Fourth Annual State of the University Address
McMurtry Auditorium, Duncan Hall
October 23, 2008
Deborah Harter, Speaker of the Faculty Senate, welcomed the faculty to the State of the University Address. Harter stated that she was pleased to see so many faculty members in attendance. She also stated that the Faculty Senate members are working hard on behalf of the faculty, and she asked this year’s Senators to stand. They received a round of applause.
President Leebron spoke for approximately one hour and showed 30 slides. He stated that his presentation, along with a more-detailed series of 60 slides, will be posted on the Rice University website within two weeks. A summary of President Leebron’s presentation, written by B.J. Almond, is shown below, and it includes a link to the presentation itself.
President Leebron optimistic about 'very different year' in
Rice's history during State of the University address
BY B.J. ALMOND
Rice News staff
As endowments at Rice and other universities across the country are feeling
the effects of stock market turmoil, President David Leebron encouraged
faculty and administrators to exercise caution in their spending but at the
same time be on the lookout for strategic opportunities for growth.
He drew on the Chinese word for "crisis," which is represented by two
characters -- one for danger and one for opportunity, to point out that in
every crisis there are both danger and, as important, opportunity.
"This is a chance to build our faculty for the future," Leebron said in his
State of the University address to faculty Oct. 23 in a packed McMurtry
Auditorium in Anne and Charles Duncan Hall. Unlike many other universities,
"we do not plan to put on a hiring freeze or a compensation freeze," he
said. "We have opportunities that we may not have had before." Leebron
added, however, that the situation could change if there is further
significant deterioration in the national economy.
Now in his fifth year as president, Leebron cited the economic turmoil and
Hurricane Ike as evidence that 2008-09 "may turn out to be a very different
year in the history of Rice."
Damage from Ike cost Rice about $3 million, but the dangerous storm and its
aftermath also presented "an opportunity to show what it is that Rice is
made of," Leebron said. The resilience and compassion demonstrated by
faculty, staff and students as they faced the challenges of a Category 2
hurricane was "very important to us and our future," he said.
Three-fourths of faculty and staff reported to campus the Tuesday after
Saturday's storm so that the university could resume classes, he said, and
he thanked all of those whose dedication made a quick reopening possible.
He also noted that the Rice community reached out to help its own colleagues
dealing with post-Ike problems and to help the broader Houston community by
volunteering to help with cleanup, food banks and other services. Rice also
provided a temporary haven for helicopters bringing patients into the Texas
Medical Center and for a medical triage center.
Despite the school year's stormy start, Leebron said he was optimistic about
the future as he reviewed projections for growth.
Nineteen net new faculty positions are expected to be added this year, and
44 authorized searches are currently under way.
As part of the Vision for the Second Century (V2C) goal to increase
undergraduate enrollment, Rice enrolled 789 freshmen this year -- higher
than the goal of 775, he said. Next fall the freshman class is expected to
reach about 850. As a result of this expansion, the current ratio of about
6.7 students per tenure-track faculty is expected to increase very slightly
to about seven -- "one of the absolute lowest in the United States," Leebron said.
Like last year's freshman class, the diversity of this year's entering class was
distinguished by both strong recruitment of African-American students and a marked
increase in the number of international students, who comprise 8.5 percent of this
year's entering class as compared with less than 3 percent just a few years ago.
The steady growth of Rice's graduate student population -- particularly
doctoral students -- is just as vital to Rice's future, Leebron said. "We're very
happy about the funding for two new doctoral programs at the university, one
in art history and one in sociology, which is pending Faculty Senate approval."
In addition to adding students, faculty and programs, Rice continues to
invest in infrastructure, but Leebron said he expects campus construction to
be "less-consuming" by next fall. Already completed are the Brochstein
Pavilion and the Rice Children's Campus. The new Rice Village Apartments
will double Rice's graduate student housing, and the addition of two
residential colleges and renovations to existing colleges will not only
house the expanded student body but also allow Rice to increase the
percentage of its students housed on campus from 70 to close to 80.
With the Centennial Campaign scheduled to be launched in early November,
Leebron pointed out a number of multimillion-dollar gifts that have already
been raised for residential colleges, academic programs, facilities and
scholarships. The latter is particularly important because of the intense
competition in higher education for students from high-middle-income
families, he said.
Success was also evident on the research front, he said. For the first time,
Rice surpassed the $100 million threshold in new research awards -- up 28 percent
from fiscal year 2007. Sponsored research was up 3 percent to nearly $80 million.
These numbers reflect the strength of Rice faculty, Leebron said.
Rice junior faculty won seven National Science Foundation CAREER Awards --
second only to MIT among private universities in the Association of
American Universities. "That is an astonishing statistic and a recognition
that our recruiting of young faculty has been little short of spectacular,"
He highlighted some of the research papers and books written by such faculty
as Ching-Hwa Kiang in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, John Alford
in Political Science, Michael Lindsay in Sociology and April DeConick in
Religious Studies to show how Rice University is garnering increasing
international attention in prestigious scientific journals, at academic meetings
and in the national news media. "This has been very valuable
to the university," he said.
He also spotlighted the achievements of such graduate students as Jennifer
Johnson in the Shepherd School of Music, who won the Metropolitan Opera's
National Council Auditions. "We will be judged in many ways by the quality
of the graduate students we are able to recruit," Leebron said.
Leebron cited some of the new leaders who will help implement the goals of
the V2C, including Siva Kumari, associate vice provost for K-12
initiatives, and Dan Carson, the dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences.
He paid tribute to the Faculty Senate's role in the serious issues and
opportunities affecting the future of Rice, and he attributed its success
to the talented researchers, teachers and leaders in the community who
are willing to serve on the senate.
Leebron concluded his address with a look at some of the V2C projects
in the year ahead, which include developing more collaborations with
the Texas Medical Center, enhancing the research environment and
expanding international collaboration.
"This is a time of substantial change in our country," Leebron said. "If we
stay on course and are not derailed by our fears but rather committed to
harboring our resources and seizing the opportunities, we will be even
better positioned than we anticipated a few years ago."
Leebron's State of the University address will be posted online at
A question-and-answer period followed, with the following questions asked of President Leebron by various faculty members.
Q: What is the possibility of Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine merging?
A: There are discussions going on, and Rice is open to opportunities; this opportunity will be discussed at a later date.
Q: Does the Collaborative Research Center have enough tenants?
A: The space that has been allocated to other institutions is expected to be fully subscribed.
Q: What is Rice’s plan for the Visual Arts department?
A: There is a serious need for improvement here, the facilities are not what they need to be, but we do not have plans for this facility in the current capital plan. We are looking for contributions from a donor.
Q: If the nation’s financial crisis continues, what does this situation mean for faculty development at Rice?
A: A fair number of universities have instituted hiring freezes, and this practice may increase. Rice is going ahead with its hiring plans,taking advantage to the extent possible a perhaps lower level of competition for exceptional faculty. Rice is also not reversing recent gains in compensation for existing faculty.
Q: Since many faculty members are concerned about the investment options for their Rice retirement plans, could you clarify?
A: A person from the university administration will come to a Faculty Senate meeting soon to address this issue.
Q: What do you see for the future of science in the new federal administration?
A: Perhaps a future administration will be less ideological towards science, perhaps more funding for science will be available.
Q: What are the university’s plans for expanding the diversity of faculty?
A: This year, Rice hired three African-American, three Hispanic, and six Asian faculty members. The complete presentation contains a slide with more information on this issue.
Q: Graduate students have the perception of being second-class citizens (when compared to undergraduates). How can we make sure they know they are important?
A: At most universities, one would probably have that perception, but at Rice, we have made strides towards improving the graduate students’ quality of life. We have made space for the Graduate Student Organization, we are building new graduate student housing, and everyone is welcome at the new Brochstein Pavilion. Before it was built, there was not a good place for graduate students to meet for conversation and a cup of coffee. During Hurricane Ike, the university tried hard to accommodate everyone. We will continue to work on this issue.
Q: There is one part of our graduate study program that is not diverse—there is no graduate program in Hispanic Studies within theSchool of Humanities. Is this the time to look for a donor in this area?
A: There has been an effort to develop a Hemispheric/Hispanic Studies program; a donor would be welcome. The goal of this program would be a global Spanish language and literature program—an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Hispanic Studies.
As there were no further questions, Harter thanked President Leebron, and he received a hearty round of applause. Harter invited everyone to attend the reception immediately following the meeting, which adjourned at 5:15 p.m.