Rice University logo
 
 
 

 

Presidents Remarks 2004

Speech to the JGS Partners
December 2004

 

The topic I want to focus mostly on tonight is the engagement of our university with the city of Houston. One of the wonderful and I think relatively rare features of the relationship between Rice and Houston is the pride that many Houstonians take in Rice, whether or not they attended Rice. They rightfully see Rice as an important asset to the city, an institution that reflects the values and accomplishments of Houston and one that will contribute importantly to its future.

I want to talk in more detail about the Houston-Rice relationship, but I want to begin by trying to define more generally what Rice aspires to be. I believe that our goal is to continue the process of building Rice into a great national and international research university. But we have a distinctive role in that context, and I often use the following definition of Rice to capture some of our more important attributes. We are a small great urban research university, with a commitment to extraordinary undergraduate education. The urban carries both opportunities and obligations. We are urban in large part because of our setting, located just three miles from the very center of our nation's fourth largest city.

Our ability to attract students from all over the country and the world depends on our ability to sell Houston as a great place to spend the years of the undergraduate or graduate education. That depends not only on Houston's attractions, but on how easy we make it for our students to use those attractions and how we incorporate Houston into our educational program. Rice benefits enormously from its location in Houston, but we can benefit more. Indeed, this potential is evident from our physical location. We sit across the street from the world's largest medical center, blocks away from a vibrant arts- museum district, minutes away from a bustling downtown that serves as the energy capital of the world, and surrounded by the third largest consular corps in America, representing nations from across the globe. This is to say, if you took Rice off the map of Houston, and then asked yourself the question "Where should we put Rice on this map?", you would, in fact, put it back exactly where it is today. I don't believe there are many universities that could say that. That is what makes our collaborations with these institutions such a wonderful opportunity. We want our students to have more than academic knowledge. We want them to be educated in the richest, deepest, widest sense of that word. We want them to take what they learn in the laboratory and the classroom, contextualize that knowledge, come to a greater understanding of what they have studied, grow personally and professionally, and through their education make a contribution to the world in which they live.

Rice's engagement with Houston, in fact, goes back to the founding at the beginning of the last century. The resources of the university as you know were provided by William Marsh Rice, a man who felt he had made his commercial fortune in Houston and wanted to give back to the city. I think it is noteworthy that he felt compelled to give to Houston even thought he did not come from here, and even though this is not where he lived at the end of his life. It is clear that he was interested in Houston because of the role he felt Houston would play in our country and our world. It was that kind of bold and ambitious vision that set the course for the university, and it was taken up by Rice's first president, Edgar Odell Lovett, who emphasized the importance of our relationship with Houston and in particular its business community. In a speech that he gave to a group of industry leaders about 93 years ago, Lovett said:

I rejoice in the commercial prosperity of this community. I rejoice in the growing industrial development of this great city. Great merchants and captains of industry whose interests extend far beyond their own immediate surroundings are rendered, by the character of their work, alert, open minded, hospitable to large ideas, accustomed to and tolerant of the wide divergences of youth. For this reason it is that the great trading centers have often been, like Athens, Florence, Venice, and Amsterdam, also centers of vigorous intellectual life. These were cities great in commerce, but inspired by the love of truth and beauty. They stimulated and sustained the finest aspirations of poets, scholars, and artists within their walls. It requires no prophet's eye to reach a similar vision for our own city. I have felt the spirit of greatness brooding over the city. I've heard her step at midnight. I've seen her face at dawn. Under the spell of the cities own life, I have come to believe in the larger life of the greater Houston that is yet to be.

That was written, as I said, 93 years ago. If you'd like to read a much more eloquent version of the speech you're hearing today, simply pull out your copy of the Houston Chronicle from Wednesday, February 2, 1921, and you will see it in all its glory.

Lovett regarded Rice as an institution that would be integral to Houston, an institution whose service would be local in the best sense and whose significance and influence would be statewide and even national. Lovett saw in the world of commerce in Houston, not merely a source of financial support or employment, but indeed an important consumer and supporter of the university's educational mission. If we look around the country we see that industry leaders and corporate visionaries are increasingly investing in our nation's most prestigious research universities because of the unlimited potential that may arise from those collaborations. We have a couple of examples.

In 2002, the pharmaceutical giant Novartis chose to build a world-wide drug discovery center in conjunction with MIT and Harvard because it was, "drawn like a magnet to Cambridge's confluence of brain power, academic, and medical institutions, biotech companies, and congenial political and economic policy." Novartis invested $250 million in that initiative. This past November, just a month ago, the University of Southern California received a gift of $22 million from one of Silicon Valley's most successful venture capitalists to establish an Institute of Technology Commercialization. This gift represented perhaps a new high water mark in the relationship between the university as a producer of ideas, the business community as an implementer, and of course, the role of philanthropy.

I highlight these examples to demonstrate that Rice and Houston working together can capitalize on the potential of these collaborations for the benefit of our students, our city, out economy, and our quality of life. This is a generous city with individuals who support its cultural and educational institutions, and I want, of course, to argue that Houston needs to invest more in Rice. I believe that Houston needs to invest more in Rice because Rice is uniquely positioned to offer Houston a number of strategic advantages.

First, as a great research university, Rice is able to attract top student and faculty talent from all over the world to Houston, and it is exactly that kind of talent - that is so well-represented in this room tonight - that makes anything possible. I recently learned that if you rank states by their trade imbalance in college freshmen, out of fifty states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, Texas would rank number 49. That is to say that it has a large net outflow of freshmen college students. We are losing more students who choose to leave Texas than almost every other state in the Union. As the most selective institution by far in Texas, Rice has the highest percentage of out-of-state students, and we recruit from an increasingly national and international pool. The University of Houston, by contrast, has only 2.1 percent of its students from outside of Texas. As I said we are at 50 percent and we hope to grow that higher, perhaps to as much as 65 percent. The ability to bring these students here, and have top-rate faculty to teach , them will serve Houston and Texas immeasurably.

This leads to the second strategic advantage that Rice offers to Houston. Once these students and faculty are here they can contribute to the intellectual capital needed to address Houston's pressing needs in assuring the success of its enterprises. This is evident, for example, in the Action Learning Project at the Jones School where thirty-five student teams each year contribute their expertise in a way that makes a tangible difference. We know that the field experience offered by the ALP is unique among business schools because the program places students in direct engagement with institutions large and small and lets them apply their book and classroom learning to real world problems. I want to thank all of you who participate in the project for this wonderful idea and for making it work. In the same way that faculty and students at the Jones School are involved in helping find solutions to challenges facing Houston's companies, our faculty and students across the university are deeply engaged in other problems facing our city. We have, for example, over seventy-five different collaborations with the Texas Medical Center. Rice faculty and students are working on research that we hope one day will cure cancer. Through relationships that number over sixty five with K-12 educational institutions, Rice faculty and students are working to improve the quality of public education and opportunities available to all the children of Houston. Through leading research on flood control, climate change, and ozone deterioration, Rice faculty and students are working to address the environmental challenges that we hope will improve the quality of life for all of us.

Third, Rice is uniquely positioned to contribute to and benefit from Houston's culture and more broadly the education of our population. Our School of Continuing Studies, for example, offers not only courses of practical application, but helps educate our population and develop an appreciation for the arts and for culture more broadly. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for this audience, Rice contributes directly to Houston's economic growth. A great research university generates new ideas and is a source of both services and advice. The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship helps translate the ideas of researchers and entrepreneurs into commercial reality. Another example is our Office of Technology Transfer, working with the Rice Alliance, to bring the new ideas generated here to market. The office currently has under management 423 patent applications based on Rice technologies in the United States and a number of foreign countries. Since its founding six years ago OTT has seen sixty one patents awarded. In sum, the university is an engine of ideas, an engine of opportunity, and an engine of immigration for our city.

Let me conclude by just saying a couple words about the Jones School, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. Frankly I'm not sure I would have come to Rice if not for the Jones School. As you know, I am a lawyer, and more precisely a legal academic and law professor. I think professional schools have a critically important role to play in a great university, and especially in an urban university. They test our important resolve to remain connected to the outside world, as we say at Rice, the world beyond the hedges. Our task in those schools is to conduct important research for that world - in the case of the Jones School, the world of commerce - and to educate students to succeed in that world. We educate students at such an outstanding institution as Rice, not to be technicians, but to be leaders, to be innovators, to learn dynamically throughout their lives from a world that is constantly changing. There can be no doubt that the last seven years have been the golden age of the Jones School. Gil Whitaker has taken the school from a point where many doubted that it could succeed, and many doubted it could be a part of this university of which we were especially proud. Gil has accomplished that. He has accomplished it through engagement with our great city: by using the city to educate our students, by making a contribution to the city, and by calling on our city and its most prosperous businesses and individuals for their support. The success of that engagement under Gil's inspired leadership has led the Jones School to achieve national recognition and prominence. So I take my cue from two great Rice citizens, Edgar Odell Lovett and Gilbert Whitaker, as we move forward in recommiting ourselves to our role in Houston, and our broader role in the world.

Thank you.