The vital role the Rice community plays in the university was the central theme of President David Leebron’s Feb. 7 town hall presentation, which served to introduce a new strategic planning process.
“It’s all of you, all the individuals of the Rice community, who make our university what it is,” Leebron told the staff members who filled the Grand Hall at Rice Memorial Center. He called on all community members to play a role in shaping the vision and strategy to guide the university for the next five to 10 years.
“We want to renew the Vision for the Second Century … and initiate a conversation as we did almost exactly 12 years ago about the future of the university,” he said.
He posed 11 critical questions (below) that address the future of Rice, the answers to which will shape the creation of the Vision for the Second Century, part two (V2C2), a strategic document to guide Rice’s decision-making over the next decade and help establish priorities for the next capital campaign.
What must we do to accelerate our research achievement and reputation?
Showing a slide that indicates sponsored research revenues of $140.2 million for fiscal year 2016, up from $67.1 million in fiscal year 2004, Leebron said, “We have had a lot of success over the last decade, a fairly dramatic increase in research, and particularly, people have shown initiative in creativity in seeking sources of support for our research not just from the federal government but foundations, industry, state and local support. That’s an astonishing increase for the last decade, but we need to do even better.
“We are, as I like to say, the smallest, wide-spectrum, elite research university, and that means we just have to achieve more per pound than any of our competition. What are the ways, the infrastructure, the equipment and faculty support needed for us to achieve higher goals?” Leebron asked.
What changes might we want to see in our undergraduate education?
What students want from their higher education experience has changed over the decades, Leebron said. Although Rice provides a range of programs and services beyond the classroom — in writing, leadership, creativity, entrepreneurship, internships and more — “we need to make sure that we provide them in ways that all of our students can access,” he said. “One thing that we’re now particularly focused on is making sure that our students from the lowest-income backgrounds don’t come to Rice and find things that they cannot do. Whether its international travel or internships — they must have equal access to them.”
He also asked, “How should we respond to the changing interests of our students in making sure our classes are the kind of classes that reflect the particular Rice experience?”
Equally important, he said, are Rice graduate students, who make up 43 percent of the student body.
What changes might we want to see in our graduate education?
We have to continue an effort with new doctoral programs – as done with art history and sociology – and new master’s programs and new services for graduate students that make them feel they are an equally valued part of our community, he said.
What should shape our priorities in faculty recruitment?
In selecting new faculty, Leebron said, Rice has to meet the shifting needs in teaching, enhance the university’s research profile, strategically raise the caliber of a school or department, support strategic objectives of the university and increase the diversity of the faculty, staff and leadership.
“We are recognized as a leader in diversity in our student body, and we have to aspire to be that as well in our faculty, staff and administrative leadership,” he said.
What is our vision for the composition of our student body and our educational outreach?
“We are a research university, and we can’t function without great graduate students, great postdoctoral fellows,” he said. “We are increasingly an international institution. Nearly one-fourth of our students are international.
“We’re very proud to have students from all over. We’ve been particularly successful in China. But we want to be more successful in all these other countries and we have to figure out how to do that.”
Leebron added that the role of digital education must be considered in planning Rice’s future. Just six years ago, almost no students were participating in online classes through Rice, he said. “Now it’s almost 600,000 students. Is digital education an opportunity that we need to seize to expand our footprint and our influence?” he asked.
Are there major new endeavors we should begin?
Leebron said Rice has a remarkable record of success in new endeavors, including the prestigious Shepherd School of Music, which was established in 1975; the Jones Graduate School of Business, which is now ranked No. 8 in the country by Bloomberg Businessweek; and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, one of the top-five university-affiliated think tanks in the world.
“That’s the kind of success we’ve had with our endeavors just over the last 40 years or so,” Leebron said. “We have to ask the question, Is it time to begin a new endeavor or is it time to reinvest in the strengths that we have?”
Are there particular global and national problems we might want to focus on?
Rice scholars and researchers are changing the world by addressing its big challenges, including urban issues, global health, energy security, clean water, world affairs and religious tolerance. Leebron asked, “What things might we want to inspire ourselves about and, we hope, inspire our donors about?”
What should Rice do to develop strategic relationships with, and in support of, vitally important constituencies and organizations beyond campus?
Leebron said Rice’s success is achieved most often through collaborations both internally and externally, including with the Texas Medical Center, museums, industry and the city. “This is not an option for us; it is a requirement of our success,” he said. “We have to be better … than anybody else at leveraging ourselves through collaboration, and so we need to ask: Are we doing enough with our partners? Do we have the right partners? And how do we make those partnerships work better?”
The last two questions relate to who we are and our culture here at Rice, he said:
What things about Rice are distinctive and important to maintain?
Are there critical aspects of our culture or organization we need to change to be better and achieve our goals?
For the final question, he added, is What else should we be asking ourselves?
“What are the elements of our success? Ideas. And those ideas come from all parts of our community — faculty, staff, students, alumni — all of us working together and thinking about our future,” he said.
Members of the Rice community are invited to participate in an online survey and answer these questions at http://v2c2.rice.edu. Responses will be accepted through March 19.
During the town hall, Leebron recognized people who make a difference in the Rice community, including Jim Bevan, the recipient of the 2017 Elizabeth Gillis Award for Exemplary Service, and employees who achieved service milestones of five, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 and 40 years. He also paused to remember those whom the Rice community lost over the past year, and paid a special tribute to Marjorie Corcoran, professor of physics and astronomy.
Leebron also addressed the recent vandalism on campus, particularly to the segment of the Berlin Wall near Baker Hall. He referred to the RICE acronym that represents values important to the Rice community: responsibility, integrity, community, excellence.
“Each of those has played an important part in how we’ve responded to some challenges of late,” he said.
“I think what we’ve seen is our community stands together. We stand together in support of all members of our community, whatever their immigrant status, whatever their citizenship, whatever their political beliefs, whatever their religion. Our community stands together forcefully, not only within Rice but in advocating for all members of our community outside Rice.”
The Town Hall Committee has an online survey to solicit feedback on the meeting, said Marie Wehrung, Rice’s director of learning and professional development, who welcomed staff to the town hall and introduced Leebron. A webcast of the meeting will be posted on the town hall website.