September 24, 2015

State of the University Address
by President Leebron
September 24, 2015


Faculty Senate Deputy Speaker Rachel Kimbro called the meeting to order at 3:05 p.m. She welcomed the assembled faculty members, administrators, and guests. Kimbro then introduced Rice University President David Leebron.

President Leebron began his annual State of the University Address with the Rice University Mission Statement: As a leading research university with a distinctive commitment to undergraduate education, Rice University aspires to path breaking research, unsurpassed teaching, and contributions to the betterment of our world. It seeks to fulfill this mission by cultivating a diverse community of learning and discovery that produces leaders across the spectrum of human endeavor.


Leebron presented information about the Rice student body, which he said was extraordinarily talented. He said that there are 969 new undergraduates at Rice this fall and 928 new graduate students. He noted that, in addition to competition from the outstanding institutions in the northeast, Rice is facing increasing competition among Texas schools for students. Leebron presented pie charts which showed the geographic origin of the 969 matriculants (46% non-Texan USA; 42% Texans; 12% International), and the ethnicity of the 855 domestic matriculants (the two largest groups being Caucasian/white 42% and Asian American 29%).

Leebron said that in recent years, a majority of new students indicated that they would major in Engineering or Natural Sciences, but in fact, the schools of Social Sciences and Engineering awarded the most degrees. Leebron noted that the number of Rice students majoring in Humanities has remained consistent in absolute numbers over recent years.

Leebron presented another graph that showed of the 2,750 graduate students currently attending Rice, there are 1,456 PhD students, 624 MBA students, 378 professional master’s students, and 292 terminal and thesis master’s students.


Leebron reviewed the four Priorities for the New Century:

  • Strategic Academic Priorities
  • Strategic School Investments
  • Campus Infrastructure
  • Administrative Effectiveness and Efficiency

Leebron mentioned last year’s State of the University Address, in which he predicted that time spent in the classroom might account for only 25% of a student’s college experience in the future. He said that since that presentation, Rice’s Student Association has completed a survey of the undergraduates, which showed that the current students viewed the ideal college experience to consist of 26% classroom experience. Leebron said that the Initiative for Students is working to raise funds for students in mentorship and career guidance, leadership, scholarships, undergraduate research, entrepreneurship, civic and community engagement, and international experience opportunities.


Leebron discussed the importance of quality teaching. He said that 34% of Rice faculty members have used the Center for Teaching Excellence as a resource. He listed successful new programs and new faculty members at Rice, as well as those who have won prestigious teaching awards.

Leebron described the Rice Emerging Scholars Program that seeks to help first-generation college students and underrepresented minorities students succeed in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) courses. Leebron also discussed Pell Grants and said that Rice University is among the leaders in graduating students from lower income families.

Leebron announced that the theme for Rice’s Quality Enhancement Program (QEP) is “Experiential Research Opportunities.” The co-chairs of the QEP team are Robert Stein and Maria Oden.

Leebron also discussed the participation by Rice in digital education courses, with both a for-profit company (Coursera) and a not-for-profit company (edX). He explained how a student must enroll before he/she can gain information on the digital program, which results in inflated enrollment numbers and a low completion rate. However, he said that approximately 27,000 people have earned a Rice certificate, greatly increasing Rice’s visibility.


Turning to research, Leebron said that Rice research awards are up to $120 million, while sponsored research revenue is currently up to $125 million. He described the new $150 million plan that would benefit the entire campus by funding research competitiveness, data sciences, and molecular nanotechnology. He said that a new “clean room” would be built on campus, as well as replacement of research equipment. Leebron highlighted the Nanotech Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) process invented by Rice scholars and other partners that will convert water from any source for residential or industrial use.


Leebron described current and future capital projects and plans, including a new building/parking garage behind Allen Center. He reviewed the university’s revenue and expenses, saying that Rice is currently enjoying a positive operating margin (surplus/operating revenues) of 5.9%. Leebron stated that Rice’s endowment value is currently $5.6 billion.

Leebron cited Rice’s rank by various publications, especially U.S. News and World Report, where Rice is ranked number 18. Rice was ranked number 1 in three areas by other publications: Best Quality of Life (Princeton Review), Race/Class Interaction (Princeton Review), and MBA Program in the Texas and the Southwest (Economist.) Leebron said that Rice also ranked highly on the U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard.

Leebron discussed the faculty climate survey, as well as the student survey of unwanted sexual experiences. He said that the student survey, which had a response rate of 72%, would help Rice:

  • To better understand nature of sexual violence and misconduct
  • To foster a safe environment
  • To improve prevention and provide the best services to survivors
  • To provide a baseline for ongoing assessments and improvements

Leebron also presented a statement that he issued recently with Provost Marie Lynn Miranda: “The results shown in the survey are simply unacceptable. We pledge that the university will redouble its efforts to combat sexual assault and misconduct now and in years to come.”

RICE: Responsibility, Integrity, Community, Excellence.

Following Leebron’s comments, a question and answer session was held. The first question asked of Leebron was if there are plans to increase the number of faculty members at Rice due to the increase in students in recent years and the resulting crowded conditions in some classrooms. Leebron replied that when he arrived at Rice, the student-to-faculty ratio was slightly above 5 to 1, but ten years prior to that, the ratio was 8 to 1. He said that currently, the ratio is slightly less than 6 to 1. He said that the more important issue was how the faculty members are allocated. Leebron said that the three areas currently experiencing the largest student growth are Engineering, Social Sciences, and Pre-Med. He said that additional resources could be used to bring in non-tenure-track faculty to teach some courses.

Leebron was asked by another faculty member to define the terms “surplus” and “operating expenses” used in the presentation (slide 39). Leebron said that Rice receives revenue over different periods; a pledged donation might be recorded now, but not be received until later. He also described restrictive gifts, which are pledged for a certain purpose.

The last question for Leebron was regarding Rice’s efforts to build relationships with an overseas institution. Leebron replied that although some universities have an overseas campus, Rice is not likely to have its own facility. He listed several other ways that Rice could have an international presence: digital education combined with Rice faculty members teaching overseas, joint degrees with foreign institutions, and Rice faculty members fostering research relationships with faculty from foreign institutions. Leebron said that he would be traveling soon to China, and that the top universities in China are interested in relationships with Rice.

The meeting was adjourned at 4:05 p.m., followed by a reception for faculty members.

To view the slides presented by President Leebron, please see STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY 2015.