Rice thanks retiring VP for enrollment for ‘Muñoz Effect’

The video monitors in Brochstein Pavilion displayed “The Muñoz Effect: A Legacy of Achievement” the afternoon of April 27. It was a slide presentation showing a few statistics that helped put Chris Muñoz’s nearly 11 years of leadership as vice president for enrollment into perspective.

Among the stats:

  • Slide that reads "The Munoz Effect"Undergraduate applications to Rice increased from 8,776 in fall 2006 to 18,236 in fall 2016.
  • The entering class of the student body expanded from 742 students in fall 2007 to 981 in fall 2016. During that time, the number of entering students from Texas enrolled at Rice increased from 347 to 417, and the number of out-of-state entering students increased from 320 to 457.
  • The number of freshman foreign nationals increased from 54 in fall 2007 to 107 in fall 2016.
  • As Rice became more selective, the university’s admit rate went from 25 percent in fall 2007 to 15 percent in fall 2016.

The slides were prepared for Muñoz’s retirement reception, where the Rice community expressed appreciation for his dedication and service to the university.

“We’re here to bid fond farewell to a very good friend of mine,” said Darrow Zeidenstein, vice president for development and alumni relations. “Chris has never been the kind of guy who toots his own horn,” Zeidenstein said, adding that Muñoz has “done his job incredibly well and professionally and innovatively.”

(From left) Vice President for Enrollment Chris Muñoz is honored at a retirement reception that included remarks from Vice President for Development and Alumni Darrow Zeidenstein and President David Leebron.

(From left) Vice President for Enrollment Chris Muñoz is honored at a retirement reception that included remarks from Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Darrow Zeidenstein and President David Leebron. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Calling Muñoz a “trusted buddy and confidant,” Zeidenstein kidded him about a senior leadership meeting held to discuss risks that would have a significant impact on the campus, such as a hurricane. When Muñoz was asked to identify a risk of greatest magnitude of impact and probability, he thought about the Vision for the Second Century’s (V2C) 30 percent expansion of the student body and said the biggest risk facing the university was to have too many applications for enrollment at the undergraduate level. Zeidenstein thought Muñoz was joking, but then he realized that “Chris was very serious,” he said. “And it reflects the kind of leader he is. He was concerned that with so many applications, would Rice be able to continue to professionally examine and read all those applications and ensure that we found the right students to come here in its commitment to diversity and its commitment to bringing in students of socio-economic diversity?” Muñoz was also concerned about the “stress and toll” the increased workload would have on his staff and the ability to “maintain the quality and care that Rice applicants and students expect from a place like Rice,” Zeidenstein said.

John Thomas, director of information systems and applications for the Division of Enrollment, noted that the occasion was more than just a Rice retirement reception. “We’re not just saying goodbye to Chris and wishing him well from Rice University,” Thomas said. “We’re coming to the end of a 40-year career in undergraduate enrollment.”

Thomas noted that Muñoz’s experience at other universities enabled him to produce a “sea change” at Rice. Muñoz introduced the concept of direct marketing and established communication with high school students while they’re freshmen, sophomores and juniors. He also increased the number of fly-ins and campus visits “because nothing says a student will enroll here faster than if they come here to this beautiful campus and meet … the happiest students,” Thomas said.

He also credited Muñoz with upgrading technology and switching to a content management system that enabled the admission staff to read applications online rather than lug “100 pounds or more” of paper files home, process them and then pass them along to the next group of reviewers.

Thomas said Muñoz demonstrated by example that his staff should conduct themselves with “courtesy and patience” and a “vision of mindfulness” and do things “because it is the right thing to do.” He said that as a “true leader,” Muñoz found “a greatness in each of us” and brought it forward. “We’re a better university, we’re a better division and we’re better individuals because of you,” Thomas told Muñoz.

President David Leebron noted that Muñoz was the first vice president he hired at Rice. “Chris literally revolutionized our operation,” he said. “If you walk around the campus, the university feels different than it felt a decade ago.” Citing the increase to more than 18,000 applications, including more from out of state and other countries, Leebron said, “We have become recognized as one of the most diverse, elite private institutions in the country. I think it’s really not only given us the identity but a sense of real joy about who we are.”

Leebron commended Muñoz for his ability to keep great staff members who were here when Muñoz came to Rice in 2006 as well as to recruit more great staff. “That says a lot about somebody who’s a great leader,” he said. “Chris has gotten them together as a team and really transformed the institution in terms of the undergraduate student body.”

Leebron noted two primary concerns when the university decided to expand the undergraduate student body as part of the V2C: Could Rice maintain the quality and the diversity of the undergraduate student body? “What we’ve seen is a great increase in both of those,” Leebron said. “Chris, you made the university look great, and it’s been great for me personally. I can’t thank you enough.”

Before Muñoz addressed the crowd at Brochstein, Duncan College senior Helen Little presented him with a small box she had laser cut at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), where she is head lab assistant. Inside the box were some charms in the shape of Rice Owls and Rice R’s that had also been laser cut and engraved. A chemical and biomolecular engineering major, Little was one of the students admitted to Rice by Muñoz and his staff. “On behalf of all the students at Rice, I hope you enjoy this present made from OEDK resources,” Little said.

Chris Muñoz at retirement reception

Chris Muñoz

Muñoz thanked everyone for coming. “This is a moment that I don’t know how exactly to express myself other than to say that I’m grateful,” he said.

He also expressed “appreciation and gratefulness” to the groups he oversees:

— The Enrollment Management Operations Center (aka “EMOC”) group in the basement of Allen Center. “They’re so pivotal to our success,” he said. “They manage thousands and thousands and thousands of documents. There are times that I’m sure they’re tired, and when that phone (to Admission) rings again, they have to muster a sense of ‘I’m so happy you’re calling’ no matter how difficult and challenging that can be.”

— The Office of Financial Aid, also in Allen Center. “They have the challenge of families who visit them and say, ‘You are the difference of whether or not my son or daughter could attend Rice University.’ They have to be empathetic and compassionate to the family, and at the same time there are boundaries to how much they can do, and they sometimes frankly suffer because they can’t make a difference for someone who they really think is deserving,” Muñoz said.

— The Office of Admission in Lovett Hall. “They have maybe the most visibility,” Muñoz said. He lauded “their tirelessness, their commitment to Rice, their willingness to keep going when they have been on the road for four weeks” and then have to be back on campus to meet with 1,400 to 1,600 campus visitors and “make each and every one of those visitors feel they are the most important people in the world to us” and “convey to students and parents that we want them at Rice.” Muñoz said the Admission group also selects the 2,500 to 2,600 students from 18,000 applicants who will be offered admission – “an incredible process and very difficult to do.”

— The group in Muñoz’s office. This includes Renee Piper, whom Muñoz described as “a wonderful associate” who manages the budget and his schedule; Thomas, who has provided “the means for us to evaluate and analyze data” and is also a marriage family therapist (“We use that too on occasion,” Muñoz joked); and Sowmya Ramanan, who works for Thomas as a web data administrator.

“Whatever I have done that has been helpful and successful in my work, there are many persons that I owe a lot to throughout my career, the people at Rice,” Muñoz said. “But the one person who has made all the difference in my life is my wife, Judy.” He credited her for inspiring him to become “a better human being” and for managing the family when he was traveling on business. “Thank you, darling,” he said to his wife, who had flown in from their new home in Seattle for the celebration.

Leebron proposed a toast to Rice thanks retiring VP for enrollment for ‘Muñoz Effect’ “for all he has done to make Rice a much better place.”

“Chris and Judy,” Leebron said, “we wish you all the best, and we hope you find a reason to escape the rains of the Northwest and visit us in Houston.”

About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.