Marguerite R. Barnett's brief tenure as UH President was filled with promise. She came to the university in 1990 as the top-ranked female African American college administrator in the nation. Dr. Barnett brought an energy and enthusiasm to the campus when she vowed to make UH the top urban research university in the country. She spearheaded efforts to create a partnership between the university and the surrounding community. However, time was not on Dr. Barnett's side. She died of complications due to cancer in February 1992.
At her memorial service, UH interim President James Pickering spoke of Dr. Barnett's goal and her impact on the university. "For us, she articulated a dream, a dream that UH can become the premier 21st-century urban university. It will do so by reaching out and engaging the city, its citizens and problems in a way that makes a significant and lasting difference in the character and quality of the common life we share together." An endowment was created by the faculty, staff, and friends of Dr. Barnett in 1992. They quickly raised $35,000 to begin an endowment in political science, Dr. Barnett's field of study.