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June 22, 2008
Renu Khator
Chancellor & President, Univ. of Houston
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Info: Our guest on Q&A is Renu Khator, President and Chancellor of the University of Houston. She has headed the University of Houston since November of last year. Prior to that she spent many years at the University of South Florida culminating in four years as the Provost and Senior Vice President. She has authored or co-authored five books on management, public administration, and the environment. Dr. Khator is originally from India and received her undergraduate degree from Kanpur University

Uncorrected transcript provided by Morningside Partners.
C-SPAN uses its best efforts to provide accurate transcripts of its programs, but it can not be held liable for mistakes such as omitted words, punctuation, spelling, mistakes that change meaning, etc.

BRIAN LAMB: Dr. Renu Khator, Chancellor of the University of Houston, what’s the biggest problem that people like you have when they think about the future of education?

RENU KHATOR, CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON: Well, it’s actually a double-sided problem. One is trying to see how is it that higher education provides access to so many individuals and so many who may not have college education, I see a number one priority on their mind to reach out to them. But at the same time, the other side of the coin for me is how is it that you keep American higher education competitive in the global marketplace? Keep the excellence, innovation and creativity at the forefront.

BRIAN LAMB: What’s the best thing about American higher education?

RENU KHATOR: Well, there are several things. I’ve been asked that question repeatedly recently when I went to India, and that allowed me to do a lot of reflections. I think the fact that universities have a place of their own with as little intrusion as possible. And professors and teachers have academic freedom. I think both of those, the model of governance, and this creative space, I think, those two things are very unique about American higher education.

BRIAN LAMB: When did you go to India most recently?

RENU KHATOR: I was there in March. I went there. I had the privilege of meeting with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. We had discussion about future of higher education in India. I met with many business leaders, many vice-chancellors. And, of course, I had the privilege of visiting my tiny little home town and they’re just all so very proud that I’m in this position. They just feel somehow it’s a collective community’s accomplishment and I’m very gratified.

BRIAN LAMB: Has there ever been an Indian as president or chancellor of a university in this country?

RENU KHATOR: Not for a major research university, I don’t believe so. I believe I’m the first one.

BRIAN LAMB: What impact does that have on your friends and your former countrymen?

RENU KHATOR: Well, I think, everybody’s so elated that sometimes I feel scared, even. In Tampa, where I was before, I mean it was just like a huge celebration. They just all thought that this was an accomplishment of the community. I came to Houston. Houston has a large Indian population and I cannot even tell you how open and welcoming and embracing they have been. If I accept every invitation, I think, for the next four months I don’t have to have breakfast, lunch, dinner myself.

BRIAN LAMB: We’ll come back to your travel to this country originally, but first, tell us about the University of Houston; how big is it?

RENU KHATOR: Well, the University of Houston was founded in 1927, so it’s about 81 years old. And it’s 57,000 students. It’s a system of higher education, so there are four separate institutions. They’re all separately accredited. There’s a main campus. I’m president of the main campus, but I’m also chancellor of the University of Houston system. And it’s about let’s see there are 220,000 alumni that makes an annual economic impact of $3.1 billion on the region every year. And 80 percent of our students stay right there in the region. So it is a very important university for Houston.

BRIAN LAMB: How much is the budget for a year?

RENU KHATOR: It’s over a billion dollars.

BRIAN LAMB: Now, you spent 22 years with the University of South Florida.

RENU KHATOR: That’s right. Twenty-two-and-a-half.

BRIAN LAMB: The last four as provost?

RENU KHATOR: That’s right.

BRIAN LAMB: Why did you make the switch? And how did you get the job?

RENU KHATOR: Well, I was provost for four years and seven months, and I believe, the national average for provost is somewhere around there. So once I was provost for about two years, I had many universities reach out to me and ask me to consider presidency or chancellorship. I wanted to make sure it’s a right fit because that’s just so important for me.

I wanted a university that’s metropolitan because I really do believe in that mission. And I wanted a public university. I wanted a global university. And Houston just seemed to fit the bill so that was the university that excited me when the opportunity became open and available. And, I believe, after the national search, they felt the same. So I think I’m a very unusual choice for Texas, a very unusual choice for even Houston. But I compliment the board and the university for making that decision.

BRIAN LAMB: Who runs the board? And who makes up the board?

RENU KHATOR: There are nine members of the board, and all nine of them are appointed by the governor. So the final decision is made by the board.

BRIAN LAMB: And your first day on the job was when?

RENU KHATOR: Fifteenth of January.

BRIAN LAMB: So it’s brand new.

RENU KHATOR: It’s brand new.

BRIAN LAMB: Where were you born?

RENU KHATOR: I was born in Farrukhabad; that’s in Northern India, about 220 miles away from New Delhi. It’s a very small town.

BRIAN LAMB: What was life like for you in the early years?

RENU KHATOR: Well, let me see, life was actually great. Childhood was absolutely wonderful. My father is – actually was an attorney. He passed away three years ago. My grandfather was an attorney. They were very privileged family in town. So I grew up in a lot of care and comfort. My father always made sure education was very important. My mother always made sure that whatever I did it was outstanding. She would put heart and soul in it no matter what little project I got from the school. And today as I look back, I think, both of them gave me a tremendous amount of values, which is, whatever you do just put your heart and soul in it and try to do your very best and do it with care and comfort.

And I think – so that’s where it is. But you asked us to what else it was back then in my little town, I probably saw only four or five movies because there were no – there were just a couple of movie theaters. I did not go out very much because my father always wanted to make sure I had an escort, and everywhere I go this driver will take me. So I grew up in a kind of privileged environment. But the foundation to here was wonderful.

BRIAN LAMB: What was your religious base?


BRIAN LAMB: And what does that mean compared to any of the other religions that are practiced in India?

RENU KHATOR: Well, interestingly India has – Hindus are predominantly in India about more than 80 percent of people are Hindus. I grew up in a town that’s name is Muslim and among a population that’s largely quite a large number of people there in Farrukhabad were Muslims. So I was very in tuned to the Muslim faith. But then I went to a missionary school. So I really grew up in tri-faiths, Christianity, Islam and Hindu religion. So I practice Hindu religion but I have great respect for all of these religions as well.

BRIAN LAMB: How do women figure in the Hindu religion?

RENU KHATOR: Well, traditionally from the religious point-of-view or from historical point-of-view, women have always enjoyed a very important, very prominent position. There are gods and goddesses multiple of them in Hindu religions and many of the goddesses are female characters. And actually, the most predominant ones are goddesses for courage, and victory and war. So the trades are pretty much mixed between men and women in India and that’s the kind of environment I grew in. But that’s on the sort of more historical, cultural, theoretical side.

On a practical side, I really didn’t have any role model in terms of seeing any woman in my family or even in my town or my extended family who has either gone to school even after marriage or was in any kind of career at that time.

BRIAN LAMB: What year did you marry?


BRIAN LAMB: How old were you?

RENU KHATOR: I was 18.

BRIAN LAMB: And I read that it was arranged.


BRIAN LAMB: Explain that.

RENU KHATOR: Well, I was – I actually graduated from college. And I wanted to go to a master’s program, but my town did not have an all girls college that provided education for master’s. So I really insisted I wanted to go to away from the house and my father was not really keen on it, and I can understand why because it just wasn’t an acceptable thing.

And then, I got in scholarship from government of India, and I insisted. I said I really want to go down to Sariet Alabad (ph) University because I wanted to do political science and that was the place for political science education. Finally, my father gave in. And sent me there, but about eight to nine months later, a driver came to the dorm, residence halls where I was and said that you were called back home.

And I thought my mother was not well. And actually, this whole family was at home, my future husband and his family. And I cried and I said I absolutely want to study. I do not get married. And my mother said, basically it takes two to three years to really find the right match and they’re just here to see you and it’s OK, it’s just a short meeting and it will be over. And you go back and you study. So I agreed to do that.

And I guess I was in room with my future husband for probably 29 minutes, that’s what he says. He must have been keeping count, I wasn’t. And then my mother gave me a nod, I left the room. And he and his mother who were there decided that was a good fit and good match for him and he said yes. And my father thought it was a good match. He said yes. And I cried and I said no. And my husband, likes to joke around. He says it’s a democracy two out of three works. We got married. So it’s an interesting story.

BRIAN LAMB: Now, is that a tradition that’s normal for families?

RENU KHATOR: It definitely was at that time. And even today, I think, most of the marriages are arranged, although they do give little more opportunity, now for young men and women to meet and get to know one another but most of the time the future husband or wife are introduced by the family, at least it’s pretty much norm in my family.

BRIAN LAMB: Now, where had – by the way, your father and mother upper class Indians?

RENU KHATOR: Yes, very much so, actually.

BRIAN LAMB: Successful financially.

RENU KHATOR: Very, very much so. My father …

BRIAN LAMB: How well did you live?

RENU KHATOR: Very well. Actually my house it’s a three-story, 40 rooms. We were five of us with seven servants to serve us, so it was a very privileged childhood that I had.

BRIAN LAMB: And by the way, you are married to the same man today?


BRIAN LAMB: How many years?

RENU KHATOR: Whatever it is now. Thirty-four. We had our 34th wedding anniversary just about two weeks back.

BRIAN LAMB: This may sound crazy that it ask him, but did you ever fall in love with him?

RENU KHATOR: Yes, I am very much in love with him even today. And I did fall in love with him very quickly because if you meet with him he’s just a wonderful man, he really is. And just loves just grows on you. I mean (INAUDIBLE) years. And I don’t know, people ask me many times, when do you think you fell in love? And I said, I really don’t know. Probably the minute I – it was decided it was going to be, I think, I started to fall in love with piece by piece, you know, every thing about him.

BRIAN LAMB: Where did your father, and was it your father that found him?

RENU KHATOR: Yes. Actually, my uncle lived in the same hometown and my uncle informed my father saying that here’s this young man. He is studying in the United States. And he’s coming back for a month on vacation and he thinks it could be a good match. So my father came to see him and then invited him to come home to see me, I guess.

BRIAN LAMB: What’s his name?

RENU KHATOR: Suresh (ph).

BRIAN LAMB: And where was he studying in the United States?

RENU KHATOR: At Purdue University.

BRIAN LAMB: Studying what?

RENU KHATOR: He was studying Ph.D. He was doing his engineering. So I followed him after we got married and within a couple of weeks after getting married I was with him here in West Lafayette, Indiana.

BRIAN LAMB: Go back to the scene, did you have any idea at all when you came back home from school that your father was about to introduce you to your new husband?

RENU KHATOR: No, absolutely no. Zilch. Zero. I had no idea. That’s why I cried so much. And actually, after it was decided I was going to get married and I was engaged the very same day, I did not eat for 10 days until I got married. I went on hunger strike to protest it. And it had nothing to do with him at all. Or the concept of marriage because I knew one day I was going to get married the same way. It simply had to do about my deep, deep, deep desire to do Ph.D. I somehow had that hunger in my belly to study and to get the highest degree possible.

So I don’t know why. I can’t explain it because I didn’t have role models for me, but that is all I wanted to do.

BRIAN LAMB: But where had they – you know, found this man and your father had his eye on him, or your uncle had his eye on him for a long time for you?

RENU KHATOR: Well, Uncle – the family was, I think, in proximity so my uncle kind of knew – didn’t know very much, though. And generally, typically, what happens is when they think there is an eligible match they ask for a resume. So my Uncle asked my dad to send my resume, which my did with a photograph. So that went to my, I guess, future in-laws, but nobody knows at that time because probably send resumes many places.

And then, my father also sent a copy of the resume and a photograph to my would-be husband here in West Lafayette, Indiana. So I asked him later one, I said how come it just took you a couple of hours to just say yes? Because typically people don’t do that so fast? And he said, well, I had your photograph in front of me for a couple of months and I just fell in love with the photograph.

BRIAN LAMB: Now, what happens, when he was introduced to you, if he didn’t like you, could he back out at any time?

RENU KHATOR: Absolutely.

BRIAN LAMB: Totally his call.

RENU KHATOR: Oh yes. It is anticipated actually because he did not bring his dad with him and that is your bail out, to say simply, we’re going to go and consult with father. And – but he and his mom just decided to take the action and say yes, and because they had 35 resumes when he arrived in India to go and look over and do whatever. And he just decided he doesn’t have time for all of that 35, you know, encounters and he likes what he sees and he said yes.

BRIAN LAMB: So he picked you out of 35?

RENU KHATOR: In file, yes. But he saw only me.

BRIAN LAMB: Did you apply for the job at the University of Houston at Chancellor?

RENU KHATOR: Yes, I was contacted by the – they had hired search firm, search agency. And search firm contacted me and asked me if I would be interested. And I was also contacted by a couple of people from the University of Houston who said that take a look at this presidency, it’s a really great place and something that you will really enjoy. And then I did a lot of my homework. I studied it thoroughly. And decided, yes, I would put my name in it.

BRIAN LAMB: Did I read correctly that there were 200 applicants?

RENU KHATOR: That’s typical. It may have been definitely, over 100, I’m sure. I don’t know how many they had maybe.

BRIAN LAMB: So in the end though, I mean this is an interesting – these two selection processes, in the end at the University of Houston, why do you think they picked you?

RENU KHATOR: Well, they told me they picked me because I had fire in my belly.

BRIAN LAMB: Is that an old Indian expression?


BRIAN LAMB: But, apparently, they did interview four candidates, and I was expecting from my side – well first, they narrowed down the research committee, they narrowed down to eight candidates. They brought eight candidates to meet with the search committee that included faculty, staff, students, alumni, and board members. And then they invited four back to the campus. Actually to a hotel because it was not even in the campus, to a hotel because they don’t want to have the search process be very exposed. And I was one of those four candidates, and in my mind, I was anticipating being invited back if I was still in the race along with my husband because it’s a job – it’s a dual job. You want to make sure your spouse also can carry on this.

BRIAN LAMB: And what does he do now?

RENU KHATOR: He’s a professor of industrial engineering. But apparently I left from there, and that very same evening the board met and voted and decided I was their pick. So it happened very fast for me in both cases.

BRIAN LAMB: But, you know, I read a lot of material about you that there was a reference to they want you to take this school to the next level. You see that so often in school, what in the case of the University of Houston is the next level?

RENU KHATOR: OK. Well, you know, I did a lot of studying. I went to all national databases for universities to see exactly where University of Houston is. And I also studied every possible state database, to see exactly what their – all kinds of measures. And I could see a lot of potential.

However, when I came to Houston, I decided, you know, I really need to hear from the community. It’s four-and-a-half million, a strong community out there. So we rolled out a plan, called 100 day plan. I said, for first 100 days I will be out everywhere I can be and I’ll solicit input, come and give me my charge. Tell me what do you want to see happen at the University of Houston. I got close to 12,000 suggestions.

So then we had to sort them out. And there were little rocks, and then there were big rocks. And the big rock idea was they were absolutely hungry for the University of Houston to become a nationally competitive research university. So we’ve done a lot of analysis on that exactly how would we know we were right. What is it that we need to do? What’s the distance? What’s the fuel? And I think it is totally possible for the University of Houston to really become a top tier public research university that offers a top tier learning environment.

However, in order to do that, it’s going to take a whole community. So now I’m back after 100-days with the community and saying, OK, I heard you, this is what you said. And now, this is what your responsibility is in order to make it that greater university which means the philanthropy from donors, more participation and engagement from alumni. It means more ownership from the leadership of the city and the region. It means a desire for the state legislature and the governor to see another top tier university in the state of Texas.

And also, I visited our congressional delegation and I told him it also means what could it do to the country? And so far everything I hear is very positive. It seems like a start of a line. But it’s a long path and a long journey and the proof of pudding will be when we taste it, when we see everybody pulling together.

BRIAN LAMB: What’s the biggest major and you have Ph.D.’s and masters and the whole gamut of degrees?

RENU KHATOR: Absolutely. This is – it’s really very classy university. Even though it was established with a very different purpose, somewhere along the journey they really built a fine university. Generally, commuter universities – I mean it was called a commuter university. It is no longer a commuter university because we do have 5,000 residential dorm spaces. We’re building another 1,000 and we’ll build more – two or 3,000 more. But generally, you will not find the caliber and quality of faculty that is here. Generally, you won’t even find even one member of the national academy, for instance. Well, we have nine national academies.

BRIAN LAMB: What does that mean?

RENU KHATOR: These are the top cream of the cream of the faculty, anywhere. Very, very, very small percentage in number.

BRIAN LAMB: Who determines who gets to be in the national academy?

RENU KHATOR: This is the academy. They nominate people to come be a part of the academy and they’re just a couple of hundred of people around. So the member of being in the national academy means you have really made in your field. You are among those very, very selected in the world. We have nine of them. And you have a Nobel laureate on our faculty. We have Pulitzer Prize winners. We have Tony Award winners. I mean extremely, extremely great faculty.

At the same time, there are some programs that are also ranked in a top 10 in the country, top three. I mean hotel and restaurant management program at Houston is ranked number two in the country. The same thing is true about the entrepreneurship program. It’s – the law schools, business school, the social work, creative writing, I mean there is excellence all across.

But what is missing, really, some elements that have to really paid attention to, tweaked in in order for it to be recognized as being in tier one research universities.

BRIAN LAMB: How much money do you get right now from the federal taxpayer for the University of Houston?

RENU KHATOR: From federal, you mean (INAUDIBLE) and grants?

BRIAN LAMB: For research.

RENU KHATOR: Yes, it’s about close to $50 million.

BRIAN LAMB: How much does Texas get? And/or Texas A&M?

RENU KHATOR: Well, they get quite a bit. I mean both UT Austin and Texas A&M their total contracts and grants are about 300 million.



BRIAN LAMB: From the Fed?

RENU KHATOR: Right. I mean not from the Fed, total.

BRIAN LAMB: Total. So what’s it going to take for you to get more federal grants?

RENU KHATOR: OK. But federal grants really don’t come, for instance, to law, to business, because these are not areas that require that kind of intensive research investment in equipment, in all kinds of chemical and clinical and things like that.

There are two horses based on which any university has really been able to get more federal grants. I mean, either you need to have a big engineering program big and strong like Purdue, for instance. Or you need to have medical school or a big footprint in the healthcare area.

Really speaking, we haven’t really played a big game in any of those two, but now, that’s our future going ahead. Because Houston is the fourth largest city. It’s such a vibrant city. It’s a global city. And it’s the energy capital of the world. So we are quite as strong in energy, so that’s what we’re going to build an energy university of future.

And also, we have largest medical facility in the world, probably the largest, or otherwise, at least, one of the largest and that’s Texas Medical Center sitting four blocks from us.

BRIAN LAMB: Is that M.D. Anderson?

RENU KHATOR: No, M.D. Anderson is part of it. Baylor. M.D. Anderson. Harmon Hospital. I mean there’s 17 entities in Texas Medical Center which is the largest medical facility in the world sitting right there. And they have invited us to be a big player. We are a player, a small player, and, I think, our future means that we will need to create a bigger footprint in that area, in health area, with or without medical school because there are so many areas in healthcare, that it’s still, you know, are so much in shortage, and demand and need, that we can really do a whole lot. So I think there is a pathway for us.

BRIAN LAMB: I want to go back to the earlier story, if you don’t mind.


BRIAN LAMB: First of all, why did you get interested in political science? What introduced you to that?

RENU KHATOR: Well, sometimes people inspire you. I think, out of all of my teachers, my teacher for political science was just very inspiring.


RENU KHATOR: In – during my college days.

BRIAN LAMB: Is that …

RENU KHATOR: I was in my little hometown. Actually, I wanted – the college I went to was just so knew it was a couple of years old for my bachelor’s degree, and I’m glad they opened that so I could at least go to college. It was just a tent shade and some really not even cemented (INAUDIBLE) at that time. But my professor for political science was just very inspiring. Always kept tell me you can do anything you want to do. She’ll bring me the books. She’ll bring me English books even though my median of instruction was Hindi.

So when I came here, I really didn’t have proficiency in English.

BRIAN LAMB: Did you speak any English at all?

RENU KHATOR: I could not speak at all. I could read with a lot of difficulty because I had taken English as a subject, but had no practice either in speaking, listening, or writing, or any of that.

BRIAN LAMB: Are you still in touch with that political science professor?

RENU KHATOR: Yes. I sure am.

BRIAN LAMB: Where is she now?

RENU KHATOR: She’s in my hometown. I just met her when I was there in March.

BRIAN LAMB: And you went on, then to get a political science degree masters, political science degree Ph.D.


BRIAN LAMB: Well, go back to you’re 18 years old.


BRIAN LAMB: Ten days later after being introduced to your now husband, you got married.


BRIAN LAMB: What was that like? What was the ceremony like? And did you ever give up on this? I mean you said you cried for 10 days.

RENU KHATOR: I know. I cried because I really wanted to study and would be husband after engagement, he did ask to speak for five minutes. So my father allowed for him to speak with me for five minutes. And he said, I don’t understand. You don’t seem happy. He said, I’m so happy. Why are you not happy? And I said, it’s nothing about you at all. I said, I really want to study. And he said, well we’re going to the land of opportunity. We’re going to America. You can do whatever you want. You can be whatever you want. And he said, I won’t want a wife who doesn’t aspirations. I would want you to study. And he said, I promise to you. But the thing is is since I’ve never seen a role model, I just didn’t think it would ever happen, but he kept his promise.

He tutored me. He read eight drafts of research paper I wrote just to check my grammar. I mean he really was responsible a whole lot for pushing me and for moving me ahead. And any time I have gone to the next level for my promotion I think he has been the proudest person on earth. And he’s very proud of me.

BRIAN LAMB: When you were at the University of South Florida, was he there also?

RENU KHATOR: Yes, he was. He was a professor. There, actually, he was the first one recruited there. I followed him there.

BRIAN LAMB: But he followed you to the University of Houston.

RENU KHATOR: Well, he says technically he did not because he started his job a day before I did.

BRIAN LAMB: Well, go back to you’re 18 years old and you’re married, did you take a honeymoon?

RENU KHATOR: Not really. America became our honeymoon, I guess. We are still in a honeymoon.

BRIAN LAMB: When did you leave India?

RENU KHATOR: Probably another one-week or so because he only went home for five weeks of vacation total. So another week later, I think, as soon as I got my passport and visa we left.

BRIAN LAMB: Where did you?

RENU KHATOR: West Lafayette, Indiana.

BRIAN LAMB: And what did you do – he was getting his Ph.D., what did you do when you arrived?

RENU KHATOR: I – within a month he took me to the graduate advisor at Purdue in political science department. And he translated my dialogue with him and I said I want admission for masters. And he said, well, you know, you’re not old enough and you probably should do a couple of years of bachelor’s degree. And I can understand why because I was not able to even speak English. And as argumentative and as, you know, rigid-headed as I am, I said, well I finished my bachelor’s. I have degree here. I want to do masters. And I was doing my masters.

So this Professor Frank Wilson (ph) at Purdue who was the graduate director at that time, he passed away, unfortunately, too a couple of years ago. He said, OK, I’ll let you take two classes sit in there and see how you do. If you pass, then we’ll talk about it. So I sat in two classes. I took two classes, and I worked like I’ve never worked in my life. I watched eight hours of television a day just to get comprehension.

BRIAN LAMB: What television?

RENU KHATOR: I Love Lucy. Andy Griffith. Dick Van Dyke. Just so that I can comprehend even English because I couldn’t even get the accent.

BRIAN LAMB: How did you – in watching those programs how did that teach you English?

RENU KHATOR: Well, I could at least understand some English and some I could follow from the actions. Because if I just went to watch news, which I did too, although I didn’t understand, and that is simply because there was nothing for me to put together in a context. So those shows really gave me a much better sense of language. So I started picking up. I started enjoying. I started watching more and more, more and more. And two months down the road, I mean I came there, I think in probably – I landed in West Lafayette in July, and in August I was in masters classes.

BRIAN LAMB: Did you understand the classes when you sat in there?

RENU KHATOR: Not the first one at all. I actually left the classroom crying. And my husband said what happened? And I said, well, I didn’t understand anything at all. And he said, well, let’s go talk to the professor and see – and this professor actually was from Texas and with a very heavy Texan accent. And he said, you know, what it’s OK, you’ll get to it. He says I understand why you aren’t getting it. So then, you know, we just – he encouraged me just go and talk to professors individually. And, you know, it just took me maybe one month, I would say.

And then I started to – I would read a lot too. I mean I never went to class without having read that chapter from first page to the last page at least three times.

BRIAN LAMB: How did you understand that though?

RENU KHATOR: Well, because I knew the grammar. I could read with a lot of difficulty and then I’ll ask me husband. He would translate it sometimes some things for me.

BRIAN LAMB: What did you speak at home with him?

RENU KHATOR: Hindi. Because I couldn’t speak English.

BRIAN LAMB: And what were your grades in those classes.

RENU KHATOR: I got both As.

BRIAN LAMB: Well, you know, that would probably drive people in that crazy who got Ds and Cs and they say, how does this woman do it? How did you do it?


BRIAN LAMB: I mean, in other words, people who could speak the language.

RENU KHATOR: Because people spent three hours in the classroom. I spent probably 20 hours for the same three hours because I read the chapter three times before. I read the chapter three times later on. And I didn’t have at that time technology to tape the lectures or any such thing. But basically I then followed from the books and I would visit the professor, and they were all always very nice. During their office hours, they expect the students to come.

BRIAN LAMB: Did you participate in the discussion in class?

RENU KHATOR: Yes, I had to make my presentation which I did. But otherwise, in a slow free flowing conversation, probably not and the reason was because by the time I would formulate the sentence I want to say from Hindi converting into English in my head, the conversation had just moved on. So I really could never do a lot of interactive for the first couple of months.

Then I got a little more courageous. And by the time I was leaving from there and we are finishing the class, yes, I could do conversations. But I did form a study group. So my – everybody helped me, basically, that’s what it is.

BRIAN LAMB: Meanwhile you’re married for a couple of weeks in the process, and you don’t even know the man. And you’re in a different country. Had you ever been overseas before?

RENU KHATOR: No. Never. I never sat on a plane before.

BRIAN LAMB: And then in a class and speaking a language that you – I mean – any advice for others that are confronting the same problems?

RENU KHATOR: Well, I just say have fire in your belly because that fire will keep you moving. And just – have passion.

BRIAN LAMB: Where did you get the saying that is attributed to you for saying, ”When life gives you lemons and everyone else is busy making lemonade, think about making margaritas.” Where did you get that?

RENU KHATOR: I don’t know. It just came some time many, many years ago, actually because I love margaritas. And – but after that somebody did bring me a card or sent me a card that had very similar line to it. So I have no idea they took it from me or I took it from them at some point in time, I have no idea. But it just kind of (INAUDIBLE) it’s one of the many analogies I use.

BRIAN LAMB: How many children?

RENU KHATOR: Two daughters.

BRIAN LAMB: No, where are they?

RENU KHATOR: Both of them are ophthalmologists. And one is – she’s also a glaucoma surgeon. She did her fellowship in glaucoma. And she is a partner in practice in Sarasota, Florida.

BRIAN LAMB: Are they married or single?

RENU KHATOR: She is married. She is – she married her sweetheart from high school, ninth grade. They both started to date. He’s not Indian. He’s Caucasian American. Florida boy. And they got married five years ago. He’s just a great guy. And she’s such a great gal.

And the younger one she just is completing her residency in another two weeks from Emery in ophthalmology and she’s going for glaucoma fellowship to Wills Eye Institute.

BRIAN LAMB: So, I mean, I’m sure you’ve been asked this question before, but you didn’t arrange the marriage for your daughter.

RENU KHATOR: No, not for the first one, obviously, because in ninth grade, actually that’s pretty early even for Americans, I would say to say I want to go see a movie with this boy in my class. When she came and said that, I said oh my gosh it’s starting all ready. And my husband said, well, you deal with it. So they dated, and they just dated each other for 11 years and got married.

BRIAN LAMB: What is your attitude about the arranged marriage idea? Is it good or bad?

RENU KHATOR: Well, you know, it worked great in my case. I know many cases it has worked great. I know in many cases it has not worked great. The reasons Indian marriages do work very well is because it’s the expectations you set. You know, it’s just the expectations are not just the romance. I mean the expectation are for marriage and you’ve got to make it work. And sometimes – a lot of time, actually woman ends up sacrificing as well.

So what I would say about it? I think, I would not arrange marriage for my daughters, the younger one who’s there now, simply because it’s just too much of a responsibility. But, at the same time, I wouldn’t want her to do it all by herself either because it doesn’t bring in the wisdom that I have seen in the world. So many times I tell her this is what you need to look in a guy. And she’s very good. I mean, so I hope it will work out between the two of us we’ll figure out.

BRIAN LAMB: I told you before we started that I’d read this book by Fareed Zakaria, which is a best seller, he’s an Indian by birth, American now. The Post American World, and it’s all about globalism and one of the subjects that you spend a lot of time on.

Rather than talking about this book, in particular, if you were going to tell the American people what you saw in India this time around, and what you know about this country, what would you say the future for this country is? I mean because we’re getting a lot of warnings that India and China are growing so fast that there’s going to be some very heavy competition.

RENU KHATOR: Well, competition is never bad. That’s what we learn. That’s one of the values of this country. In globalization, naturally the capital labor will flow to its advantage position. So the kinds of positions and jobs that have gone to India are where India has competitive advantage. The important thing for us not to cry about what kind of competition is being created about other countries. But to focus on what kind of competitive advantage we have in this country and strengthen that.

In my view, higher education has always been a competitive advantage in this country. Innovation, creativity, have always been a competitive advantage. The freedom to think. The freedom to take risk always have been competitive advantage. So for America to stay competitive in this global world, is not going to be by keeping other countries, but it’s going to be by developing (INAUDIBLE) competitive advantage. And that’s why, I think, higher education is so critical. And it’s the other side of the coin, as I said which is keeping America competitive in the global educational marketplace as well.

BRIAN LAMB: What year did you get your Ph.D.?

RENU KHATOR: I finished – in ’75 I finished my masters, after a year-and-a-half. Then my husband and I went back to India.

BRIAN LAMB: For how long?

RENU KHATOR: Five years. And during that time two daughters were born. And then, I decided to come back here five years later, and I came back to Purdue with a one-year-old and a three-and-a-half-year-old I started my Ph.D. at that time.

So I did my Ph.D. in 1986.

BRIAN LAMB: What did you do during those five years in India? And what did your husband do?

RENU KHATOR: He was working for – he worked for two different places there and one was – it was (INAUDIBLE) higher education training type of place more organizational development kind of an institute. And then he went into a private industry. But during that time, I worked within a company there, as well, for a short time.

Then once I got pregnant, I knew I had to stay home. So I started – I picked up writing. So then I started writing fiction and poetry and publishing, which I still do, in Hindi.

BRIAN LAMB: What kind of – in Hindi?

RENU KHATOR: In Hindi. I write fiction and poetry in Hindi. And I publish it in India – Indian magazines.

BRIAN LAMB: What kind of – give us some story line?

RENU KHATOR: Most of the time they are like a person like me which is mostly a person who has really left the country and is now in America and those are the kinds of stories I like to read, as well. Because there is a commonality of experiences that people like me who are the first generation of immigrants they face. So most of them are relating to that.

BRIAN LAMB: Have you written your own story in a fiction way?

RENU KHATOR: Not yet. But one of these days, I think, I will. Right now, I just don’t have any time.

BRIAN LAMB: Now, are you an American citizen?

RENU KHATOR: Yes. I’m an American citizen.

BRIAN LAMB: Do you have dual citizenship with India?

RENU KHATOR: I do not. India does offer. I think I might take my Indian citizenship back as well. But right now, it’s only American citizenship.

BRIAN LAMB: Do you sell your fiction in India? Or is it…

RENU KHATOR: No, I do not sell. I basically write right now for magazines, but very popular magazines. Because it is reaching out to the millions of people. I reach out to a selected group of people with my academic writings here. So my desire is to be able to write – when I want to write, feeling like I have wings, I can float. I don’t have to really quote citations or anything like that. Just very free flowing writing and want to reach out to the millions, that’s the time I turn to either fiction or a couple of prose’s also I’ve done or poetry.

But then, also, it’s to keep myself in touch with my language.

BRIAN LAMB: Why don’t you publish that in English?

RENU KHATOR: One of these days I probably will. I’ll probably write a story. I write otherwise for other things here.

BRIAN LAMB: What’s the difference between our political system in the United States and India’s?

RENU KHATOR: Well, first of all, this is a presidential system. India is a parliamentary system. In India it’s a one person, or prime minister. You give all of the powers, the executive, legislative, judiciary, it seems sometimes everything falls within the prime minister, not judiciary, which seems sometimes. In other words, you have one person to hold accountable. And when things go wrong you boot the person out.

I mean here, separation of power. There are three separate groups and, you know, sometimes the executive says the legislature doesn’t do this. The legislature says the executive doesn’t do this. So those are different models. The most prevalent model in the world is a parliamentary system.

The other difference, clearly, is a two-party system here. It’s a multiparty system in India. I mean it’s generally the parties that governments are built now by coalition government. There was time when there was dominance by one party, two parties, and now it’s all multiparty. And there are many other differences like that, I would say.

BRIAN LAMB: In 20 years from now, what will India look like compared to where it is today?

RENU KHATOR: Well, it depends what India is able to do between now and 20 years. So one of the things I see which is really heart-warming to me is to see how easily India is embracing the latest of technology, the latest of global challenges, it’s absolutely mind-boggling. I go there once or twice a year and I still say, oh wow, I didn’t see this before.

BRIAN LAMB: Give us an example of something you see there that you don’t see here.

RENU KHATOR: Well, it’s like cell phones, for instance. I mean the servants there who would come there and take your – I mean even like the vegetable seller, in my hometown, the milkman and the vegetable seller, they come to your doorstep to really sell you fresh produce. He has a cell phone. So I can call half-an-hour before and say, you know, this is what I want. So if he doesn’t have it, he’ll find some neighbor and bring that vegetable.

To me, that kind of embracement of technology even though the person has absolutely no reading, writing, skills, I mean he’s illiterate, completely, but uses a cell phone. So India is very good about embracing that.

But at the same time, I also see that this whole technology and globalization is really not trickling down to the people. And there is a whole section that is not touched in many, many ways in terms of their poverty. And, I think, if India can deal with that, can really create for us organizations where benefits and privileges of globalization are really coming down to the common people, I think, it would be a phenomenal, phenomenal place. But if they don’t, then they have some serious challenges on hand too.

In Fareed Zakaria’s book, he says, ”The most acute problem of plenty is the impact of global growth on the natural resources in the environment. It is not an exaggeration that to say that the world is running out of clean air, potable water, agriculture produce and many vital commodities.” Do you see that here? Do you see that in India?

RENU KHATOR: I see it everywhere. I see it here. I see it in India. Most definitely, I see that. In my hometown, when I was growing up, we never thought about water. I mean it was there all the time and taps everywhere. Today, the water comes only for one hour in the morning from five to six and for one hour in the evening, sometimes half-an-hour in the evening, that’s it.

BRIAN LAMB: In your hometown?

RENU KHATOR: In my hometown.

BRIAN LAMB: Even in a home of privilege like yours was.

RENU KHATOR: Well, in a home of privilege they have their own system. So in my home, my brother’s system, when the water comes, everything gets stowed underground in a tank with a bigger sized pipe that he has been able to get. And then everything is transported back to the top of the house water tank. So that when we are there, we don’t feel a difference. Water is there in water taps all of the time.

But for people, in general, it only comes in the morning. You store it in drums. You take showers during that time. And if you somehow slept, you have no water left for the whole day. So for water to be there all of the time, and now for it to be only one to two hours a day – electricity is gone every day from eight hours, six hours, eight hours. I can see those issues very clearly. The water table is dropping.

But it’s not just about consumption in India. We have to realize that. It’s about consumption in the entire world, and particularly in the industrialized world. We are in this country, responsible for the problems that we see in other parts of the world. We’re all part of one world, one system.

So yes, it’s a great challenge, there’s no doubt.

BRIAN LAMB: Did you ever think by the way your study of political science Ph.D., did you ever think you might want to run for political office?

RENU KHATOR: No. Actually, there was a time, a long, long time, still when I was doing those five years when I was in India between my master’s and Ph.D. that I was approached for a state seat to run and I said no. I studied political science, and I would stay with my science. So, no I don’t think so.

BRIAN LAMB: Back to Mr. Zakaria’s book, and I read this because it is a best seller right now, and some Americans don’t like what they’re hearing here, and I want to get your perspective on it.

”Nationalism has always perplexed Americans,” Mr. Zakaria writes. ”When the United States involves itself abroad, it always believes that it is genuinely trying to help other countries better themselves. From the Philippines and Haiti to Vietnam and Iraq, the native’s reactions to U.S. efforts has taken Americans by surprise. Americans take justified pride in their own country, we call it patriotism. And yet are genuinely startled when other people are proud and possessive of theirs.”

RENU KHATOR: Well, I think, this is true for every country. I won’t just blame Americans for it. But at the same time, you know, this whole approach and this is not just necessarily American approach, it has been, many scholars have written about it, is the approach of developed countries, that if we are going to developing countries, we are going there to help them. The fact is knowledge is bilateral, multilateral. They are best practices. There are things that we can learn, always. We can learn from Africa. We can learn from Latin America. We can learn from Europe.

And if we go to other countries thinking there is a culture, there’s a local culture there which is very rich. And if you impose something that is not conducive and synergize with the local culture, the chances are it will fail. However, if you take an idea, listen to the people and see what also you can learn for yourself as well as trying to share with them and let them adopt what is adoptable for them based on their local culture, I think, we can be more successful.

BRIAN LAMB: Speaking of culture, at the University of South Florida, where you were 22 years and provost for four, what role did sports play there? What change did you see when you became more nationally known? And then what role will sports play at the University of Houston?

RENU KHATOR: Well, sports play a big role. I’m a big fan to athletics. I was trained at Purdue and Big Ten. And I got involved. I was at a very impressionable age. So I really got into football and basketball very early on. So I love it. I enjoy it. And in enjoy other sports as well.

So when we were at the University of South Florida, there was for quite some time conversation about having a football team because there was no football at the University of South Florida. And I was president of the faculty senate the year when we actually proposed to have footfall finally. And we got approval for football.

And as provost, I was very much involved. I went to, I would say, every single football and basketball and some other games, as well, as long as I was in town. And I took pride in it. I always encouraged faculty and donors. As a provost, for me to come out and say athletics are important was a very important message, also for people. So the University of South Florida football team ranked number two in the country. And we saw the immediate impact in terms of people coming to the Web site, or students wanting to apply to the university. So right there, you could see connection.

You could also see connection in terms of football increasing philanthropy for the university. And sometimes, the saying goes that if you have athletics everybody will just give to athletics. That’s not true. Even in the best, strongest athletics programs, only 10 percent of philanthropy goes to athletics. So really even, you know, raise the water, it raises all boats.

Now, at the University of Houston in the ’70s, they did have a very strong program. We’re building it back. That’s one of the desires. The community wants to see be football, basketball, we have a great baseball, softball very good programs. And they want to see it competitive. But there are many, many elements on what it would take for us to be competitive. So just like for taking research and learning in a competitive mode, I’m doing with the same thing with athletics too.

BRIAN LAMB: At the University of South Florida in Tampa, how big is the university?

RENU KHATOR: The University of South Florida was 46,000 students for all four institutions there together, as well. And this is 57,000.

BRIAN LAMB: And this is 57,000 in Houston. And you say, that Houston is what, the second or third most diverse school in the country?

RENU KHATOR: Yes, Houston as a city is fourth largest. The University of Houston is either the most diverse or second most diverse university.

BRIAN LAMB: What does that mean?

RENU KHATOR: That means that we have 14 percent African Americans, 20 percent Hispanics, 21 percent, Asians and 38 percent whites. But the beauty is it’s not just numbers. What really, overall, to me when I’m there, you can walk for a few minutes, five to 10 minutes, you will hear many languages in your ears. Very international. But at the same time, you will see people not together, not Hispanics just talking to Hispanics. They are so melted together. This is the face of a future university of America. Houston is a future of an American city and university –

BRIAN LAMB: Wait a minute, you’ve got to go over those numbers gain.


BRIAN LAMB: Fourteen percent African-American, 20 percent Hispanic, 21 percent Asian.

RENU KHATOR: Twenty-one percent Asians.

BRIAN LAMB: And 38 percent white.

RENU KHATOR: Somewhere (INAUDIBLE), and some international.

BRIAN LAMB: How did that happen?

RENU KHATOR: Houston is very diverse. And Houston takes pride. Houston as a city and a community takes pride in diversity and people’s success. I mean like I arrived there, I am such a strange person, a strange choice for Texas, even for Houston. I have been welcomed and embraced unbelievably.

BRIAN LAMB: Yes, but given the diversity of the school, you’d be a perfect choice.

RENU KHATOR: Yes, but there are diversity all around, as well, too. But the fact that I am the first person well, in a country forget it, but even for the University of Houston, they haven’t had – they had a woman president before. They haven’t had a woman chancellor and president before, either. In Texas, in generally, there have not been that many woman leaderships there. I am a different choice for them. And they went with this choice. I’m international. I mean I’m a woman. I am of a different color. I’m of different faith. I have different accent. I mean I am a different person. But they embraced me simply because I think the university and the city both celebrate diversity.

And looking at now, the university that is there, it is a great thing that we provide access and outreach to so many first generation students. What we are lacking, right now, is giving them the biggest dream they can have, and that is to stay right here and be in the top tier or tier one public university.

BRIAN LAMB: What would it cost to go to your school for a year, tuition to start with?

RENU KHATOR: Well, the tuition and fee right now is about $5,100 maybe off a few dollars, somewhere there.

BRIAN LAMB: If you live in state.

RENU KHATOR: Right. If you’re in the state.

BRIAN LAMB: Out of state, would be what?

RENU KHATOR: About 15,000 I would say.

BRIAN LAMB: And I saw somewhere you had a year recently a 14 percent increase in tuition.

RENU KHATOR: No, we haven’t had 14 percent. Tuition was deregulated in Texas about four or five years ago because the state was really suffering from economic problems and at that point in time, they decided to really deregulate and let the universities decide what the tuition should be. So we stay very competitive, where other research universities are in Texas. And actually, if you compare them nationally, we are on the very low side in terms of tuition and fees.

BRIAN LAMB: But why is tuition around the company going up much master than inflation?

RENU KHATOR: Well, that’s a very good question, and a very good national question. The thing is, first you have to see what is the cost of producing a degree. OK, if you look at the cost of producing a degree, which is a higher education index, it has really not been going up that high.

But then the question comes if you determine the cost of a degree production is a certain amount of dollars, and the best way to look at that would be private institutions, because they’re not getting any funding from anywhere else, what is it that they’re charging? The average private university tuition right now for bachelor’s is about $23,000. If you think that is the cost of producing a quality degree, then the only issue that is left is who’s going to pay for it? Would that state pay for it? Would the parents pay for it? Or will the students pay for it?

And the shift has definitely come throughout the country where the state’s portion has declined. And then the parental portion is there, but it’s declined and the students end up taking loans to for tuition. So that’s all this is about. And I keep seeing, really, when more and more countries are investing more and more in higher education, I mean even poor countries, they don’t have really food, they are making that choice, knowing that it’s important for future. We really need to think, as a nation, and, you know, and all of the states, as to what kind of investment we need in higher education.

I mean today, many of the universities, Purdue University is probably, I don’t know what the latest figure is but very close to 11 to 12 percent of their budget comes from the state.

BRIAN LAMB: What’s the percentage at Houston?

RENU KHATOR: For the University of Houston it’s 30 percent is coming from the state.

BRIAN LAMB: And is that going down every year?


BRIAN LAMB: We only have a minute left, is it true that you don’t have sleepless nights?

RENU KHATOR: Yes. I actually sleep very well. I really do not have sleepless nights because I am a very transparent person. When I have to make a decision, I make it. I say it exactly why. And, I actually, don’t keep too many skeletons in my closet.

BRIAN LAMB: Someone said you can be rather direct.

RENU KHATOR: I’m very direct.

BRIAN LAMB: How do we know that? At what point, do we know you’re being direct?

RENU KHATOR: Well, I – for instance, somebody will come, and I said, well, we really need to increase retention rates. Why is it that 25 percent of the students they come in and they drop out in the first year? I said, it’s not acceptable. And then people will come to me with different excuses or this is how it has been historically and we can’t change too much. I said I didn’t ask you whether or not we can change it. I asked you how we can change. So please go back and get me my answer and bring me more than one so that it know then what’s responsible.

I push myself hard, and I just like to push my team very hard. And, I think, when you have the vision and it’s a collective vision I think, everybody is willing to walk together.

BRIAN LAMB: Dr. Renu Khator, thank you very much. Chancellor of the University of Houston and President of the Campus at the University of Houston. Thank you.

RENU KHATOR: Thank you very much.


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