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State of the University Address
by President Leebron
 September 24, 2014
3:00 p.m.

Faculty Senate Speaker James Weston welcomed faculty members to the annual State of the University Address and introduced President David Leebron.

President Leebron began his address by presenting Rice University’s Mission Statement, followed by a quote by Edgar Odell Lovett, the first president of Rice. Leebron then listed the key issues facing higher education in general:

·         Questioning the higher education model and its effectiveness

·         Technological evolution/revolution

·         Changing value proposition

·         Access and affordability

·         Financial sustainability (including research funding)

·         Sexual assault and campus climate

·         Athletics model under attack

·         Rankings

Leebron reviewed the rankings of Rice University by several entities. He addressed specifically the methodology used by U.S. News and World Report, a publication in which Rice’s rank fell to number 19 from last year’s position of tied for number 18.

Leebron then gave the faculty an update regarding new academic leadership positions at the university. In addition, Leebron said that he has appointed the second-stage of the search committee for the next provost, and he expects a Vice President for Information Technology to be appointed this year. He also stated that a large proportion (approximately 1/5) of Rice’s faculty are involved with leadership and governance, approximately 125 individuals.

Leebron presented the Priorities for the New Century:

·         Strategic Academic Priorities

·         Strategic School Investments

·         Campus Infrastructure

·         Administrative Effectiveness and Efficiency

Included in his discussion of the “Changing Value Proposition of Education,” Leebron estimated that in 1985, perhaps 75% of a student’s college experience was in the classroom. He said that in 2025, the classroom would likely only comprise about 25% of a Rice student’s experience, closely followed by research opportunities, then entrepreneurial, leadership, and mentoring experiences. He said that research and service currently overlap the education part of a Rice student’s experience more than in the past, and he expects this to increase in the future.

Leebron presented the priorities stated by the Student Association, which included integration of research, internships, and entrepreneurial opportunities; enhanced learning opportunities; and expanded resources. Regarding the teaching evaluations by Rice students, Leebron said that although each school received a better quality rating over recent years, the classroom experience reported by students was not as high as it could be. Leebron also said that classroom use could be more efficient; he said that Rice is highly underutilizing its space.

Regarding scientific research, Leebron announced that funding received by Rice faculty members was up 6% to $115.3 million. Leebron gave details to the faculty on research revenues by funding source. He stated that the 46% success rate enjoyed by Rice faulty was quite high. Leebron also reviewed the books published and awards received by the faculty in recent years.

Leebron presented data on the undergraduate and graduate student populations at Rice. He said that among the fall 2014 entering class of 949 matriculants, 45% of the students are from Texas, 43% are from elsewhere in the United States, and 12% are international students. Of the 836 domestic matriculants, Caucasians comprise the largest group with about 41% of the total, followed by Asian Americans with 30%.

By school, Leebron said that freshmen enrollment at Rice was largest in Natural Sciences, closely followed by Engineering, then Social Sciences and Humanities. However, the undergraduate majors awarded by school showed a different pattern: Social Sciences awarded the most degrees for the past ten years, closely followed by Engineering, then Humanities and Natural Sciences. Leebron said that 25% of the Rice undergraduates pursue double majors.

Turning to the graduate student population, Leebron said that this group has increased by 22% since 2007, which is slightly more than the expansion of the undergraduate enrollment. In fall 2014, he said that there are 276 entering doctoral students at Rice.

Leebron provided faculty information: by gender, 25% of Rice faculty members are female, which he said is very similar to many other universities. By ethnicity, Rice faculty members are 80% white, which is again similar to many other universities.

Leebron presented the capital projects and plans for the campus, including completed projects, post-2015 projects, and the reviews currently underway regarding student spaces, office space, laboratory space, parking, and infrastructure requirements.

Finally, Leebron presented a financial update to the assembled faculty members. He said that revenues and expenses were nearly equal, while the university’s endowment is at an all-time high.

To view the slide show presentation, please click here: STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY.

Following the presentation, a short question and answer session was held, which is summarized below.

Question:  Is there anything that we need to work on, anything that worries you, aside from the ranking?

Answer: Our challenge is our size. I worry about our place in a much more competitive world. Per pound, we need to be better than our competitors are.

The other thing that worries me is that we promise our students something distinctive, including small classes, but they sometimes have large classes. We have to deliver what we promise. We often admit students who have been accepted to MIT, Harvard...but they choose to come here because of what we offer—our small scale and the attention that students receive from faculty. I met with President Obama’s press secretary last week, a Rice alumnus, who said that it was a Rice professor who helped him find his niche in 1997 while at Rice.

Question:  Can you discuss the funds that were recently released?

Answer:  These funds were provided to improve class size; the bulk of the resources were added to faculty in order to cut the size of classes. Another area was in terms of improving the graduation rate, an effort to assist those students who were having trouble or who were taking six years to graduate.

Question:  I feel that Rice alumni are not well-connected to the current students.

Answer:  Making alumni feel more connected is difficult, but we can work on it. We need to find out how to do better in this regard. It needs to be one of our top projects for the next few years. We are a small, urban university with a 300-acre campus; people want to come visit.

Question:  Regarding graduate student education, and in comparing Rice to Stanford, Stanford places more emphasis on graduate education, while Rice is focused on undergraduate.

Answer:  We have made many improvements in graduate education at Rice. The leaders of the Graduate Student Association are enthusiastic about them. Paula Sanders and others have said that we need to raise our standards; better departments attract better graduate students. An undergraduate student in Music might come to Rice because of one professor. That is not the way that graduate students choose universities. They need an excellent mentor and a great program.

The meeting was adjourned at 4:05 p.m., followed by a reception for faculty.