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Rice University 

Annual State of the University Address 

McMurtry Auditorium, Duncan Hall 

October 6, 2011 

4:00 p.m. 

 

Faculty Senate Speaker Susan McIntosh welcomed faculty members to the Annual State of the University Address by President David Leebron. McIntosh gave a summary of the Faculty Senate’s current activities prior to President Leebron’s presentation.

McIntosh listed the following projects that the Faculty Senate has completed during the last year, including two that are ongoing:

·         Approved a comprehensive policy for creating minors and majors.

·         Undertook a self-study which resulted in almost a dozen proposals from last year’s Working Group for Senate Governance, chaired by former Deputy Speaker Tom Killian, including rebalancing representation and improving communication with constituents. Each department at Rice now has at least one representative on the Senate, and the list may be viewed at the Senate website.

·         Created a secure wiki space which allows current Rice faculty members to view documents that the Senate is considering and to submit comments.

·         Recently updated the Faculty Handbook.

·         Revised the Rules for Faculty Appeals and Grievances through the Working Group on Appeals and Grievances, chaired by Moshe Vardi. The group will continue its work this year, chaired by Carl Caldwell, as the Working Group for Appeals, Grievances and Hearings, and Promotion and Tenure. It will coordinate with the office of the provost to review the current practices and written guidelines for promotion and tenure procedures. 

·         Finalized the policy on Research Data Management through the University Committee on Research, chaired by Doug Natelson.

·         Created the Working Group on Communication in the Curriculum, whose fall 2010 report showed that Rice is non-competitive with 16 peer institutions in the area of writing and communication instruction. Three outside consultants were then brought to Rice in the spring of 2011 to review the current program and make recommendations. Each consultant met with a 16-person faculty advisory group, as well as administrators, undergraduates, and graduate students. The reports from the consultants as well as the original working group report can be viewed by current faculty on the Senate wiki space. The current working group, chaired by Helena Michie, will soon present its recommended implementation procedures, including the need for a writing and communications center at Rice.

McIntosh informed the assembled faculty of the Senate’s new working groups for the current academic year, and she said that their charges and membership may be found on the Senate website:

In addition, McIntosh announced that the Senate is currently developing plans for faculty conversations on the future of Rice University in its second century.

McIntosh said that the goal of the Senate is to keep faculty informed, facilitate their input on matters of concern, and transform ideas into action. She encouraged faculty members to attend Senate meetings and said that one does not have to be a senator to speak at the meetings. She noted that President Leebron and Provost McLendon attend and participate in the Senate meetings, and she said that they often meet with her and Deputy Speaker Jane Grande-Allen. In summary, McIntosh said, “We are your Senate, and we are committed to serving the faculty.”

McIntosh then welcomed President David Leebron to the podium. She announced that there would be a question and answer session after his presentation, followed by a faculty reception.  (Please click HERE to view a summary of the presentation written by Rice News staff.)

President Leebron said that in the six years since the adoption of the Vision for the Second Century (V2C), Rice has accomplished a great deal and has weathered many challenges well. He said that the aspirations of the university are widely shared across campus, including the intention to be among the first rank of research universities, to have a diverse student body, and to make important contributions to human welfare and understanding. He said that Rice’s Centennial Celebration is a good time for reflection, to celebrate achievements, and to lay out new goals. Leebron then presented several informational slides.

Leebron stated that teaching and research remain the primary missions of the university, and they are dependent upon the efforts of the faculty. The extraordinary achievements of the faculty have been recognized in many areas, and Leebron cited several, including: Richard Tapia recently received the National Medal of Science, four faculty members have received National Science Foundation (NSF) career awards, Pierre Jalbert of the Shepherd School of Music has had an original work performed by the Houston Symphony, and at least three of the Humanities faculty have received Presidential Fellowships. In addition, many faculty members, such as Matthias Henze, have had books published or have had their articles published in prestigious journals. Sponsored research revenues are up significantly to over $115.3 million in fiscal year 2011 and research award dollars totaled over $100 million in the same year.

Leebron said it has been mentioned that it is hard to recruit faculty to serve on committees. He said this is not because they are reluctant to contribute to university matters, but rather that they are contributing in other ways. He noted that a few years ago, there was no Faculty Senate. Now, the Senate makes important contributions each year. He said that a recent example is its work on the appeals and grievances process. He also said he welcomes the Senate’s new Working Group on Research and Scholarship.

Leebron stated that the number of faculty at Rice totals just over 700, of which approximately 400 are tenured faculty, while the number of undergraduate students this year total 3,717. The student-faculty ratio has increased slightly from 5.4 to 5.8. He said that almost 14,000 students applied to Rice this year, and while the admittance rate of 19% was lower than last year, the yield was higher at 39%, resulting in a freshman class of 1,000 students instead of the predicted 950. Leebron said that although the student body was expanded by only 27%, there have been stresses in certain areas. For example, the students majoring in Social Sciences have increased 48%. Some specific courses have had an even larger increase; micro economic theory has had an increase of 118%. Leebron said that the administration is working to address these issues. He said there may be a need not only for more faculty members, but for reallocation of faculty time.

Leebron discussed the diversity of the entering freshman class, stating that 10% are international students requiring a visa for enrollment, and an additional 45% come from the United States outside Texas. The freshmen class is almost exactly split between women and men. The freshmen who are Americans describe their ethnicity as follows: 20% Hispanic, 8% African-American, 21% Asian-Americans, and 5% mixed-race. Leebron spoke very highly of the quality of the student body. Leebron said that the graduate students continue to make up about 40% of the overall student body, and they are an impressive group.

Regarding the financial health of the university, Leebron noted that despite a decline of Rice’s endowment value of almost 22% three years ago, Rice has been able to weather this loss due to prudent policies and the commitment of the Board of Trustees. Rice has also benefited from the expansion of the student body and the increase in tuition, which narrowed the gap between Rice’s tuition and that of its peers. Net tuition now provides 25% of Rice’s revenue. However, Rice is still highly dependent on its endowment, which provides 58% of the revenue, not including research grants and charges for housing and dining. Leebron said that Rice’s endowment improved to $4.45 billion in fiscal year 2011. He also stated that commitments to the Capital Campaign, which concludes in 2013 and has a goal of $1billion, total $740.7 million.

Leebron discussed the building boom at Rice over the past five years, which has resulted in 1.4 million square feet of new space on campus. He also said that a large amount of other spaces on campus have been substantially renovated.  Leebron mentioned several projects, including the Bioscience Research Collaborative (BRC), the addition of Duncan and McMurtry residential colleges, the expansion of other colleges, Tudor Fieldhouse, and the Oshman Design Kitchen.

Leebron said that although art is now more visible on campus, Rice still needs to increase its commitment to the arts. Following the recommendation of a student committee, some of the funds from the sale of radio station KTRU will go towards this purpose.

Rice is a special place with special challenges, Leebron said. He expressed a desire to preserve those things that are best about Rice. He said that the four letters of “RICE” could be used to encapsulate its values: Responsibility, Integrity, Community, and Excellence. He said that Rice is committed to the recruitment and retention of outstanding faculty, to supporting faculty’s research ambitions in a changing environment, and to competitive compensation practices. Leebron stated that Rice must continue the implementation of the three initiatives identified last year:  Energy, Biomedical, and International. He also said that the Faculty Initiatives Fund will be re-launched this year.

Leebron noted that despite the many successes and high rankings Rice that enjoys, one area that has been identified for improvement is student engagement in the classroom. In a spring 2011 survey, 53.6% of the Rice students who responded said they were very satisfied with the sense of community on campus, but only 21% said they were very often excited by their classes, and only 27% said that they participated often in class. These numbers are below those of Rice’s peer institutions, Leebron said, so steps must be taken to ensure that we are using Rice’s talented faculty appropriately to fully engage the students.

Leebron said that as Rice approaches its Centennial, it is a time to reflect. He said that he cannot overemphasize the great stress that exists on higher education today. He said that the world is changing and that conversations are needed to consciously explore how Rice should evolve with these changes while maintaining its core values. He said, “If the bar seems to be set ever higher, it is because it is.” Leebron concluded with Edgar Odell Lovett’s goal of “No Upper Limit,” as well as that of cartoon character Buzz Lightyear, “To infinity and beyond!” Leebron said that despite these challenging times, he has never been more confident in Rice’s ability to succeed. Following these comments, President Leebron received a sustained round of applause.

A question and answer session followed President Leebron’s address. The first question was regarding Rice’s retention rate of first year students. Leebron replied that the rate has been pretty consistent over recent years, with a first year retention rate of about 96%, and a five-year graduation rate of about 91%.

Leebron was also asked for his reflections as to how many of the V2C goals have been achieved, and where Rice needs to go from here. Leebron replied that he was pleased with the achievements across the board, and he especially noted the increase in research productivity among the faculty. Regarding the expansion of the student body, there had been a concern as to whether Rice could maintain the quality of its the undergraduate population as well as increase its diversity. Leebron said that both qualities have been enhanced. Regarding engagement with Houston, Rice now has a reputation for being engaged with the city. Leebron also cited the improved international visibility for Rice, especially with China and Brazil. Leebron said that he is yet not ready to retire the V2C, and that it is not a time for Rice to rest on its laurels. He said that Rice needs to preserve what is unique and special about Rice while moving forward.

At 5:00 p.m., the meeting was adjourned, and the assembled faculty moved to the reception.