October 14, 2010

Rice University Faculty Forum

Topic: The Rice Initiatives 2010

October 14, 2010

Faculty Senate Speaker Susan McIntosh welcomed faculty, staff, and students to the Faculty Forum regarding the three University-wide task forces which were announced in August 2010 by Provost George McLendon: Biosciences and Human Health, Energy and the Environment, and International Strategy. McIntosh showed to the audience the website entitled “The Rice Initiatives 2010” (http://initiatives2010.blogs.rice.edu/) which contains information such as the members of each task force, surveys they have conducted, and meeting minutes. McIntosh stated that this is both an exciting and anxious time for many faculty members; she said that the forum presents an opportunity to address any apprehensions.

Provost McLendon said he welcomed the opportunity to work with the Faculty Senate. He said he has found the Senate to be a well-organized and effective group. McLendon, who came to Rice University from Duke University, said he had no preconceptions about Rice. He purposely took several months to learn about the Rice community. He said he met with the chairs of every department at Rice, the heads of as many Rice centers and institutes as he could reach over the summer, and the masters of the various residential colleges. McLendon estimated that he met with over 80 individuals prior to the start of the semester, and he has met with more since then.

McLendon asked three questions of the people with whom he met: 1) what brought you to Rice, what are you excited about at Rice, and what are you not excited about, 2) to department chairs: what are your needs, and 3) to what extent can we make our “focused” (small) number of faculty an advantage through collaboration across schools? McLendon elaborated on the third question, saying that he asked department chairs to name the two or three things in which Rice could excel. He said that, to his surprise, the same themes were repeated many times in the replies he received: Biosciences and Human Health, Energy and the Environment, and International Strategy. The next step, McLendon said, is the step currently being undertaken, which is to determine if these are, in fact, areas in which Rice can succeed. McLendon stated a desire to focus Rice’s resources in an effort to achieve preeminence.

McLendon said that great universities need to be involved with finding solutions for global problems. He stated, as one example, the need to make health care affordable for people around the world. This issue includes values questions, thus the input of social scientists is needed.

McLendon expressed gratitude to those faculty members who have taken the time to complete surveys and attend task force meetings. He asked the task force co-chairs to have their groups’ documents prepared within the next six weeks. McLendon also said that although this project started with a faculty-driven process, students and the impact on the undergraduate curriculum will become important later in the process.

Referring to a question which was submitted to him prior to the forum, McLendon said he was asked what portion of Rice’s expenditures will be tied to these three initiatives. He said it could be that no expenditures will occur if the results of the task forces show there is no desire to proceed. If Rice does proceed with these initiatives, it will be because there is consensus that Rice can indeed address these global challenges. McLendon estimated that an investment of $100 million might be a good start. He compared this investment with the investment Rice made 15 years ago in the little-known field of nano-science; today Rice University is one of the leaders in this field. He said that focusing resources, if the faculty agrees, could take Rice to the next level in a few areas.

McLendon then held a question-and-answer session. The first question was regarding the new multi-school partnerships and how they would be structured. McLendon indicated that his reply could be seen as either reassuring or frustrating, because he has no answer to this and is, rather, seeking input as to what would be the best structures for capturing multi-disciplinary interactions. He added that the problems these initiatives seek to solve are so complicated that they cannot be solved with a linear approach.

A second person asked McLendon to clarify his previous answer, asking specifically what the initiatives will entail—new faculty, seed money, international collaborations? What outcomes might we envision? McLendon’s reply was that all of these outcomes are feasible, but he said it was inappropriate for him to state specifics. He said the outcomes are dependent upon the faculty’s best ideas. For example, the survey taken among the biosciences departments has already helped guide the Biosciences and Human Health task force as to what it should recommend. McLendon added that Rice is not the only university to identify bioscience as a priority; Rice will have to figure out how to carve its niche.

The next question was regarding the importance of student input, and it was stated that the Applied Physics program could be used as a paradigm for expansion across the university. McLendon agreed, and said that one thing he did was to ensure that the Rice Quantum Institute had the resources to continue.

Another person said that although Rice is small, the irony is that there are very limited (faculty) conversations between divisions, and opportunities for interaction between Humanities and the Sciences are desired, for example, which might not lead to excellence in the world, but which could lead to improved faculty relationships internally. McLendon replied that he hoped to have the dialogues the speaker described; for example, the environmental issue contains values questions.

The last questioner recommended filtering the information to the undergraduate students now, instead of having the plans designed and then going to the students. McLendon replied that the best results indeed occur when the faculty involve their students with their passions.

McLendon introduced each of the co-chairs of the three task forces, and he mentioned that each task force has a representative from the Faculty Senate. He said that the web site lists how to contact each of these individuals and he encouraged faculty to contact them.

Speaker McIntosh noted that time had been inadequate to answer all the questions submitted in advance by Senate and asked the Provost if he would be willing to provide answers on the Senate website, and he agreed. She thanked everyone for their attendance. The meeting was adjourned at 5:00 p.m.