‘College master’ to become ‘college magister’

Rice will replace the title “college master” with “college magister” at the beginning of academic year 2017-18.

President David Leebron and Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson announced the change in an email to faculty and staff April 6. Hutchinson also emailed students.

Sign that reads "College Magister"“‘Magister’ is a classical Latin word meaning ‘teacher’ and has been used historically as an academic title for a scholar,” Leebron and Hutchinson wrote. “It conveys the traditional role and duties of the people holding this position, without the negative historical connotation of the word ‘master.’ We believe that ‘college magister’ preserves our cultural history while eliminating the concerns and confusion about the previous title. The term clearly connotes the academic role of the college magisters, including providing the prestige deserved by those who serve in this vital role in the university. The uniqueness of the title also helps convey the unique aspects, and success, of the Rice college system.”

Leebron and Hutchinson noted that the possible change has been under discussion for more than a year. In late 2015, the Committee of Masters initiated the discussion and considered both the appropriateness of the “master” title and the negative historical connotation that can be associated with the term.

“That connotation has sometimes created a serious issue in explaining the usage of the term ‘master’ at Rice to those who are not part of our campus community, including family members of current students and staff as well as prospective students and faculty recruits,” Leebron and Hutchinson said.

As part of the residential college system at Rice, each college has a faculty member who has been appointed “college master” and lives in a house adjacent to the college. The masters help cultivate a variety of cultural and intellectual interests among the students and support an effective system of self-government.

In early 2016 the Committee of Masters submitted a recommendation that the title be changed to Leebron, Provost Marie Lynn Miranda and Hutchinson, who followed up on the recommendation by engaging the Rice community in the discussion. They solicited input from faculty members in November and held a forum for interested faculty members in December. The Student Association conducted a survey in fall 2016 to gather student opinion about making a change. Alumni input was solicited from the board of the Association of Rice Alumni.

“Many who personally did not feel the need for a change nonetheless supported it out of consideration for others who might experience the use of the title differently,” Leebron and Hutchinson wrote.

With this additional input, Leebron, Miranda and Hutchinson accepted the recommendation of the Committee of Masters that the title be changed and asked for recommendations for a new title that would resolve the concerns about the existing title while preserving the historical culture of the role. .

“A number of options were discussed over an extended period of time, but late in the process, the group enthusiastically presented an option that was accepted by us and the provost,” Leebron and Hutchinson said.

They said official changes in the title will occur this summer when the university begins using it for events and correspondence.

“It is particularly notable that at Rice, this change has come from faculty initiative, collaboration and constructive dialog across our campus, and not from confrontation or controversy,” Leebron and Hutchinson wrote. “Such is the strength of our community.”



About B.J. Almond

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