January 29, 2009

Plenary Meeting of the Faculty

McMurtry Auditorium, Duncan Hall

January 29, 2009

3:00 p.m.

Deborah Harter, Speaker of the Faculty Senate, welcomed the faculty and noted that the primary purpose of the meeting was to certify the mid-year candidates recommended for undergraduate and graduate degrees. Harter also stated that following approval of these degrees, President David Leebron would speak regarding the current economic climate, and then he would then take questions regarding the possible merger of Rice University with the Baylor College of Medicine.

Harter made two announcements prior to the degree candidate presentation.

First, the Rice Student Association (SA) will have a clothing drive between Feb. 2 and Feb. 13, and the SA would like faculty members to contribute as well as students. Items wanted are warm coats, jackets, and blankets. Donation boxes will be placed around the campus, and the items will be donated to Goodwill Industries.

Second, Harter expressed on behalf of the faculty our condolences on the recent death of Professor Bill Wilson, known as “Dr. Bill” to many on the Rice campus.

Harter introduced David Tenney, Registrar, who asked Ed Billups, Interim Chair of the Committee on Examinations and Standing (Ex&S), to present the candidates for undergraduate degrees. Billups announced that Ex&S has approved 69 students to receive 71 degrees, and there are no exceptions. A motion was made to approve the awarding of these degrees, and seconded. The resulting vote was unanimous approval.

Moshe Vardi, Chair of the Graduate Council, announced that there were 178 candidates for advanced degrees, including one to be awarded posthumously to Han Li, a recently deceased student who had completed the requirements for a Master of Mechanical Engineering degree. A motion was made to approve the awarding of these degrees, and seconded. The resulting vote was unanimous approval.

President Leebron then discussed with the faculty the current economic climate at Rice. For a summary of his comments, please see the letter below which was sent the following day (Jan. 30, 2009) by President Leebron to the Rice community via email:

Dear Rice Colleagues,

We have taken several steps in recent months to protect Rice’s financial stability during the sharp and lingering downturn in financial markets and the global economy. Today I would like to share with you plans we are making to deal with the economic situation in the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

First, let me say that we are fortunate to be part of a university with solid financial footing, dedicated employees and a history of prudent fiscal management. Rice’s vital signs are strong, including the fact that annual fund giving and undergraduate applications are significantly higher than last year. And we are grateful to you for everything you do to be good stewards of our resources.

However, losses in our endowment and rising costs in several areas require us to take some additional steps. While these steps by some measures are modest, we fully understand that they may cause hardships, in some cases significant, across our campus. They will, however, help sustain our ability to carry out our high-quality academic mission and to achieve the goals of our Vision for the Second Century strategic plan.

Our total FY 2009 budget stands at $450 million from all sources, including research grants. The primary step we must now take in planning the FY 2010 budget is to reduce the portion of our budget supported by unrestricted funds by about $13 million, or 5 percent. Deans, vice presidents, vice provosts and other university leaders will have discretion over how to make those reductions, but all spending decisions must be sustainable and aligned with our strategic goals. We will need to assess whether it is necessary to reduce or discontinue some programs, activities and services, although we will do our utmost to avoid layoffs. If financial markets and the economy further deteriorate as we move into the spring, further steps may be necessary.

While we have lifted the hiring freeze imposed earlier, which was a temporary measure, schools and departments will need to make the necessary tradeoffs between new hires and avoiding budget cuts that might otherwise be necessary. More than ever, new faculty and staff hires must meet the highest standards of their discipline or profession. The current economic climate is taking a toll on many other institutions, so in fact we may be presented with opportunities that we will not want to forego.

We are not requesting salary reductions for current faculty and staff and, in fact, we still hope to be able to allocate some funds for very modest salary increases for next year. However, continuing uncertainties in the broader economy and financial markets call for deferring that decision until later in the spring when we will know more about our situation for the coming year. We will provide further guidance later in February or early March.

As I noted earlier, we are attempting to take prudent steps now to minimize the need for more stringent steps if financial markets continue to slide or other sources of revenue fall below expectations. We will monitor the situation closely and take additional action as necessary. I am asking for everyone’s best efforts in helping manage our resources over the next year to ensure that our students continue to flourish and our education, research and public services missions are not diminished. I want your ideas for other steps we can take that may reduce costs in ways that support our strategic priorities. Are there things we do now that we can stop doing? Are there things that fall in the “nice to do, not need to do” category that we can cut, at least for one or two years? Can we stop doing some things in order to put more resources into more effective programs or activities? Please share your ideas at Financial Memo.

Thank you again for the dedication and creativity that make Rice the special community it is. This institution has weathered financial difficulties many times in its 97 years and, by working together, we will emerge stronger than ever from the current downturn.


David W. Leebron


Following these comments, President Leebron answered questions from the assembled faculty members regarding the possible merger of Rice University and the Baylor College of Medicine.

The meeting was adjourned at 4:30 p.m.