October 26, 2016

State of the University Address
by President Leebron
October 26, 2016
3:00 P.M.

Faculty Senate Speaker Jeffrey Fleisher welcomed faculty members to the annual State of the University Address in McMurtry Auditorium of Duncan Hall. He said that all faculty members have representatives on the Senate and efforts are being made to ensure that senators are in touch with their constituents. Fleisher also said that he and Deputy Speaker Julie Fette would hold office hours once per month in Brochstein Pavilion. Faculty members with any questions or concerns for the Faculty Senate are invited to come by the Pavilion for coffee and conversation. Fleisher then introduced President David Leebron.

President Leebron began his address by complimenting the work of the Rice University Faculty Senate. He said that the Faculty Senate has done extraordinary work and that many of the topics in his State of the University Address would deeply involve the Faculty Senate. Leebron said that he would focus less on the current state of the university than in previous years, but he said that his office could provide more information, if needed. To view his power point presentation, see STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY.

Leebron said that the state of the university was strong, but he said that the need to tread carefully also exists due to the very competitive environment of higher education. He said that Rice was the smallest wide-spectrum research university in the nation. Leebron then made several observations about Rice, which included: 40% of the tenured and tenure-track faculty and 54% of all faculty have been hired in the last ten years; the diversity of undergraduate students has increased; and student interests have shifted; interest in engineering has increased, while interest in the humanities has decreased, which he said reflects a nationwide trend. Leebron also said that successful research by Rice faculty members has resulted in many more media mentions of Rice University. Regarding the university’s budget, Leebron said that Rice is currently drawing less from its endowment than in recent years. He said that the endowment was valued at $5.3 billon.

Leebron then spoke of the need for a fund-raising campaign in order to succeed in the changing landscape of higher education. He offered some “key questions” to consider, shown below.

  • What must we do to advance our research achievement and reputation?
  • Which factors should shape our priorities in faculty recruitment?
  • Are there particular global problems on which we want to focus?
  • Are there major new endeavors we should begin?
  • What changes might we want to see in Rice’s undergraduate and graduate education?
  • What should be the composition of the student body?
  • Are there critical aspects of our culture or organization that we need to change?
  • Which things about Rice are distinctive and important to maintain?

Leebron said that faculty engagement was vital to the strategic planning process. He said that he planned to invite faculty members to his home for dinner, as well as meet them for casual conversations on campus during the day. He then provided the steps that have occurred to date regarding the proposed campaign, but he said that no decisions have been made yet.

  • Preliminary conversations with the Rice University Board of Trustees
  • Initial discussions with deans of schools and vice presidents
  • Brief presentation of general plan to the Faculty Senate (October 5, 2016)

Leebron said that the “RICE: Responsibility, Integrity, Community, Excellence” statement might be expanded in the new campaign statement. Leebron then provided a timeline for the campaign:

  • Timeline flexible pending consultations with the Faculty Senate
  • Interim draft to the Board of Trustees to discuss in May 2017
  • Seek final approval during the fall semester 2017
  • Plan fundraising priorities and other university initiatives
  • Silent phase of campaign may begin during 2017

Finally, Leebron said that the campaign’s goal would be larger than the last goal of $1 billion, and he noted that the last campaign was very successful, raising $1.1 billion. He asked that faculty consider what they want the campaign to achieve by its expected end in the year 2025.

A question and answer session followed the presentation, summarized below.

Question: Three years ago, a Faculty Senate working group asked the administration to conduct a needs assessment. Now you are talking about setting up an assessment process, but it is being compressed into six months.

Answer: We have had conversations during that period, including some leadership changes, and we will continue to discuss if the proposed timeline makes sense with the Faculty Senate. We have tried to address a variety of issues through a dean-focused, school-focused process, and now we have a chance to set priorities with the Faculty Senate.

Question: Please elaborate on the sponsored research investments that you mentioned.

Answer: We are interested in targeted seed investments made by the university, such as purchasing equipment or improving facilities, which are hard to fund through federal grants. These investments drive discovery, as well as driving internal-external collaborations. Some universities try to fund these efforts solely through faculty recruitment, but you have to have mechanisms in place that allow your faculty to be competitive when applying for grants.

Question: Could you speak to Rice’s other core mission, teaching?

Answer: We have to address some needs immediately by taking steps such as hiring non-tenure-track teaching faculty. We also need to raise more endowed chairs. We must recruit and retain great faculty. There are other issues besides staffing; the quality of our teaching is important, as are faculty accomplishments outside of the classroom. Endowed chairs are needed in Engineering and Social Sciences.

Question: Should we say no to some gifts?

Answer: Yes, not only should we say no to some gifts, but we also need to be careful about the ones we accept. We have to consider if we can subsidize the item in the future, as some gifts do not pay for maintenance of the space. However, a faculty chair takes nothing away from the university. One challenge for the administration is to be economically rational without evaluating everything we do with that metric. We want to remain interested in things that we cannot measure.

Question: You mentioned a decline in Rice students studying abroad; please elaborate.

Answer: While study abroad is down among Rice students, internships abroad are up, so they equalize. Students who study abroad go for shorter and shorter periods, sometimes for only three to four weeks. The School of Humanities encourages study abroad. We need to find a way for the School of Engineering to do the same.

Fleisher thanked Leebron, and he received a hearty round of applause. Fleisher said that he had mentioned the Faculty Senate’s desire to be more engaged with its constituents at the start of the meeting, and he encouraged faculty members to get in touch with their senators, especially in light of President Leebron’s remarks.

The State of the University Address concluded at 4:00 p.m., followed by a reception for faculty in Martel Hall.

To view the Rice News article, please see: