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Rice University 

State of the University Address 

McMurtry Auditorium, Duncan Hall 

September 25, 2013 

2:30 p.m. 

Faculty Senate Speaker Carl Caldwell welcomed faculty members to the annual State of the University Address. Caldwell stated that, years ago, he had two concerns regarding governance reform: would the president and provost of the university become active members of the Faculty Senate, and would the annual State of the University Address become a mere formality? However, Caldwell said that he has been proven wrong on both accounts; the president and the provost frequently contribute to Senate discussions, and President Leebron presents important information in his annual address. Caldwell stressed that this annual “State of the University” information-sharing event is important for successful shared governance of the university.  He then introduced President David Leebron.

President Leebron said that he has been thrilled with how the Faculty Senate has functioned over the years and its contributions. Regarding the State of the University Address, he said it is an occasion for dialogue, to discuss where the university stands, and its future. Leebron then presented the following presentation: STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY. 

President Leebron focused on three main topics:  the higher education landscape in general, current Rice University updates, and aspirations for the first decade of Rice’s second century.

Leebron stated that the forces shaping higher education include finances, public attitudes/government support, technology (including free online education), and internationalization. Regarding internationalization, Leebron said that Rice is one of the most diverse private research universities. The Fall 2013 matriculants, totaling 977 students, include 14% international students, 39% United States citizens from outside of Texas, and 47% Texans. Regarding the graduate student population at Rice, Leebron said that 35% are international students, with 57% of them coming from two countries:  China (43%) and India (14%).  Overall, graduate students comprise 40% of the student population at Rice, up from 35% in 1998. 

Leebron discussed research revenues (up 6.4% from fiscal year 2012), research awards ($130.3 million in FY 13), and capital projects on campus. He said that the university has hired an architectural firm to do an integrated, three-dimensional campus planning study, including parking solutions. Leebron said that while there is no shortage of overall parking for the university, there is a shortage of parking on the east side of the stadium and in the center of the campus.

Leebron presented information on operating revenues (up 74% in the past 10 years) and operating expenses (up 81% in the same period). He stated that Rice is less endowment-dependent than in the past; currently earning more revenue from tuition and less from investment returns. Leebron said that about 64% of Rice’s operating expenses are to support instruction and department and sponsored research.

Leebron reviewed the success of the recent Centennial Campaign, in which donations exceeded the $1 billion goal. By source, Rice University alumni contributed the largest portion, over 42%. Leebron also reviewed campaign commitments by type, noting that one fourth was for buildings and equipment.

Looking ahead to the future, Leebron said that many goals from the Vision for the Second Century (V2C) have been successfully completed, such as expansion of the student body and increased internationalization. The “Priorities for the New Century” (PNC) include three main areas:  Strategic Academic Priorities; Campus Infrastructure Improvements; and Administrative Effectiveness and Efficiency.

Leebron then reviewed the seven strategic academic priorities he had presented to the faculty in previous forums:

  • Enhancing research
  • Quality teaching and digital learning
  • Texas Medical Center relations and biosciences
  • Energy and environment
  • Arts Initiative
  • International engagement
  • Entrepreneurial university

Leebron included in his presentation a list of entities which rank universities and discussed their methodology.

Finally, President Leebron ended his address to the faculty with the following:

Responsibility, Integrity, Community, Excellence

Values that define our culture and guide our behavior. 

Following the presentation, a question and answer session was held. The first question from a faculty member was for clarification of where Rice’s expenses occur. Leebron returned to the pie chart (slide 18) and reviewed it with the audience.

The next question was regarding ethnic diversity, specifically the low number of African-American students at Rice. Leebron replied that the percentage of African-American students at Rice is currently about 7%. He said that compared to 10 years ago, this is a substantial increase in absolute number. Vice President for Enrollment Chris Munoz explained that when a student reports himself/herself as multi-racial, Rice now counts that student as multi-racial, while some universities report him/her as African-American, as Rice formerly did.  

Next, Leebron was asked to discuss the perception of Rice’s School of Humanities in the outside world because incoming freshmen seem to be choosing Humanities majors less often. Leebron said that due to the economy, students are concerned about their exit from college; they are making safer choices in terms of what they see as their first job prospects.

Leebron was asked to elaborate on Rice’s drop in the U.S. News and World Report rankings from number 14 at one point, to number 17 (tied) for several years, to the current number 18. He said that one issue is the methodology used by U.S. News and World Report; there has been a shift away from things that measure the incoming student body, such as SAT scores or GPA, and toward outcomes, such as the graduation rate, including a comparison with a predicted graduation rate as determined by U.S. News. He also stated that other universities appear to take a very different approach in reporting spending per student.  He concluded by saying that the administration is looking carefully at the changes in methodology and variations in reporting.

Returning to the question of expenses, Leebron was asked about the growth (54%) in administration expenses over the last decade, from $21.2 million to $32.8 million, even as the percentage of expenses that go toward general administration had declined. Leebron said that first, taking inflation into account would greatly lessen this growth [to about 21%]. Second, he said that because of the expansion of the Public Affairs office, Rice is visible at a level in the national press that it has not had before. Leebron said that this work of Public Affairs could be regarded in part as faculty service, but it is considered an administration expense. The faculty member asking the question then stated that in absolute terms, the expense of the administration has grown. Leebron replied that in the past, some things were not being done at a level that allowed Rice to remain sustainably competitive, and improvements have been made. One recent example he gave was the division of the Dean of Graduate and Post-Doctoral Studies and the Vice Provost of Academic Affairs into two positions, a change endorsed by the faculty; these responsibilities formerly fell under one position.

The last question for Leebron was regarding the range of countries represented in international admissions. Leebron said that although Rice tries to draw undergraduate students from Europe, European students have inexpensive, or even free, access to good universities. He touched on China’s one-child policy, explaining that it may be easier for a family with one child to afford educating that child at Rice. He indicated that more scholarship assistance for foreign students is needed, and he expressed a desire to attract more students from Latin America and Africa.

The meeting was adjourned at 3:40 p.m. Following the address, faculty members were invited to President Leebron’s home for a reception.