October 4, 2007

Third Annual State of the University Address

October 4, 2007

McMurtry Auditorium, Duncan Hall

Deborah Harter, Speaker of the Faculty Senate, welcomed the faculty to the Third Annual State of the University Address. Before beginning she wished to acknowledge the enormous loss to all in the recent death of Professor Alan Grob. Alan inspired students for decades; his generosity to the institution and to younger faculty was legendary; and his knack for courageously speaking his mind at gatherings such as this one had left an indelible mark. He will be sorely missed.

Harter spoke to the genuine excitement over the previous two years in the establishment of an effective new mode of faculty governance at Rice. She invited all to attend Faculty Senate meetings whenever they could—even if for just a portion of a given meeting: the Senate, she said, heartily welcomes visitors and benefits from their comments and questions. She then noted some of the Senate’s current efforts:

  • There is a task force working on recommendations to streamline and re-evaluate non-tenure-track faculty contracts and policies.
  • The Senate is working hard to increase communication between faculty and athletics coaches and directors. Chris Del Conte (Athletics Director) will speak at the October 24 Faculty Senate meeting.
  • There is a task force working to come up with the best possible evaluative procedures for faculty teaching.
  • Another working group is studying the current academic calendar and hoping soon to propose a new model.
  • A task force that has been ongoing for two years, tackling issue of email privacy, will be presenting its recommendations for a new policy by the Spring.
  • Chandler Davidson presented to the Senate a report from his CRUP committee (Committee on the Rice Undergraduate Experience) and the Faculty Senate accepted this with gratitude. The Senate will work with Robin Forman on the phases that come next.
  • At the first Faculty Senate meeting of this year, concerns were expressed that there be greater faculty involvement in establishing priorities for undergraduate admissions. President Leebron will respond to Senate questions directly at the Senate’s October 24 meeting, and will work in other ways to explore possibilities.
  • The Rice chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) presented an initiative at the August 2007 Faculty Senate meeting urging the development of strategies for the re-hiring of key administrators, in hopes of establishing a more transparent process and one in which faculty would participate. The president and the provost supported the recommendation and the Senate hopes to develop a plan, in consultation with the President’s Office, by the end of this academic year.

Harter concluded by saying that the Faculty Senate had helped to forge a new kind of relationship between the faculty and the president and provost. In the days of Faculty Council, faculty concerns were often voiced only when fully formulated, and to the surprise of the president and provost, causing the faculty and administration to be at odds. With the Senate there were certainly disagreements, but since the president and provost are now a part of the Senate, there is an on-going dialogue that is both extremely positive and extremely effective. Harter said she had been impressed with the president’s willingness to listen to those who disagreed with him, and with the faculty’s willingness to engage with him on a full range of issues.

Harter then introduced President Leebron, noting his four years at Rice, his strong ties to Houston’s international community, his studies at Harvard, and finally the rumor that he has sometimes indicated he might have liked to have been a pop musician! Harter encouraged the faculty to ask questions of President Leebron after his presentation and invited all to stay for the reception afterwards.

President Leebron clarified the “pop musician” comment, saying that he had not enjoyed a wonderful reputation as a singer when younger. He thanked the audience for their attendance and indicated he would speak for 30 minutes and then ask for questions.

Leebron showed approximately 35 slides during his presentation, with information on a variety of topics. He began with a report on faculty growth, saying that 33 new hires occurred this year, with 22 persons resigning and retiring. He stated there has been an increase in the hiring away of Rice faculty by other institutions. Leebron stated that new Rice faculty hires are currently 2/3 male and 1/3 female, but the Advance Project is looking at hiring and advancing more women. Leebron asked the audience to fill out the climate survey recently sent out on this issue. He indicated that there were 32 new faculty this year, of whom 24 are white, seven Asian/Pacific Islanders, and one African-American. Finally, he said there is a study underway looking at salaries at Rice, both in terms of averages and in terms of specific individuals.

Regarding undergraduates, the entering class of 742 students represented 12 more than the target goal of 730. Very few students, he said, were taken from the wait list this year. The total number of students this year is 3002. Leebron then showed the entering class by major and stated there is no departmental quota used in their selection. He added that the entering Natural Science and Engineering students account for 60% of the total, though approximately 20% of these change their major to Humanities or Social Sciences during their time at Rice. Slides showing average SAT scores and ethnicity of the student body were also presented.

Leebron then discussed graduate students, saying that since 9/11 (September 11, 2001), applications from international students have declined. He stated that similar quality standards are used for domestic and international applicants. Over the past 10 years, approximately 57% of admitted graduate students are science and engineering students.

Capital projects was the next topic, and here Leebron indicated that four projects are complete while eleven are under construction, including the Pavilion that is due to open in April 2008. Leebron added that two new projects are in the design stage, six are in the planning stage, and two are pending. He showed a map of the campus highlighting the construction areas, and he said he understands the inconveniences construction projects can bring.

The Rice Endowment Fund had a remarkably good year, and Leebron gave credit for this to Scott Wise, Vice President for Investments and Treasurer. The fiscal year 2007 return on investments was 21.6 percent. Mr. Wise was applauded by the audience for his efforts.

Leebron then discussed operating revenues (up 3.9 percent), expenses (up 6.8 percent), and the success of recent fundraising efforts. He named the top seven donors historically with the amounts of their gifts. Regarding the Annual Fund, it has had three years of double-digit growth. The goal was to double it by 2011, and Rice is on target to achieve this.

Next, Leebron announced some new programs at Rice including Faculty Funds, Engagement with Houston, the Jones School of Management Ph.D., the Art History Ph.D., the Hispanic Studies/Latin America Initiative, the Global Health Initiative, and the Energy Initiative.

Leebron then touched on some of the items from the Vision for the Second Century (V2C), including sponsored research, which is up 7.5 percent to $77 million. He then discussed the expansion of the student body. He asked: what should we be looking for in the ideal applicant? This question will be discussed with the faculty and others. He said the goal is to maintain balance between academic divisions and to maintain the quality and diversity of the student body. The goal is to admit 40% of the students from Texas, but this is a secondary goal; he is content with 50% being from Texas. A growth in the student population necessitates growth in classrooms, labs, schedules, and faculty. He expects a growth of 20% in faculty, and more faculty means the need for more support staff.

Leebron continued: Rice undergraduate applications last year totaled just under 9,000. This year he is hoping for 10,000, working towards the goal of 3,770 undergraduate students in the year 2014. The student-to-faculty ratio was 8:1 in 1999, currently it is 5:1, and by 2014, it will be 6:1. Leebron then compared this ratio to other universities, with Cal Tech on the low end (with a ratio of 3:1) and Johns Hopkins at the higher end (with a student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1).

Regarding the internationalization of Rice, current areas of focus are China, India, Latin America, Mexico,Israel, and Britain. Two Academic Centers are underway right now: the Chao Center for Asian Studies and the Americas Research Center. Currently, 7.3% of Rice entering undergraduate students are classified as international—those who require a visa to study in the United States. Fifty-three percent of the international students at Rice come from five countries: China, Canada, India, South Korea, and Taiwan, with South Korea representing the largest percentage. In all, 89 countries are represented at Rice.

Leebron announced several new leaders at Rice: Vice Presidents Linda Thrane and Darrow Zeidenstein, Vice Provost James Coleman, and Graduate Dean Paula Sanders. He also mentioned several new department chairs, new college masters, and new leadership in the Faculty Senate with Deborah Harter as Speaker and Mike Stern as Deputy Speaker.

Leebron noted some of the goals for the year ahead, mentioning, in particular, efforts in the domain of visibility and “branding.” This is critical, Leebron said, to Rice’s success. In this regard he mentioned two Rice websites: the English department website looks great, he said, but it does not have the word Rice anywhere on it. The Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering website does not have a way to get from its home page to the faculty listing. There is a push to get all of these web pages standardized. The slogan “Unconventional Wisdom” is being used to project Rice’s strengths.

President Leebron then asked for questions from the faculty audience. The first question was regarding the Art History Ph.D. Why had it been mentioned when it has not yet been approved by the Faculty Senate? Leebron replied that the funding is available, and the goal is to have Senate approval soon, with the first students in this program admitted in the Fall of 2009.

A faculty member from the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department wanted to clarify that if one goes to their website and clicks on “People,” one indeed sees the faculty members for that department listed there.

The next question addressed the Rice Athletics Department and the study done by McKinsey & Company: how well was the Athletics Department meeting the recommended standards? Leebron replied that the study recommended that the spiraling costs in that department stop. The Athletics Department had previously been running over the authorized amount each year. Supporters of athletics now know they must donate more, and this has occurred. The improvements at Reckling Field, as well as those at the football field and Autry Court, have all been funded by gifts. Leebron said the athletes are part of the community here, and he mentioned that the new coach had the football players help students move in at the beginning of the school year. In all, tremendous progress had been made, he stated, and the department is operating with reasonable financial goals.

A faculty member supported these positive changes by saying that while watching the football game between Rice and Southern Mississippi on television the night before, he had noticed that the Rice players wore the shield of their residential colleges on their football helmets. Leebron added that there are banners hanging around the Rice campus that celebrate both athletes and Rhodes Scholars.

Leebron was then asked about the search for a University Librarian and he replied that the search is still under way.

The last question had to do with concern over parking availability—the fact that there are new colleges, more faculty and staff, yet no new parking structures. Leebron replied that parking facilities had been expanded. He didn’t agree that parking was poorly planned. There are environmental issues to consider, he said, and he discussed costs and priorities.

The meeting was adjourned at 5:20 and all were invited to stay for a reception.