State of the University 2019
State of the University Address
by President Leebron
November 6, 2019
McMurtry Auditorium, Duncan Hall
Faculty Senate Speaker Chris Johns-Krull began at 3:02 by welcoming everyone to the State of the University and thanking President Leebron for taking the time to give the address. He then invited President David Leebron to the podium. President Leebron began by saying the state of the university is “extraordinary.” He said both talent and opportunities at the university are extraordinary and that there is an incredible drive to excel, contribute, and make an impact. Leebron added that he was relatively pleased with the traction gained in V2C2. He then discussed the state of the university it terms of students and faculty, campus facilities, university reach, finances, and challenges.
Students and Faculty
President Leebron then spent some time reviewing statistics and demographics of Rice students, faculty, and finance. He said that the university is “incredibly balanced” between graduate students, undergraduate students, and professional students, and that recent years had seen very strong growth in PhD students. He noted that the admit rate for the fall 2019 undergraduate class was 8.7 percent. Leebron explained that with a current international undergraduate population of 12.4 percent, Chinese applicant numbers have remained steady. He said that anti-immigrant attitudes and policies mean that international students are choosing to go other places and “very sadly,” students view coming to the United States as “risky” due to a number of obstacles. He also said that Rice has one of the most diverse populations among top universities and he noted the number of underrepresented minority students, first generation college students, and Pell Grant recipients.President Leebron discussed the Rice Investment initiative, which he said is generous and transparent.
In looking at doctoral degrees, Leebron pointed out a 70 percent increase in doctoral degrees granted since 2004, but he said the university needs to work harder to improve gender and racial diversity in doctoral degrees.
Leebron also shared a list of accomplishments in each school as shared by the deans. He said there is a recognition that the faculty are among the best. He said there has been a steadily rising output of articles per faculty and a doubling in research funding and a broadening of the base since 2004. Leebron reminded the audience that Rice competes against larger research universities and universities with medical schools. He discussed the number of large research awards granted to university faculty and said those grants are very important. He said due to the productive output of faculty, Rice has become a solid member of the AAU.
Leebron then turned to campus facility projects. He noted that between 2005 and 2026, Rice will have invested nearly 1.8 billion dollars in facilities, including 296 million for undergraduate colleges and graduate student apartments due to expansion in the size of the student body. He said the Kraft Hall would be opening very soon is important not just because the building is needed, but because it will be an important signal to the campus that the university has a clear and defined center of Social Sciences. He said there are also a number of expansions going on all across the campus.
Reach of the University
President Leebron discussed the university’s engagement with the city of Houston. He said the ION construction is underway and interest in the project is “exceedingly high” and support from the city has been “exceedingly good.” He said the ION has the ability to transform the city of Houston. He noted that part of the V2C2 is to engage with and empower the success of the city.
Leebron explained that there has been a dramatic decline in online enrollment at the university due to the death of the MOOC’s. He said there has been a deconstruction of higher education and the university must figure out how to make education available in many different ways. He said the revenue generated from online programs is rising and will likely become a significant source of funding. He said the online students come from many different countries, but also from all over the city.
Leebron said that financially, the university has become less dependent on the endowment and is finding additional sources of funding. He said that the endowment is “in good shape” and retains a AAA credit rating.
President Leebron then discussed a few of the challenges currently facing the university. These include:
- Recruitment and challenges to the use of race/ethnicity in admissions
- “Varsity Blues” admissions and testing scandal impacts on the perception of higher education overall
- Change in competitive athletics and compensation for athletes
- New endowment tax, which cost the university $7 million
- Different views on philanthropy and donors who want to give to specific goals
- Student life – Title IX cases and mental health
Leebron spent some time reviewing data from the recent AAU sexual climate survey. He said there were some indications that recent changes and programs are having a positive impact. He also noted that the university has created a task force on slavery, segregation, and racial injustice.
President Leebron was thanked with a warm round of applause.
President Leebron then opened up the address for questions from the audience. One member referenced the new science and engineering building project listed and asked if there was a site and name for the building yet. Leebron answered that it would be at the site of the Abercrombie building and there was not yet a name for it.
A second question was asked about the 1.4 percent excise tax and whether local elected officials were offering to help Rice. President Leebron answered that higher education does not have many advocates right now, and that he was told by one politician that the tax was a way to raise awareness of student debt. He said the AAU could be helpful in advocating for universities.
A final commenter said she was thrilled with how diverse the campus was becoming. She then asked about the recent college admissions scandal and the possibility of something similar happening at Rice. President Leebron answered that Rice has the minimum number of sports required by the NCAA. He said Rice does not have the kinds of sports that are ethnically and economically distributed in the same way as those involved in the scandal. He said that private universities are “engines of opportunity” and Rice was never designed to exist for the privileged.
The meeting concluded at 4:00 and a reception followed. Rice Public Affairs also reported on the State of the University and their report can be read on the Rice News website.