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President's Letter to Alumni January 26, 2006

Happy New Year! As I reach the one and one-half-year mark of my presidency, my moniker as Rice's new president has begun to recede, although I must confess that I still love being introduced that way. The new adjective, whether before president or year, conveys excitement, energy, and possibility. For me at Rice, it continues to be a time of constant discovery, most often of the remarkable achievements, talents, and ambitions of our faculty, students, and graduates. On the other hand, it is nice that some things are already feeling familiar and comfortable. This includes the process of welcoming new students and parents, visiting with students in the colleges, and meeting with alumni here in Houston and elsewhere. Ping and I haven't yet met all of our 41,327 alumni, but we have been privileged to meet a sizeable number. As the Chinese proverb says, "Each great journey begins with a single step." We have immensely enjoyed the journey thus far.

Of course, some things about the past half year weren't familiar, including dealing with two hurricanes, a subject about which I already have written to you. The Rice community, as usual, surpassed expectations, and we have indeed since been sought out as a model for crisis management.

Happily, crises have not defined our year, and this has been an important time at Rice in terms of taking stock and planning for our future. As you know, last July I issued the Call to Conversation (C2C), a document outlining what I believed to be the fundamental questions facing Rice in the coming decade. In more than 100 meetings, forums, and events during the fall, I discussed the issues raised in the document with Rice faculty, staff, alumni, graduate students, and undergraduates and with Houston business, cultural, and community leaders.

I visited Rice alumni in Denver, San Antonio, San Diego, Hong Kong, London, and Paris and held forums, meetings, and events for alumni in Houston.  (Many of the elements of the Call to Conversation also were raised in discussions last year with alumni in Austin, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Fort Worth, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Alumni participation was extraordinary, and I was grateful to receive an enthusiastic endorsement of the process from the Association of Rice Alumni (ARA). The ARA Board issued a letter noting, in part, "Alumni feedback was overwhelmingly thoughtful and balanced, reflecting a sincere desire among alumni to play a constructive role in envisioning a future for Rice having, in the words of Rice's founding president, Edgar Odell Lovett, 'no upper limit.'" Jeff Rose '77, president of the ARA, was a wonderful partner in fostering these conversations.

Many alumni shared their views through the C2C website, which had more than 1,450 log-ins. The website submissions truly were remarkable both in volume-more than 27,000 lines of text-and the level of thoughtfulness expressed from all corners of the university community. The Call to Conversation created a sustained dialogue about our ambitions and our priorities as we prepare to mark the beginning of Rice's second century. It was an invigorating and inspiring dialogue that stimulated new ideas and helped refine existing ones.

On December 15, 2005, Rice's Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed a 10-point vision for the coming decade. The endorsement includes separate approval to increase undergraduate enrollment by approximately 30 percent in the next seven to 10 years. This expansion must be carefully implemented to ensure that we fully preserve the distinctive aspects of the Rice experience. Our immediate focus now will turn to increasing our on-campus college housing and growing our applicant pool to assure that we remain among the nation's most selective institutions of higher education.

A preliminary synthesis of what we learned from the Call to Conversation and our emerging Vision for Rice's 2nd Century (V2C) are available to all alumni at http://www.rice.edu/v2c . On this website, you can read the resolutions approved by the trustees, submit your comments, and learn more about the C2C process. We expect to release a more detailed document later this spring elaborating the 10 points endorsed by the trustees. 

As we continue the process of elaborating and implementing this vision, the engagement, participation, and support of all members of our community, and most especially our alumni, will be critical. I look forward to talking with many more of you about our emerging vision this spring at alumni gatherings in Houston, Atlanta, and Seattle.

Some of the key elements of the plan are already being implemented. One of these is increasing the internationalization of the university, which entails bringing more foreign students and visitors to our campus, and enhancing the overseas opportunities for both students and faculty. If this letter contains more than the usual number of infelicitous phrases, you can chalk it up to jet lag. I just returned from a brief trip with our new dean of engineering, Sallie Keller-McNulty, to Taipei and Tokyo, where we met with the leaders of a number of universities and research institutions. In Taipei, we even met with the administrators and students of one of Taiwan's best high schools as part of our effort to bring more international undergraduates to Rice. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed by an appreciation for the excellence that Rice represents and an interest in developing deeper relationships. (This being Asia, we also were welcomed by prodigious amounts of food, which I am still trying to work off!)

This trip followed summer travels to Korea and the People's Republic of China and a November trip to Europe, during which I was able to visit International University Bremen (the university modeled on Rice) for the first time, as well as meet with alumni in London and Paris. In every location, we found important opportunities for Rice to build a stronger international presence. The world of education is rapidly changing. It is, to use Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tom Friedman's phrase, increasingly "flat."  In Beijing, we were told that within a few years, one out of every six courses would be offered in English. Near Shanghai, we saw a beautiful new campus about the size of Rice-built in one year! It is abundantly clear that in the future, great centers of education and research must be international in their composition and engagement.

Of course, even as we plan for the future, our programs and our faculty don't stand still. For example, in a recent survey of more than 400 U.S. architecture firms and organizations, Rice's undergraduate program in architecture was ranked third in the nation and its graduate program seventh. Enthusiasm for the upcoming Shepherd School of Music 30th anniversary gala has been so strong that the dinner and concert are sold out. Just a couple of nights ago, a capacity crowd came to the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy to hear Shimon Peres, former prime minister of Israel, share his perspectives on the unfolding situation in the Middle East.

Our faculty continues to earn recognition. Here on the campus, Professor Richard Tapia became only the sixth person appointed as University Professor. This appointment reflects not only Richard's achievements as a mathematician but also his passion for and commitment to improving the opportunities for underrepresented minorities in science and engineering education. Three faculty members-Provost Eugene Levy, Dean Sallie Keller-McNulty, and Professor Naomi Halas-have been awarded the distinction of AAAS Fellow by the members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Election as AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed on AAAS members by their peers, and it is a great achievement that a school as small as Rice would have three new fellows in a single year.

Although we always strive to do better in communicating with our alumni, it is gratifying to know that our present efforts seem to be effective and appreciated. In a recent survey of 1994 graduates from a number of elite private colleges and universities, Rice ranked highest among its peers in many categories, including the percentage of alumni who believe they receive sufficient communications from their alma mater, who read institutional emails, and who indicate that they are involved in institutional fundraising. Rice ranked second highest in the percentage of alumni who have visited the university website and in the number of activities in which they have participated. In recognition of the importance of alumni wherever they are located, we also have resumed mailing Sallyport to our alumni outside the United States.

This past fall also marked two of the most important contributions in Rice's modern history. A spectacular $20 million anonymous gift to the School of Humanities will help that school achieve new levels of excellence and recognition. Just a couple of days ago, we also officially renamed the School of Continuing Studies the Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies in honor of trustee Susie Glasscock '62.

As I wrote to you early last fall, the Rice community suffered a great loss with the passing of Rick Smalley. Now, I am pleased to announce that to honor Rick's legacy, the trustees approved in December renaming the university's Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology as the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology. This is a fitting recognition of Rick's contributions not only to Rice, but more broadly to nanoscience.

I am delighted that our Commencement speaker this year will be Houston mayor Bill White. Among other things, Bill's performance last fall in response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita showed the nation, and indeed the world, the kind of compassionate and decisive leader we have at the helm in Houston. He is a leader with national visibility who has enhanced the reputation of our city, and our student-led Commencement speaker committee made a perfect choice. The choice also reflects our sustained and increasingly successful efforts to be fully engaged with the city of Houston.

Thank you as always for your engagement with Rice. We hope you will take the time to visit the V2C website, and let us know your thoughts about how we can best assure that Rice's second century is as full of accomplishment as its first.


President David Leebron