Dear Campus Community,
In my recent town hall, state of the university and Student Association presentations, I have had an opportunity to present many facts, figures and accomplishments that signal the continuing strength of our university. But, as I emphasized on each of these occasions, the things that we measure do not fully capture the essence of a university. We are first and foremost a community. All of us together — students, faculty and staff — work hard to create and sustain an environment that fosters the outstanding teaching and path-breaking discovery that is the core of our mission. The spirit of a university is as essential to its success as are the returns on endowment, alumni contributions, student recruitment and research funding. Indeed, that sense of community is vital to our distinctive identity at Rice, where we pride ourselves on what we can achieve even while being much smaller than our peers.
Our mission statement says that we seek to achieve our goals “by cultivating a diverse community of learning and discovery.” In recent years, in fact, as we have become larger we have also become more diverse. We have more students from more states and more countries than ever before. We have increased the number of students who come from the poorest families. Our African-American, Hispanic-American and Asian-American populations have grown. We are also working to make our campus more accessible to those with disabilities. This contributes varied points of view, skills, interests, cultures and experiences to the rich intellectual and social life of the university, which makes Rice the dynamic institution it is.
But that also makes all the more important a reminder about our commitment to our academic mission, to each other and to our values. Three of those values – mutual respect, tolerance and civility – are especially important because they affect how we interact with each other on a daily basis.
I like to reaffirm those values every school year because it is important that our new students, staff and faculty understand and embrace them as they settle in to being part of Rice. And we all can use a reminder as we deal with the inevitable stresses and strains that are part of our rigorous academic environment, and that have perhaps become more so with the challenging economic situation now being experienced in the United States and across much of the world. Mutual respect, tolerance and civility are not only values, but they are incorporated into our policies at Rice. We hope and expect that everyone at Rice will put these values into practice, and thereby help nurture our diversity and create pride in our campus and in our larger community. We are at our best when we work to create an environment that fosters productivity, creativity and a sense of belonging among all members of the Rice family.
Please join the Board of Trustees and my colleagues on the Rice leadership team in strengthening Rice's commitment to these values in the following ways:
- Show respect for everyone on campus, regardless of position or office. It is disrespectful to be careless or to ignore the consequences of our actions and how they might make more work, and work more difficult, for others.
- Take care not to discriminate against any individual because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, age, disability or veteran status.
- As part of Rice’s commitment to affirmative action, help recruit and retain those who are underrepresented on our campus.
- Make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities, and stand ready to assist them.
- Avoid personal biases, preferences and preconceived stereotypes to promote a collegial work and study environment that offers opportunity for all. Reach out to include others from all the diverse elements of our community.
- Remain alert to, and help eliminate, bad behaviors in the classroom, residential colleges, graduate student residences and every other campus venue so that we all can participate and perform to our fullest potential.
- Respect the privacy and dignity of others in all circumstances.
Guiding values of our university include academic freedom, the Honor Code and a commitment to research integrity. We encourage robust debate on the issues of the day, and we welcome people with many points of view to better understand those issues and the differences that can divide us. That means that we sometimes provide a forum for opinions that may be controversial – or even on occasion reprehensible -- to many or a few. We may disagree strongly with one another. While we will not censor the expression of divergent opinions, we do expect those opinions be expressed with civility and with respect for other points of view.
We have recently learned, all too painfully, that violating these values can have serious, even lethal, consequences. The suicide of a young musical student at Rutgers after his roommate and another violated his privacy, and other recent episodes of suffering by young victims of bullying, are stark reminders of the potential consequences of cruel behavior. What someone might consider a prank can actually be an attack on another’s self esteem, or illegal hazing. Our community is known, and defined, by the care we take for others. We have an obligation not only to refrain from behaviors that assault the dignity and wellbeing of others, but to take the necessary action to prevent such harm and, if necessary, to seek help in doing so.
For nearly a century, Rice has continued to grow into an ever more extraordinary university. Our ability to embrace our diversity and support all who make up this remarkable community will help ensure our continuing success.
David W. Leebron
Rice's affirmative action policy and the Board of Trustees' resolutions supporting cultural inclusiveness are available at http://www.professor.rice.edu/professor/policies.asp. If you feel you have been treated in a manner contrary to these policies, contact Russell Barnes, director of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity programs, at firstname.lastname@example.org.