Dr. Beth Pelz: A Dean Who Made a Difference
By Hayden Bergman
While it seems obvious to us now, Aristotle was the first to notice that every story has a beginning, middle, and an end. Regarding endings, he wrote that they should be “surprising, yet inevitable,” meaning that we shouldn’t see them coming, but, once they happen, it should seem as if things couldn’t have unfolded any other way.
As the 35-year career of Dr. Beth Pelz, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and former Dean of the College of Public Service (CPS), comes to a close, it is certainly surprising to take stock of all of her accomplishments here at UHD, given the fact that, many times, Dr. Pelz was often asked to, as she said, “create programs and pathways with string, glue, and tape.” And while the outstanding results she achieved are surprising, anyone who knows Dr. Pelz’s character would say that they were inevitable given her "creative energy” (as a former dean once put it), as well as her tenacity and vision. All these qualities, along with an abiding care for students and her community, made her decades of success all but a certainty.
Dr. Pelz arrived at UHD in 1988, having just received her Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from Sam Houston State University (before that she completed an M.A. in Political Science and a B.A. in History from Stephen F. Austin State University). Once here, she immediately became active in teaching and mentorship, contributing her expertise to both the scholarly and local communities, as she published dozens of papers, presentations, and reviews on inmate social organization, prison gangs, and youth gangs. Dr. Pelz also provided expert testimony in many Harris County capital cases on matters such as prison gang subcultures.
Regarding her time in the classroom, Dr. Pelz said she enjoyed teaching, as it afforded her the chance to “interact with students who were being introduced to the Criminal Justice System,” as well as introduce them to “the history, functions, and goals” of the law enforcement, courts, and corrections systems. She went on to say that such classes allowed her to emphasize the impact crime has not just on victims, but on entire communities. Apart from those lessons, Dr. Pelz hopes that all her Criminal Justice students know that they can and should be leaders “both at the administrative and street levels.” Ethical behavior and policy-driven performance are crucial, as is servant leadership—all of these, she said, “engender trust.”
As for her administrative accomplishments, well ... those are many, too. Dr. Pelz was the founding dean of the College of Public Service (2003-2014), and the inaugural Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice (1999-2003). She also oversaw the development of the University’s first master’s degree (Master of Science in Criminal Justice). And while the story of Dr. Pelz’s career is ending, her influence is not, as the colleagues, students, and Houstonians she impacted continue to live out her legacy. Thank you, Dr. Pelz, for making UHD and Houston more thoughtful and humane.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.