Leebron assesses V2C2 progress, reiterates Rice’s values at town hall

An emphasis on excellence, opportunity and impact was at the core of President David Leebron’s March 6 town hall presentation in Rice Memorial Center’s Grand Hall.

Leebron provided a progress report on the university’s Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade (V2C2) and highlighted the impact of Rice’s people and initiatives outside the hedges. He stressed Rice’s values — responsibility, integrity, community and excellence — and their importance in meeting V2C2 goals.

Leebron mentioned the impact of the Rice Investment while highlighting the university-record 27,074 applications for fall 2019 admission, which included an increase in applications from all regions of the United States and all racial and ethnic groups and socio-economic levels. He said the surging interest in Rice has helped focus attention on its role of attracting talent to and fostering innovation in Houston.

“It does get their attention when you tell them we had 27,000 applications for 945 places,” he said.

Expanding on the Rice Investment, Leebron shared some of the reactions students, alumni and employees have had to the policy, which offers expanded scholarships to students from middle- and low-income families.

“This has really gotten tremendous publicity all across the country, but most importantly it’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “It reflects our history as a university and our commitment to making sure our education is available to all regardless of their means.”

(Photos by Jeff Fitlow and Tommy LaVergne) 

Once at Rice, students need support. “That begins really from the day they arrive on campus,” Leebron said. He commended the programs offered by the Office of Student Success Initiatives.

“We are totally devoted to every student’s success on this campus,” he said, noting that such an emphasis is reflected in Rice’s retention and graduation rates. Among 931 new students starting school in fall 2012, 97.9 percent returned the next fall and 94.7 percent graduated within six years.

Leebron highlighted building projects on campus, specifically mentioning the Kraft Hall for Social Sciences, plans for a new Sid Richardson College and the renovation of the existing Sid Rich tower to house graduate students. He also said the university is in the process of reassessing the function of Fondren Library and is “taking a very careful look at what to do with the student center here, which really no longer serves the needs of our community and particularly what our students are looking for in terms of their experience.”

Leebron also emphasized recent investments in academic and research facilities. “If we’re going to be among the great universities, we have to have the best facilities for our faculty,” he said.

Investment in faculty to achieve preeminence is another V2C2 goal. Leebron mentioned several faculty members who have received awards or secured grants and touted Rice’s up-and-coming talent.

“We have an extraordinary group of young faculty who represent the future of the university,” he said.

In addition to the Ion building in the Midtown innovation district, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2020, Leebron mentioned the renewal of Rice Village, the creation of the Houston Jewish History Archive and the launch of the Texas Policy Lab as ways the university is engaging Houston and Texas. He said online education programs can also help Rice expand its reach in the region.

“When we talk about online degree programs, it’s not just people across the country or around the world, it’s also a lot of people here in Houston who can’t get to the campus, who can’t commute an hour and a half every day, who have full-time jobs,” he said.

Leebron highlighted Rice’s increasing online education offerings, noting that the university has attracted more than 3 million enrollees to date. Over 250,000 enrolled in fiscal year 2018; more than 160,000 of those were international students.

He applauded the increase in diversity among Rice’s student body in recent years, but he noted that the university must make greater improvement when it comes to faculty and staff diversity. He emphasized that Rice must also work to assure an inclusive and welcoming environment.

Leebron also touted Rice’s highly ranked graduate programs and the university’s 51 percent increase in doctoral degrees conferred from the 2004-05 academic year to 2017-18. “From my experience, undergraduates recognize very strongly that the success of the university they chose depends very much on the success of the graduate students,” he said.

Each spring town hall includes staff recognition. The Elizabeth Gillis Award for Exemplary Service was presented to Matthew Taylor, associate vice provost for academic affairs and adjunct associate professor of humanities. Leebron also recognized 277 employees for service milestones of five years or more. Six employees — Ronnie Featherston, Charles Hammonds, Jennifer Overton, Lupe Reyna, Scottie Schroeder and Bart Sinclair — were recognized for service of 40 years or more.

About Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is a senior editor in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.