President's Letter to Parents January 31, 2006
With New Year past and springtime approaching, the new semester is well under way. As I mark the first 18 months of my presidency, being known as Rice's "new president" is less and less apt, although I still love being introduced that way. The word "new," whether before president, student, or parent, suggests energy and possibility. For me, it remains a time of discovery, most often of the talent and ambition of our faculty, students, and graduates. At the same time, as I continue to welcome new families, visit students in the colleges, and meet alumni, my work at Rice feels more and more familiar.
Of course, some things about the past six months weren't very familiar-by which I mean the two hurricanes. The response of the Rice community surpassed expectations, and we have since been sought out as a model for crisis management. I was gratified to receive so many supportive messages from you about the job we did during Hurricane Rita, when more than half of our students decided to stay on campus.
Crises have not, however, defined the year. This has been a time for taking stock and imagining the future. Last July, I issued the Call to Conversation (C2C), a document that outlined the fundamental questions facing Rice in the coming decade. At more than 100 events during the fall, I discussed the document with Rice faculty, staff, alumni, and students, as well as with Houston business and community leaders.Together with Dean of Undergraduates Robin Forman, I visited each of the residential colleges for evening conversations with students. Many undergraduates also shared their views through the C2C website, which had more than 1,450 log-ins. The submissions were remarkable both in volume-more than 27,000 lines of text-and in thoughtfulness. In fact, undergraduates submitted some of the most perceptive comments, illustrating a deep appreciation for our university and the exciting possibilities ahead. The primary goal of this process is to make the Rice experience even more rewarding for our students and faculty. A synthesis of what we learned from the Call to Conversation-Rice's Vision for the 2nd Century (V2C)-is available to all families at http://www.rice.edu/v2c .
Some of the key elements of the vision already are being implemented. One of these is catalyzing the internationalization of the university, which means bringing more foreign students and visitors to Rice, and enhancing the overseas opportunities for our students and faculty. I have been meeting potential partners all over the world, resulting in a number of new institutional collaborations and more than a little jet lag. Sallie Keller-McNulty, the new dean of engineering, and I just returned from a trip to Taipei and Tokyo, where we met with the leaders of several universities and research institutions. In Taipei, we visited 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 acknowledgements of Rice's excellence and an eagerness for closer relations.
During a November trip to Europe, I visited International University Bremen, the university modeled on Rice, and met with alumni in London and Paris. In every location, we found opportunities for Rice to amplify its international presence. The world of education is rapidly changing. It is, to use New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's phrase, increasingly "flat." In the summer, when I visited China, we were told at one university that one out of every six courses would soon be offered in English. Near Shanghai, we saw a beautiful new university campus the size of Rice-built in one year. In the future, the great centers of education and research will be international in their composition and commitments, and Rice will be among them.
Back at home, I am delighted that the students have chosen Houston mayor Bill White as our Commencement speaker this year. The performance of Mayor White and all Houstonians during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita showed the nation what decisive leadership and compassionate people we have in our city. The choice also reflects Rice's escalating engagement with Houston. For example, in the inaugural year of Passport to Houston, a program that provides each undergraduate with a free public transport pass and discounted access to cultural venues, Rice students boarded the METRORail and city buses more than 100,000 times and visited the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Museum of Natural Science, and the Houston Zoo hundreds of times. Last week, I joined almost 400 Rice students at a performance of Don Pasquale at the Houston Grand Opera. Afterward, at a reception at the Hard Rock Cafe, more than half the students raised their hands to indicate that it was the first time they had been to the opera.
It comes as no surprise that our schools and departments continue to generate excitement. In a recent survey, Rice's undergraduate program in architecture was ranked third in the nation. Enthusiasm for the Shepherd School of Music's 30th anniversary gala has been so strong that the dinner and concert are sold out. Just a few 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 and 1994 Nobel Peace Prize winner, share his perspectives on the situation in the Middle East. Next month, we will host Shirin Ebadi of Iran, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.
The accomplishments of a number of our faculty have been justly recognized this year. Richard A. Tapia became only the sixth person appointed University Professor in the history of Rice. This appointment reflects not only Richard's achievements as a mathematician, but also his passion for improving the educational opportunities for minorities in science and engineering. Three faculty members-Provost Eugene H. Levy, Dean Sallie Keller-McNulty, and Professor Naomi Halas-have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It is a rare distinction for a university as small as Rice to have three new fellows in a single year. Rice is special in that such distinguished faculty continue to actively teach and mentor undergraduates.
Our students gave no less cause for pride. Rice's 11th Rhodes Scholar, Noorain F. Khan (Martel '06), was elected in November. Last year, we also produced a Goldwater Scholar, two Mellon Fellows, four Fulbright Scholars, and a dozen National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows.
Our students' ambitions continue to be met with opportunities for work and study across the country and around the world.
This fall also was marked by two of the most important gifts in Rice's history. An anonymous $20 million contribution to the School of Humanities will enable it to reach new levels of excellence. And just a few days ago, we renamed the School of Continuing Studies in honor of Susie Glasscock '62, one of our trustees. Rice's Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies offers a panoply of enriching and innovative programs for Rice alumni and our friends in Houston.
We hope that you will visit the campus from time to time to share in the transformative experience your child is having. Come attend a lecture or concert or watch a game. Rice has always welcomed families into our community, and we thank you for your support.
President David W. Leebron