Advancing our Research Mission and Identifying University-Wide Priorities
- We must visibly and substantially increase our commitment to our research mission and raise our research and scholarship profile. We must especially focus on departments and disciplines in strategically selected areas where we have an opportunity to achieve nationally and internationally recognized levels of distinction and achievement. Success in this endeavor will require significant investments in and improvements to our research support, physical facilities, and information technology infrastructure.
- We must invest in a select number of interdisciplinary endeavors that will enable us to leverage our own strengths as well as the strengths of potential collaborators. These interdisciplinary endeavors should include some efforts to which we have already made substantial commitments and new areas that will emerge as we develop our strategic priorities and research vision for the future.
Our graduate and postdoctoral programs are critical to the success of our research mission. We must undertake the necessary steps to assure that we have sufficient numbers of such students for the work of our faculty and that our policies enable us to compete effectively for the very best graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. These questions are more fully addressed in the section on graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
Identifying Future Endeavors
Key disciplinary priorities will be defined by the schools and departments in their strategic planning processes, which should be completed over the next six to nine months. Each school must carefully assess its strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities as it seeks to build programs of national renown. These school-based and departmental processes should be complemented and enhanced by efforts to build interdisciplinary endeavors. We must identify those priorities that will span across schools and therefore assume university-wide importance alongside departmental priorities.
Interdisciplinary centers, programs, and institutes offer Rice an opportunity to leverage our small size by bringing together and integrating strengths across the institution. University resources should be available to support faculty and departments seeking collaborative opportunities as such help is often needed to overcome the significant barriers to interdisciplinary and interinstitutional collaboration that continue to exist. This requires us to infuse our most basic processes and structures-such as search committees and faculty appointments-with a greater interdisciplinary element.
As stated in the introduction to this document, we aim to provide the first stage of elaboration of our vision for Rice. Some of our broader strategic priorities are clear-greater interinstitutional research collaborations; more formalized international outreach, with a particular focus toward Asia and Latin America; and research engagement with Houston through initiatives in energy and urban systems. Furthermore, our position of leadership in nanotechnology-which it can be said that we have propelled forward internationally with the discovery of buckminsterfullerene-must be maintained. Our visibility in nanotechnology symbolizes the powerful impact we can have as a relatively small university through broad-ranging interdisciplinary research activity that attracts and galvanizes faculty in a range of disciplines.
We must select other high-priority interdisciplinary endeavors through consultative processes and dialogue, and our choices should be informed by the strategic planning of the schools. Thus far, members of our faculty have suggested a range of ideas-global health, magnetism and quantum materials, high-performance computing, biomedical translational research, a mind-brain initiative, and the digital library to name just a few-that warrant further exploration to determine our ability to achieve leadership and excellence. We must examine each of these, and others that will no doubt be suggested as we go forward, to identify those endeavors that will serve the university best in realizing its larger aims. Ultimately, we must recognize that our success in interdisciplinary endeavors will depend on our ability to make a coherent set of outstanding appointments across several disciplines.
In moving forward, we must recognize that our most valuable resource is faculty time, ideas, initiative, and leadership. The setting of priorities cannot be solely a top down effort. We must have a mechanism for providing small-to-medium-sized seed grants to faculty who have ideas that could spawn important and strategic research activity and generate high impact. Such a mechanism-a fund for faculty initiatives-will be critical to assuring all our colleagues that there are opportunities at Rice to develop plans that can bring both individual and broad institutional success.
Setting Priorities and Achieving Excellence
Substantial resources will be required for our success in the range of ambitions we are beginning to formulate. The outcome of our efforts will depend not only on our ability to secure those resources, but also on our capacity to make hard choices and define our priorities. As the schools develop their strategic plans and identify those areas and departments in which they will invest, seven factors elaborated in the Call to Conversation should be considered. This order does not indicate the relative importance of the criteria, and the weight attached to each of the criteria may differ across disciplines.
- The possibility of making new and important contributions to knowledge;
- The social importance of the subject matter;
- Student demand for courses and teaching in that area;
- The possibility of achieving national preeminence in that area;
- Opportunities to leverage the endeavor both internally (with other departments and centers) and externally (with other institutions here in Houston);
- The availability of entrepreneurial and visionary leadership to guide the endeavor; and
- Our ability to secure external funding.
In sum, these criteria encompass leadership, leverage, excellence, impact, and intellectual merit.
While choosing priorities can be fraught with the potential for conflict, we will succeed by recognizing that the choices we make are necessary for the institution as a whole to advance. Our success will require strategic decision-making at all levels-from departments to centers to schools to the central university. Schools and departments should seek outside reviews on a regular basis as part of their strategic planning. Our centers and institutes must also engage in similar strategic processes. We must have regular, ongoing, and transparent processes of assessment and review to assure we are making the most effective choices possible.
Of critical importance is our ability to reduce or discontinue those endeavors at the university that do not sufficiently serve our goals so that we can commit greater focus and resources to our priorities. Similarly, we must carefully evaluate the efficiency with which we use and administer our resources. We must be willing to change the way we do things if doing so will provide a higher level of service or a more effective use of funds, space, or other resources.