Rice University’s involvement with the Texas Medical Center (TMC), online courses and the cost of education are among the “bigger strategic things” on Rice trustees’ minds, Board Chairman Bobby Tudor ’82 said at the Nov. 12 Administrators Forum.
Tudor said the board “considers Rice to be in excellent shape” and shared some of the key issues facing the university.
Rice’s relationship with the TMC is considered central to the university’s future, he said. “Given the changes that are going on in health care nationally and the importance of biosciences to the future of research universities in the next 20-25 years, the board is still really focused on making sure we are taking advantage of our positioning and relationship with the Texas Medical Center,” he said.
Distance learning and open-source courses are also a priority. “That’s a big issue in general in higher education because it certainly has the potential to be hugely disruptive to the way education is ultimately delivered even at the very highest level,” Tudor said. The fundamental question is whether a residentially based four-year high-ticket experience is going to be as popular and as important 20 years from now as it is today, he said. “We have invested a lot of time and money and resources into building this fabulous residential campus that we consider to be central to the way we deliver education to our students.” The question, he said, is whether the physical plant needs to be adjusted for less traditional ways of teaching and learning in the future.
Tudor said the cost of higher education is another board priority. “We continue to be cost-advantaged relative to our peers,” he said, but noted that tuition and other costs keep going up. The board does not want Rice to price itself “out of the market for the kind of students that we really want to be here,” he said. “Rice has never been a rich kids’ school. It’s been the place in many cases where the smartest kids from public high schools in Texas wanted to go. We’ve become more national in our recruiting. But something we’ve always held very firmly to is the notion of needs-blind admission, and we want to keep that. One of the things as a student I always really loved about Rice is that there’s not much, if any, social snobbery.”
Tudor said another priority is making Rice a more important part of Houston and Texas. “That’s been a big push of President David Leebron and his administrative team,” he said, noting that Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane and her team are important to that goal. “We’ve made really great strides in the last five to 10 years in making Rice more outward-looking,” he said.
Parking, bus routes and the physical plant are some of the day-to-day issues that “don’t seem critical but in the overall scheme of things really matter,” Tudor said. “Believe it or not, the board pays attention to that sort of stuff via our Building and Grounds Committee.
“We also are ultimately responsible for looking at the risks that come along with running a big university. That’s everything from students drinking too much and mental health issues to environmental risks of all sorts and just purely reputational things.” The trustees work with the administration to make sure those risks are appropriately managed and measured, he said.
One thing that has stunned Tudor is the number of business and community leaders who have come to campus for an event and have commented that until then, they had no idea of what a beautiful place Rice is. “I wanna go, ‘You had no idea? You live a mile from here. This is one of the great jewels of the country.’
“Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to make sure the people of Houston and Texas get here and appreciate what we have. And thus we are just exposing a bigger and bigger group to what is really fantastic about Rice,” he said.
Tudor said that serving on the board “really does give you a much clearer picture of the hard work and the big decisions and the difficulties that go into making an enterprise like Rice work in an effective way.
“It’s a great honor for me to be a trustee at Rice,” Tudor said. “I love Rice. It’s been very, very important to me, and I feel a great obligation to give back. It’s not work in that sense. It’s really a joy and a pleasure and an honor.”