’re incredibly busy, but I was hoping we could host you at our first senate meeting of the semester on September 3rd at 7:30pm. As one of our preeminent alumni in the state legislature, it would be wonderful for our student leaders to have the opportunity to hear you speak and be able to ask you questions about higher education in Texas.

Student Government President Charles Haston has said that Senator John Whitmire "singlehandedly sunk" the freshman housing requirement.  |  File photo/The Cougar

Student Government President Charles Haston has said that Senator John Whitmire “singlehandedly sunk” the freshman housing requirement. | File photo/The Cougar

John Whitmire: I would be honored. I hope we can discuss a wide variety of subjects. I am a proud cougar and want only what’s best for UH

CH: I really look forward to it. You are such an incredible alumnus of UH and I have a tremendous amount of respect for you and gratitude for everything you do for UH. I disagree with your position, but I believe you did what you did because you care. How should we coordinate this. Should I reach out to your office?

JW: Yes. My office or me. Thank you for your respect. I would gladly share the comments that are overwhelmingly opposed from a diverse group of citizens that are strong supporters of UH. Not only financial matters but cultural considerations. The co Ed dorms are unacceptable to many and so many want kids at home at that age. Particularly South Asians and Hispanics. Work considerations are also major. I will gladly discuss but it’s dead for hundreds of reasons. Have you thought what it would do to students who’s parents are undocumented. Please put yourself in others shoes. Have you thought of Muslim students It dead and I believe there are so many more important issues Like cost of tuition etc

CH: Senator, I was actively involved in shaping the exemptions to the policy because I’m acutely aware of our students needs. All of the situations you described would allow the student to be exempt from the policy.
What the policy was really attempting to do was require freshman who have no reason to preclude them from living on campus to live at a private apartment complex adjacent to UH or in midtown. Our data shows that students who live on campus, especially minorities, take more credit hours, are more likely to graduate and do so in time, and have higher GPA’s. It is also cheaper to live on campus than live off campus at a private apartment. So if students are more likely to succeed and have no reasonable reason to preclude them from living on campus, then why wouldn’t we want to do it, especially when the proposed policy is so flexible to meet every student’s unique needs?

JW: So flexible that its meaningless. Most do not want to declare exemptions. Gay students Muslims do not want to be subject to hate etc. At least your honest. It’s all about money. You totally are displaying you do not understand most UH students experience. You would be shocked at the credible opposition. One of major Department heads at UH said it would devastate Hispanic enrollment. If you say so many exemptions then why do it. You need to allow as option and let some chose others live there lives. UH is Great because of its ethnic diversity and as well as lifestyle and circumstances. It’s dead and I don’t intend to debate and maybe should reconsider my visit. The legislative delegation is against. That should mean something. If you want to discuss moving forward and making UH better. I willing but I don’t intend to spend valuable time on a policy that was shaped by you and administrators hat demonstrate a lvk of hardship many UH students experience. The cost along is prohibited. You say living off campus cost more. Not if you live at home or with gay lover which you have no exemption for. I guess you helped with 20 mile trigger. It’s nuts. And the administration knows it. They were trying to compete with developers across Calhoun It was all special interest and insensitive and dead. Good nite.

CH: I have publicly said that the mileage needed to be much larger. But the proposal was a draft and was moving toward conversation with the BOR. I think there are many things that would be wonderful to discuss with you. Student leaders on this campus are extremely active and I think it’s important for you to speak with student leaders to be informed about the student perspective. I hope we can work together because everyone here wants what is best for UH, even if we may not always agree on the means to achieve the best ends.

JW: I not sure about how realistic your small number of student body leaders are. I am not available on sept 3. I look forward to visiting in future I do know I am arranging to speak at UH democrat club soon.aybe you can catch me and we discuss matters that are important and broken. Immigration high tuition health care criminal justice.

CH: Well I’m disappointed that you feel that way about student leaders at UH. We work extremely hard here and for no other reason than the fact that we love UH. I will say that many of them do not support requiring freshmen to live on campus. If you choose to renege on your commitment to come speak onSeptember 3, that is certainly our prerogative. I was not trying to ambush you in a public forum, I was actually going to suggest we have a small discussion group. I think you would be surprised how diverse our student leadership is- it really is reflective of our unique student body. I think we all just want to understand your perspective on a range of issues, most significantly more important than freshmen housing, ie affordability of education, and want you to understand our positions, as well.

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  • So glad that our SGA president is willing to air private conversations for public “gratification”. Such leadership.

    • Where did they agree that the conversation is necessarily “private”? Besides, if Whitmire managed to override every governing body at UH and then refuses to meet with university leaders about it, I think the public deserves to know.

      Does government transparency really not matter to you?

    • Have you seen Whitmire’s facebook page? It’s not a private thing at all. It’s not his personal Facebook account, it’s used for professional public activities like political marketing, and is completely open to the public.

      Also, if Whitmire was acting as a government official I should hope people are making sure his actions are known to the public. Thanks for taking a stand for transparency Mr. Haston!

      • Having a FB page is not a welcome sign for small-minded individuals to pick fights. Everything every elected Texas legislator does in his or her official capacity is on record. FB is hardly representative of those records which are all publicly available per the Open Records Act.

  • “Hello, Senator, allow me to use this opportunity to argue with you over Facebook under the pretense of inviting you to UH for peaceful dialogue. Because we all know arguing over Facebook is so productive.”

  • Whelp! Looks like any chance of any compromise with Whitmire is shot. First the senator publishes texts and then Haston fires back with FB messages…both very immature. Think back to student leaders like Bandoh, Gogets, and Dike. They were masters of compromise and navigated through highly charged situations with ease. I guess those days are gone……….

  • Great job Charles, I cannot believe his arrogance thinking that he personally can set any policy at our University

  • wow. feel bad for the incoming students who will be forced to live on campus if this goes through. He’s right though, I’m Hispanic and I pay for my own tuition, books, etc. but my parents can only help me by providing me free rent and food. Being forced to stay on campus (unless I’m misunderstanding the new proposed policy) will only add a burden to students. You’re not really thinking of the students and the 4 year plan, it’s always about the money 😉

    • There’s kind of a misunderstanding in that students who wouldn’t be able to afford to live on campus (or for whatever other reason that would make living on campus counterproductive to their success) are to receive exemptions. Unfortunately Sen. Whitmire can’t seem to grasp that. Also one could very easily avoid the requirement by spending their first year at a satellite campus (UHD etc.) or a community college and then transfer to UH main campus.

      • If only the text of the agenda item specifically indicated that students that “demonstrate financial difficulty, medical or ADA need or have a reason that deems it counterproductive for them to live on campus” would be able to waive the requirement. And if only that line specifically had been repeated in every discussion and article regarding the subject, for every readers reference. Perhaps then it would have been easier for our “Citizens” to fake their “Concern.”

      • …great, I can’t afford to live on-campus; I shouldn’t even come..I should look some place else? I get it, the “exemption”, you’ve obviously never tried to get an exemption from Housing or Dining in the past…it’s near impossible. It’s only if a need cannot be met, which Dining will argue they ALL can be met. I had a friend with a severe allergy be told that they could have some of the “fruit and vegetable” options that were available every day instead of being released from his meal plan.

        • Well, you could do what many people (myself included) did when finances were a concern. Start off at a community college. I went to Lone Star College-North Harris (when it was North Harris College), transferred to the University of St. Thomas, then was admitted to the University of Houston Law Center. Has anyone I have ever worked for cared that I spent two years at a community college? Nope. Did I receive quality education everywhere I went? You bet. Did I save a ton of money in the process. Absolutely.

  • This makes no sense. Why would he invite this Senator and then argue with him over Facebook, ruining any future possibility of discussion? If he had already indicated he was willing to meet, this conversation should have been postponed until a meaningful, productive conversation could take place at a meeting. All these antics did was alienate the Senator. Pure political theater.

  • Kudos to the SGA President for advocating for students on this issue. I fail to see how Sen. Whitmire can sit back and say that someone elected by the student body at large is out of touch with the needs of that student body. Last I checked, Sen. Whitmire was a state senator who is elected by a constituency that may have some students at UH, but certainly doesn’t constitute the will of the current student body.

  • Why does everyone think that adding more debt burden on incoming freshmen is a good idea?

    Why does everyone think that preventing the university from having competitively priced housing is a good idea?

  • This is about trying to create a community at the
    University of Houston. This is a work in progress…a first step. It is too bad
    Sen. Whitmire does not have the forsight to try to work with the UH students.
    As an open minded servent of the public, I would have thought he would be open
    to dicussion with the STUDENTS. As i recall – the President of the Student Body
    is an elected position, which means he is supported by the majority of
    students. Maybe Sen Whitmire has been in Austin so long that he has lost touch
    with the UH community, or maybe he has another agenda. Thank you Mr. Haston for
    letting us know what is actually going on behind the scenes. After reading the
    thread it is clear to me that Sen Whitmire made this conversation go sideways.
    When you refered to disagreeing with his position, you were being open. No
    ambush. I would ask Sen Whitmire – why are you afraid to have a discussion in a public forum among the people whom this would have the greatest impact on.

    A proud Cougar, Class of 72.

    • A small amount of students bother to vote. Those votes are what get officers elected. Also, embarrassing a public official, is in no decent sense, the same as an “open.” forum. Quite the opposite. President Haston would have done better to place a phone call to Senator Whitmire’s office and show some decorum and respect for an elected official, which is not at all what he did using Facebook, despite his fawning introduction. This entire record should become a textbook example of how not to treat elected officials. There is a way to disagree, a time and a place.

  • Why are you having conversations like these on Facebook? Like someone just said, you should have ended the conversation after Whitmire agreed to meet with you. You burned a bridge Haston, you are definitely not the president Cedric was in terms of professionalism and the choice of words you make.

  • If you take a step back for a second, you realize how dumb the “mandatory” housing thing is. “It’s mandatory…except when it’s not!”. I worked for the housing department for years and I can easily say that though there are benefits to living on campus it is much cheaper to live somewhere else (especially in Houston).

    If the University really wants to encourage on campus living they would come up with more affordable housing prices that would actually be competitive with other housing options. But, this is clearly a money grab to keep students’ dollars at UH.

    • Nearly all rules have an exception. Why is that “dumb”? It sounds like they are simply trying to avoid the circumstances where a freshman lives in an apartment instead of on campus. There are plenty of studies that show that living on campus (especially your first year) become more integrated into the university community, do better academically, and have a better chance to graduate in a timely manner.

      • It becomes dumb when anything counts as an exception as Dr. Khator implied. If you’re going to exempt anyone who asks to be exempted, then don’t say that it’s mandatory and there is no reason this should be any form of legislature.

        I am not denying that living on campus helps students (like I said, I worked for the housing department for multiple years so I’ve seen the effects). It’s just self-serving to try and pass legislature that makes students live on campus.

        This move is probably a veil to make up for the 7+ major construction and renovation projects that have taken place since 2010 and the amount of debt the department is in due to SHRL’s (Student Housing and Residential Life) ineffective marketing strategy.

            • I would chalk that up to imprecise phrasing. After all, how could you make up for alleged shortfalls in finances (as you cynically suggest) while giving away waivers like they’re candy? If it’s like most mandatory on-campus housing rules, they will probably be judged on a case-by-case basis on a broad set of criteria.

              • Which was my point at the beginning. What’s the point of it being mandatory if it’s really not? My best guess is that using the word mandatory will scare away some people who may want to apply for waivers.

                  • Now it just seems like we’re way off task. I’ve explained that it has no value when seemingly any reason is an exception.

                    As cynical as it may sound, this may be about money more than students success (though that’s a longer term investment). If you ask any housing official they will tell you that housing is either at or near capacity. Yet now they burden themselves to place thousands of students into spaces that aren’t even available. More than likely the reason is that they aren’t at capacity and are still in operating in the red because of building Cougar Village 1 (2010) and 2 (2013), the new Cougar Place (2013), Calhoun Lofts(2009), and renovating the Towers (2011) and the Quads (2011) which all cost over $10 mil total.

                    Also, staying on campus as a freshman requires the purchase of a meal plan seeing as Cougar Woods has just been built and Fresh Food Co. is a recent renovation, I’d imagine Dining Services also being excited about guaranteed money.

                    At the end of the day, college is a business. They provide a service (education) and tack on a bunch of extra things (housing and meals in this example) to bump up the price with add-ons.

        • I can tell you I was as well (Senator – Law Center ’03-’04 and Speaker of the Senate (’04-’05). I was hardly a “good ole boy”. I was a law student, knew none of the other members of SGA when I started, and was not a member of a fraternity. I got to know the people I worked with, learned more about them, became involved, and helped to make a lot of good things happen (including re-writing the SGA Constitution in 2005). Anyone who really made an effort to get involved and work hard was able to make it happen. They didn’t have to belong to a particular group or frat.

  • EXCLUSIVE: Facebook Messages Between UH President and UH Alumnus Goes Absolutely No Where. Is this a joke Haston?

  • Although Facebook is a stupid forum to hold a meaningful debate, I’ll bite:
    I can only speak from my experience during my time at UH (Class of 2007), but the SGA was hardly representative of the student body. They were nice people who meant well, but the SGA was chosen from a pool of specially engaged students that made up a small fraction of the entire student body. So many students at UH work full-time, live at home, commute to school, etc, etc, etc. As an incredibly diverse school, each student’s daily experience is unique and the exceptions would need to continue onto infinity, which as JW says, would make the requirement meaningless. Many students simply don’t have the availability to participate in student government. So the people making these decisions aren’t getting these perspectives. When your goal to getting a degree is advancement in a career, participating in the SGA might just be a unnecessary use of your ambitions.

    • Any student can vote in an SGA election. The vast majority make the decision not to vote. That is their right, but that does not make the body less representative. It just means that the majority of the represented group is fine letting others make the decision as to who represents them.

  • I don’t really have a dog in the “live on campus” debate, however this pulled quote from above is a little worrisome: Whitmire said, “Have you thought what it would do to students who’s parents are undocumented.” I’m not sure what oath the “Dean of the Texas Senate” has to swear into, but I’m pretty sure it says something about upholding the laws of Texas. When you look up just what “undocumented” means it says something like: “Typically, undocumented immigrants have entered the U.S. without inspection or legal permission or through the use of false papers. Being undocumented can also refer to a person with expired paperwork or a person in deportation proceedings.” I’m sure he has served honorably, but it seems he may be a little selective in what laws he deems are worth upholding.

  • I am astounded that an elected official with such poor grammar, spelling and punctuation is allowed to dictate policy at a center of higher learning. Are we certain he actually graduated? Pitiful.

  • In a fight, to change how a university is perceived, I would argue it is not best to pick fights and air messages; it lacks respect and reinforces the idea the school has not matured. Also, couldn’t Whitemire couldn’t have single handily ended the live-on campus effort especially when it was pulled from the Board of Regents agenda PRIOR to the text conversations with Khator. ….way to make us proud.

    • What a presumptuous, puerile attack on an established scholar. This attempt to shame a respected Kantian academic is both naive and misdirected. Any serious complaint regarding Dr. Morrison’s classroom decorum should have been taken to the Dean of his department, rarther than publishing without his consent a recording of cobbled-together highly-edited snippets from his classroom. Sadly this self-righteous attempt by some prudish underclassman who lacked the the common sense to drop a course taught in a manner he found so offensive, reflects only that students’ arrogance and inability to be in the same room with a top thinker who is highly regarded by his students and colleagues.alike.

  • I sure hope you don’t run for re-election Haston because as of now you surely do not have my vote. I’ve met you twice before and you always come off with an attitude of “I’m right, you’re wrong” and many students share my sentiment.

  • I don’t think President Haston has to ever worry about not being remembered in the future by a Texas Senator. Arguing with and then publically embarrassing Senator Whitmire is a sure-fire way to make sure Haston is not forgotten. President Haston has every right to disagree, but not to treat a public official so cavalier. President Haston could perhaps use a lesson in diplomacy. Disagreeing is one thing, airing it so publicly is just tasteless.

  • Double UH alum and worked in housing and totally disgusted with Haston and others who have commented against whitmire. UH only has only two housing buildings at full capacity with Moody Towers and CV1 with many open beds. Whitmire is right in suggesting this is just a way to force students to live on campus instead of the new private apartments being built within 20 miles. This legislation is in one way a money grab and in another to compensate for the ineptitude of SHRL.
    The best thing to happen to UH is the private apartments near UH because this will cause new competition which will hopefully help reform and make housing on UH much better.

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