State of the University 2018

State of the University Address
by President Leebron
October 16, 2018
 3:00 P.M.
McMurtry Auditorium

Faculty Senate Speaker Ed Nikonowicz began at 3:01 by welcoming everyone to the State of the University, an address required by the charter of the Senate. President David Leebron began by saying the university is in “an extraordinarily strong position” and that he would address three themes in his address: the current environment of higher education, a snapshot of the university, and the V2C2 plan.

Issues in Higher Education

Leebron said the United States is not supporting research in a way that will allow the country to remain globally competitive.He explained that Rice has become a very international university and reviewed statistics to demonstrate that. Nearly one-third of faculty received their undergraduate degree at a foreign institution, and the undergraduate body has grown to include about eleven to 12 percent international students. In discussing the growth of the international student population, Leebron also reviewed the challenges international students face when coming to Rice.

He said that faculty diversity makes slower progress than the student body because the turnover is not as high, but about 30 percent of hires in the last six years have been minorities, and 30 percent have been women. Leebron said that besides a diverse community, it is also important to be a welcoming community. He said students and faculty have faced many sexual and gender issues over the past year.

Statistical Snapshot

President Leebron highlighted the ways that Rice University is changing. He said that the student population is now 42 percent graduate students and 58 percent undergraduate.There are not current plans to increase the undergraduate population. Graduate programs, he said, are more decentralized but continued growth in that area might be good. He pointed out that Rice has seen a 51 percent increase in doctoral degrees since 2004 and the distribution of those degrees across the schools is equalizing as well.

In reviewing research revenues for the university, Leebron said that the lack of growth in federal funding is a challenge. He said the university has to provide the best infrastructure possible to support those seeking federal dollars. Leebron said that the university needs to find other revenue sources as well. He noted that FY 18 was a challenge due to Hurricane Harvey, which resulted in decreased revenues from rentals and continuing education. In terms of revenue from gifts, he said that it is a sometimes difficult to get general gifts. Many donors want to contribute to a specific cause or goal, and they don’t always align with the priorities of the university.

Leebron also reviewed the building projects underway and commented that eventually Lovett Hall will need to be updated so that it is accessible to those with disabilities. He said that will be an expensive project that does not necessarily add new spaces to the campus.

President Leebron then presented Rice’s placement in numerous national and international rankings. He said that the university moved up in many international rankings, but slipped in the U.S. News and World Report ranking, which no longer includes admit rate as part of its evaluation.

Leebron thanked the Board of Trustees for their dedication to the university. He said he does not see any space between the goals of the board and the goals of the faculty. He reviewed the ways in which members are appointed and said that the board has three new trustees this year.

V2C2 – The Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade

Leebron reminded the audience of the seven planks of the V2C2 and said progress has been made thanks to early investments in programs. He pointed out that the Sid Rich college building will be used in the strategic plan to create an on campus graduate college. He said investment in faculty has been moving “modestly but steadily.”

Leebron said the recent announcement of the Rice Investment was almost universally positive. He said the initiative goes to the heart of who the university is because a Rice education should be available to everyone. Although it has been 53 years since the university charged tuition, the idea is still honored. He said he felt the “clarity” of the message is important because some families are not applying simply because they cannot afford it.

President Leebron also reviewed the investment in research equipment and infrastructure.The university invested 27 million in a clean room. It continues to develop online degree programs which are reaching people internationally and locally. He previewed upcoming plans and discussions regarding the Midtown Innovation District, which will turn 14 acres in central Houston into a hub for innovation and collaboration.

Leebron then took questions from the audience.The first question asked about the financial investment in the Midtown Innovation District. Leebron answered that historically there have been 2 kinds of investments: campus facilities and the Rice endowment/real estate. One thing that is different, in this case, is that the university needs Houston to be successful. If the city falls further behind in technology and start-ups, that could hurt Rice. So, Leebron said, the university will get a return on their investment even if that investment is not the highest possible.

A second question asked about a federal tax bill that appears to target universities like Rice. Leebron answered that the bill in question is estimated to cost the university six million dollars a year. It will only impact about 30 universities, including the Baylor medical school and Trinity, along with other peers. He said he’s been told many times that the university manages its endowment spending well and that he believes the tax is a “reflection of the public attitude toward higher education.”

A final question asked about Division One athletics environment. Leebron said that it is a difficult environment and that conference alignment is a challenge. He said Rice Athletics brings in outstanding students and about two percent of the Rice budget goes toward supporting intercollegiate athletics. He concluded by saying the university must always pay attention to the health and wellbeing of athletes.

The meeting concluded at 4:00 and a reception followed. To read the Rice Public Affairs report on the meeting, visit To view the slides from President Leebron's presentation visit (document is no longer available).