‘Frontier of knowledge’: Vardi named University Professor
Moshe Vardi, professor of computational engineering, has been promoted to University Professor, Rice’s highest faculty rank. His appointment is set to begin on Jan. 1, 2019, according to an official university press release.
The position, previously awarded to seven individuals throughout Rice’s history, allows faculty members to teach in any department across the university.
The deans of each school may choose to nominate a tenure-track faculty member, to be approved by the president, according to the Rice Faculty Senate website.
Nominees are selected based on criteria similar in awarding tenure, according to Vardi, and selected faculty typically have an esteemed track record for research and contributions to both Rice University and their respective fields at large.
Prior to joining Rice’s faculty in 1993, Vardi said he completed both his undergraduate and doctoral studies in Israel, where he was first introduced to research.
“Once you start doing research — it’s a disease — you’re hooked,” Vardi said. “I mean, the excitement — it’s like skydiving. I was a skydiver for many years, and there’s an incredible adrenaline rush when you stand at the edge of nothingness. Research is a little bit like that. You’re at the frontier of knowledge, and you jump.”
After he obtained his Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Vardi said he worked as a researcher for IBM before coming to Rice, where his son was attending college at the time.
“[My son] was here and when I was looking for a place to go,” Vardi said. “I’d already visited for Parents Weekend and made some connections, so I ended up coming here.”
Vardi said his lab currently focuses on automated reasoning, where they study how computers can learn to think logically through artificial intelligence.
He said he has also expanded his research to include the ethics of technology and humanity.
“We are discussing a new [research] initiative which we call Technology, Culture and Society,” Vardi said. “The big question is: How do we ensure that technological development is in the service of society?”
Vardi said he hopes his new role as University Professor can assist in establishing this interdisciplinary initiative.
“This is somewhere between computer science and social science,” Vardi said. “We are now learning that these technologies come with benefits, but also risks. This is something, I think, as a university, is a huge topic for us. It is not limited to one department.”
Vardi will stand alongside professors Richard Tapia and Rebecca Richards-Kortum as one of the three currently active University Professors among Rice’s 865 faculty members, according to data provided by the Office of Institutional Research.
Previously named University Professors, according to Rice News, include Nobel laureates Robert Curl, now professor emeritus, and the late Richard Smalley.
When Vardi himself heard the news of his new title, he said the announcement was “satisfying.”
“The funny reaction was from some of my friends outside academia,” Vardi said. “They asked [what the promotion was]. So I replied, ‘I’m a University Professor … now in caps.’ It is satisfying, but at the end of the day, it’s just a title.”
More from The Rice Thresher
“He loved to cook, was an excellent chef and often invited whole gaggles of us over to his apartment, working in the kitchen and talking poetry to whoever was nearby while others lounged by the pool,” Johnson wrote. “When I joined the faculty at Rice, he showed me the way, provided an atlas, a compass through the morass of elite academia, and after the presidential election that first semester, often talked me off the proverbial ledge of rage or despair.”
A new coffee shop on the first floor of McNair Hall is projected to open for business this September, according to Peter Rodriguez, dean of the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business. According to Rodriguez, several external vendors are currently competing for a contract. Whichever vendor is selected will choose the baristas who will staff the coffee shop and the types of coffee and food offered, Rodriguez said.
A task force on slavery, segregation and racial injustice has been established by the university, according to an email sent by President David Leebron and Provost Marie Lynn Miranda. In the email, sent out on Tuesday, Leebron said that the task force was created to learn about instances of racial injustice in Rice’s past and examine ways to promote diversity and inclusion in its future.