Administration News

SFAC, UH Admin resolve budget proposal ahead of the Board of Regents meeting

UH Chairman Tilman Fertitta and President and Chancellor Renu Khator at the Board of Regents meeting on Feb.21. | Raphael Fernandez/The Cougar

Prior to the upcoming Board of Regents meeting, the Student Fees Advisory Committee and the four person committee appointed by UH Chairman Tilman Fertitta, resolved the tabled issue regarding the budget proposal made by the student committee. 

The latest recommendations relocated a few student organizations to the University Center Fee, bolstering changes to Counseling and Psychological Services and additional compensation for current employees in CAPS, to help job retention rates in the department. UH Athletics will continue to maintain its budget at $1.5 million. 

“Our charge was very clear, we had to leave athletics fully funded at the $1.5 million level. We had to find a resolution, to find extra dollars within the student service fee to be reallocated,” said Vice President of Student Affairs Paul Kittle. 

The UH admin did budget analysis for different fees at the University and went back 10 years to look at previous budgets. The admin looked for changes that could be made in the funding sources, which would remain aligned with good accounting practices and current state legislation, Kittle said. 

We shifted things off of student service fees and we moved them into other funding sources that were available within the university,” Kittle said. 

UH students pay $135 a semester to the UC Fee, which “supports the maintenance and operation of the University Center.” SFAC agreed to relocate the Center for Student Involvement, the Center for Student Advocacy & Community, the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life and the Center for Student Media, partly or fully under the UC Fee to free up funds for reallocations. 

Through the analysis, University admin were able to allocate approximately $1.6 million for SFAC to utilize.

“We actually gave the committee $100,000 more than what they were originally asking for. So, once we did that analysis, we found the dollars and we had the bandwidth to do it,” Kittle said. 

The latest budget allowed SFAC to allocate funds towards CAPS, something the committee and student body were both passionate about. There are a myriad of different reasons why mental health services on campus are important, said SFAC chair and mechanical engineering sophomore Yusuf Kadi. 

“There are a lot of new struggles and new challenges here in college and the importance of mental health services can’t be overstated,” Kadi said. “I think it’s pretty imperative that new students coming to campus receive adequate mental health support so that they’re successful in college.”

The funds would allow CAPS to hire two additional embedded counselors, three mobile crisis respondents, one JED coordinator and one clinical care coordinator. In addition to that, the committee was able to offer additional compensation to current staff members at CAPS, which aims to reduce turnover rates and increase employee retention. 

“We are continuing to staff up the counseling center, but we’re also adding licensed clinicians and other support and programmatic roles that will increase services to students in partnership with CAPS. But then beyond and outside of CAPS, I think you’ll see a much broader approach,” Kittle said. 

The new changes to CAPS come a year after two students committed suicide on campus, which sparked debate over the state of mental health on campus. President and Chancellor Renu Khator had pledged to increase student outposts for mental health services and created CoogsCare in response.

However, in February Khator rejected the original budget recommendations made by SFAC, which proposed a cut of $1.5 million from UH Athletics and diverted the funds to other student organizations. Student organizers on campus protested the rejection and voiced their concern about the lack of adequate mental health support on campus. 

Despite student complaints and a heated exchange with Kadi, Fertitta made it clear that Athletics will receive its funding no matter what. He then tabled the issue to allow a four person committee, consisting of Kadi, Kittle, Administration and Finance Vice Chancellor Raymond Bartlett and General Counsel Dona Cornell to come up with a solution. 

While athletics will continue to receive full funding, the original recommendation cut the money from the department due to lack of financial accountability for the funds they were receiving. However, the committee asked athletics for more accountability and transparency moving forward, Kadi said. 

“We did ask for athletics to meet SFAC reporting standards, from next year and years moving forward just so that there’s a standard across all the units for how to report, where you’re spending student fee money,” Kadi said. 

Despite hurdles, the new recommendation, which will be presented  to the board members by SFAC and UH admin, has been informally approved by Khator, according to Kadi. 

“Based on the talks that we’ve had with administrators, she’s already signed off informally on this proposal,” Kadi said. 

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