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SJP records judicial meetings in response to student concerns

(04/22/15 7:30am)

Rice Student Judicial Programs has implemented two changes to its disciplinary meetings in response to student leader concerns over transparency: Starting in December, SJP has begun recording its proceedings and often includes a second official in the meetings.SJP Director Lisa Zollner, who arrived at the department in 2013 along with Student Conduct Officer Emily Garza, said input from college presidents and chief justices influenced the new policies. Despite the changes, however, students still will not have the right to record meetings. This is in contrast to Texas law, which states that recordings require consent from only one party being recorded.Garza said this change will improve the adjudication process, particularly during factually complex cases that may involve many witnesses.“Having the audio recordings for factually complex cases is very beneficial in terms of getting all of the facts straight and in a more time efficient manner,” Garza said. “If there’s a case that involves, say, 10 witnesses, it’s helpful to have the recordings in order to review facts.”Both directors said the audio recordings are not shared outside the SJP office. Because the change is recent, there has not yet been a decision about how long the recordings will be retained. According to Zollner, student disciplinary files are retained for 10 years after the involved student graduates, but the audio recordings are not a part of these files. “SJP is working with General Counsel to determine a retention schedule for the recordings,” Zollner said. Zollner said another change, made this academic year, is that when possible both she and Garza will be present during meetings with students. This change was also aimed at alleviating campus-wide concerns about SJP proceedings.“Recently, there have been negative rumors toward SJP,” Zollner said. “Some students come into our office expecting the worst. Having two people rather than just one person present is a response to concerns voiced by students.”Zollner and Garza both said SJP’s primary concern is to keep the Rice community safe and this includes being a resource for students who feel they have been victimized. “The true risk of the rumors about SJP is that they will scare students away from SJP’s services,” Zollner said. If students believe SJP is bad, they may decline to seek out SJP as a resource. This is a risk Rice students should not accept, and a risk students should actively work to guard against.” 


SA developing survey of all students

(03/25/15 4:48pm)

The Student Association is developing questions to ask the student body through the mandatory Survey of All Students, which students will complete during course registration later in the semester.According to Lovett College President Griffin Thomas, the purpose of the SAS is to collect information from the student body about both academic and non-academic issues. Thomas said the compulsory, biannual format of the survey is an improvement on the SA’s past system of collecting information.“The SA used to send out more surveys,” Thomas, a sophomore, said. “However, because they were not required, participation was not high or necessarily representative of the entire student body.”While the university administration creates most of the survey each semester, Thomas said the SA also proposes questions to be included on a variety of subjects.“There is not any one issue area that the survey is trying to address,” Thomas said. “It is rather used to identify trends across multiple topics related student life.”Weiss College President Alex Tran said the SA hopes to measure student opinion on a number of different issues.“The SA portion of the SAS will poll students on their priority and preference of use of resources for topics such as parking, campus wide spirit, grade inflation and student activism,” Tran, a junior, said.According to the minutes of the SA Senate meeting on March 18, the SA is also considering topics including athlete representation in student government, activism on campus, graduate-undergraduate interaction, campus mentorship programs and communication between students and student resources.Thomas said he plans to use the results of the survey to help determine his actions as a student leader.“This survey will definitely help to inform my campus wide priorities moving into next year, and I hope that it will help direct the agenda of the SA as [a] whole,” Thomas said.


Alumni to skip colleges on Beer Bike

(03/25/15 4:43pm)

The Association of Rice Alumni has asked alumni not to participate in Saturday morning activities at their residential colleges during this year’s Beer Bike; instead, according to the ASA, the alumni tent will open earlier and offer expanded amenities.Assistant Vice President of Alumni Relations Marthe Golden said the goals of the changes are to not only enhance the alumni experience, but also to give undergraduates the opportunity to have their own unique Beer Bike experiences in the residential colleges on Saturday morning. Student safety has also previously been an issue with alumni on Beer Bike.“We are sensitive to concerns in the colleges regarding having alumni present in the students’ residential and private areas, and in some cases, creating a potentially unsafe environment for students,” Golden said. “We are committed to supporting the well-being of our students and alumni, in order to make Beer Bike the best possible event it can be.According to Rachel Mis (Will Rice ’10), a member of the alumni Beer Bike host committee, alumni will still be able to take part in other activities at their residential colleges before Beer Bike.“There are various events throughout Willy Week that the residential colleges are inviting alumni to attend, but we are being asked to respect that many of the Saturday morning activities are intended for the current undergrads,” Mis said.Each residential college will hold an alumni tailgate on Friday, according to the ASA. The alumni tent will open at 9 a.m. Saturday morning, earlier than in past years, and will have more food and drinks as well as a disc jockey. However, alumni will also have to pay a $10 admission fee to make up for the added costs.According to Mis, the ASA developed this year’s changes due to several factors, including feedback gathered by the alumni office. Mis said the Houston 2.0 Group, made up of alumni who graduated more than 10 years ago, showed particular interest in adding alumni Beer Bike activities. “When you’re only one or two years out, it’s very easy to return to Rice for Beer Bike because you still know a lot of current students,” Mis said. “But once you’re five, 10, 20 or more years out, there’s not much for you to do. We hope some of these alumni tent improvements will meet this need.”Mis said she hopes the changes will increase alumni participation in Beer Bike.“With these changes, I think we have a chance to make Beer Bike an all-around better experience for alumni,” Mis said. “If we can build up the number and quality of alumni-focused events during Beer Bike, then alumni will be more likely to return year after year.”According to Mis, the ASA will continue to look for ways to improve the way alumni participate in Beer Bike.“We’ve implemented some experimental changes this year, and we’re going to have to see what works best and what doesn’t so that Beer Bike can continue to be the amazing experience that we all love,” Mis said.


Colin Powell to speak at graduation

(03/17/15 7:02pm)

The Rice University administration announced Wednesday that former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell will deliver this year’s commencement address on May 16.Powell served as chairman of the JCS, the highest-ranking military officer in the United States, under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, then as secretary of state in the administration of President George W. Bush. According to Rice President David Leebron, a search committee responsible for the address chose Powell because they believed he would deliver a beneficial message to graduates.“We have not generally had people I would call celebrities,” Leebron said. “We’ve had sometimes people not so well-known, sometimes very well-known, but mostly our committee has tried to find people who have accomplished something distinctive in the way of making contributions to society.”Leebron emphasized Powell’s leadership qualities as key to his selection. According to Leebron, Rice is working to improve its leadership programs as part of the newly launched Initiative for Students.“There are few better examples of leadership in the U.S. than General Powell,” Leebron said. “We are hopeful that we will have some new leadership initiatives to announce later this spring … This choice of a commencement speaker is consistent with the increased emphasis on developing the leadership capabilities of our students.”According to Leebron, Powell’s life story will also make him a good choice for commencement speaker. Powell was raised in the South Bronx by Jamaican parents and attended New York City public schools throughout his childhood.“He’s led a remarkable life,” Leebron said. “This is the son of immigrants who rose to the very highest positions in both the military and civilian government, who is widely regarded as one of the great leaders of our time, while [embodying] a person of great integrity and achievement.”Leebron said Powell has made valuable contributions to accessible education through his leadership of several organizations such as America’s Promise Alliance, which works to support children across the country. “He spends most of his philanthropic activity around the issue of education,” Leebron said. “It’s that combination of bringing together passion for what education can do and what is possible for anybody who works hard enough and brings the right values to their life.”According to Leebron, the search committee considered both alumni and faculty contacts as well as companies representing prominent speakers. Last year’s commencement speaker was Dr. Helene Gayle, the president and CEO of the anti-poverty organization CARE USA.Leebron said he hopes Powell will inspire students to consider their futures.“We expect him to stir [graduates’] thinking about their own futures and stick in them a sense of possibility of their own lives,” Leebron said. “Hopefully, they spent the last four years accumulating some of that, but this is an important moment for students and their families, and we hope they’ll be happy to have a well-recognized commencement speaker.”According to Leebron, the university wants students to work to improve society. “We want the students, while they are here, to develop a sense of what they can achieve with their lives, and it’s even better when they leave,” Leebron said. “They get the message of ‘Here’s what you can contribute with your lives, and it requires that whatever field and endeavor you choose, you can be a leader in that endeavor, you can make a difference, you can mobilize other people.’”


Rice's tuition has risen faster than its peers'

(03/14/15 6:48am)

The Rice University administration announced Friday that undergraduate tuition for the 2015-16 school year will rise to $41,560, an increase of 4.2 percent from this year’s cost of $39,880. Next year’s total cost will be $55,903. The cost of Rice’s graduate programs will also increase, keeping doctoral and undergraduate tuition equal.Rice’s records show that tuition will have risen 135 percent in the last 15 years from the average annual price paid by undergraduates in 2000-01, $17,720. Over the same period, the United States has experienced 36 percent inflation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.The tuition of many peer institutions has also increased faster than inflation over the same period, according to their archives. Vanderbilt University’s tuition rose 110 percent since 1998; Duke University and Northwestern University saw tuition increases of 91 percent and 69 percent since 2000, respectively. In absolute terms, Rice’s tuition is still less than Vanderbilt’s, Duke’s and Northwestern’s, though the gap between the prices has decreased since the beginning of the century.According to data gathered by the College Board, the average yearly cost of a four-year private college was $31,231 for 2014-15. The cost of such colleges has risen 41 percent since 1999, slightly faster than inflation. The Princeton Review currently names Rice No. 12 on its list of “Colleges That Pay You Back,” and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine ranked Rice No. 4 for best value.According to Kathy Collins, vice president for finance, tuition increases help cover the costs of educating students, faculty salaries,  library resources and other operational expenses. Additionally, Collins said tuition should be compared between schools in terms of real dollars.“Tuition at Rice has been about $5,000 to $6,000 less than at its peer institutions, so comparisons should be based on the dollar amount of increase rather than the percentage,” Collins said. “To generate the same dollar increase in tuition, Rice has to increase its rate at a higher percentage than its peers.”



SA passes 40K, splits on NROTC

(02/03/15 2:08pm)

 The Student Association Senate finalized the allocation of $40,540.92 of blanket tax money at the Senate meeting last Wednesday and rejected an initiative that would have granted NROTC midshipmen guaranteed on-campus housing. Following a deliberative process starting in the fall, the SA unanimously approved Resolution #7, which distributes the funds to the Rice Environmental Society, Queer Resource Center, Rice Emergency Medical Services, Rice Bikes and a Student Initiative Fund. The second piece of legislation the Senate considered was “Midshipmen Housing.” This bill proposed reserving on-campus housing for Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps midshipmen in a similar manner as EMS’s housing guarantee. The legislation received an equal number of votes for and against. However, the SA constitution requires a two-thirds majority for resolution approval, and the legislation was not passed.


'Green dorm' promotes students' roles in environmental sustainability

(01/28/15 3:10pm)

The Rice University EcoRep Program is preparing for the February launch of the Green Dorm Initiative 2015, its biggest annual event, with hopes of educating Rice students about environmentally sustainable living through a contest designed to increase interactivity compared to past years.The Rice EcoRep Program, which includes members of all residential colleges, implemented the first GDI in 2011 as a means of gathering more information about the environmental habits of the student body. This year, however, the GDI has expanded to include more of an emphasis on sharing information on sustainability with students, according to Head EcoRep Zach Bielak.“This year, the structure of the competition has changed massively,” Bielak, a Sid Richardson College senior, said. “We took a step back and re-examined the purpose of GDI, and we decided to make it more focused on teaching students new things every day and also getting them to carry it through in their daily lives.”GDI 2015 focuses on three themes: Energy and Water, Wellbeing, and Waste. Each theme lasts one week and includes specific daily activities to complete. Participants can win prizes based on their involvement with the program. Bielak said the activities are no longer simply based on recording energy and water usage. “We are not really concerned just with dorm life anymore,” Bielak said. “We are focused on greener lifestyles in general, lifestyles that reach beyond just living spaces. We have days that are focused on biking to places, on building community and on getting outside.”EcoRep Lindsy Pang, a Martel College junior, said the daily activities are designed to encourage sustainable practices without taking up much of students’ time.“Sustainable living is easy,” Pang said. “It is all about paying attention to what you do and creating new habits. They say it takes 21 days to develop a new habit. GDI helps with this by making the process educational, fun and interactive.”Bielak also said the GDI hopes to promote lifestyle changes, which would have a lasting impact beyond the three weeks of activities.“Our sole goal in hosting [GDI] is to get participants to start critically examining their lifestyles and behaviors and perhaps start to change them,” Bielak said. “There are so many irresponsible and wasteful actions that we commit every day without even thinking about it, and we [hope] that GDI will start shedding some light on these actions and issues.”Richard Johnson, the director of the Administrative Center for Sustainability and Energy Management, said the GDI has the potential to not only improve environmentally friendly practices at Rice, but also to inspire students to pursue sustainable research and careers.“I’ve not met a Rice student who isn’t interested in the betterment of the world,” Johnson said. “The GDI will give students an easy way that they can pursue this from an environmental perspective.”According to Bielak, the EcoReps’ goal is to have 500 students involved  in this year’s program, which would mark an increase from last year’s total number of participants. Students have until Jan. 31 to sign up for GDI online, after which the contests begin.“We believe that this year will be the best yet,” Bielak said. “I think the change of structure will get more people involved on a daily basis and will also retain the interest of people who have done GDI in the past by giving them new things to think about.”Johnson emphasized the collective nature of this year’s GDI as one of its most important attributes.“It will foster a shared culture of sustainability on campus,” Johnson said. “It’s not just an individual activity; it’s also a community activity, a shared experience.” Brown College freshman Radhika Sharma said the community aspect of the GDI drew her to the program.“What really appeals to me is the opportunity to participate in an activity with a bunch of friends and like-minded people who want to support environmental causes,” Sharma said. “[The GDI is] a chance to work for a common cause that is important to our collective values – sustainability [and] the environment.”


FERPA records requests reveal little

(01/28/15 3:09pm)

Rice University students hoping to gain access to admissions records through a 40-year-old federal law may not find the revealing information they expect, according to Director of Admissions Dan Warner. A website started by Stanford University students, the Fountain Hopper, recently piqued interest in accessing admissions records by publicizing the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act and urging Stanford students to request their records. This 1974 law, known as FERPA, allows students to request access to their admissions records at any university receiving federal funding, but has rarely been used for this purpose historically. Warner said he had not received any FERPA requests at Rice until the Fountain Hopper published its article; since then, the admissions office has received around a dozen.“The law has been in place for 40 years,” Warner said. “I’ve been in admissions for 25 years, and it’s been 20 years since I’ve gotten a FERPA request at any of the schools where I’ve worked. So it’s not a usual thing.”By law, the university has 45 days after a request to comply and provide the students with their records. The information provided depends on the department from which it is requested; for example, a student would receive different information from the registrar’s office or the admissions office.“Different offices retain different information at the same institution, and the same office might retain different information at different institutions,” Warner said. “We might, for example, keep different information on file permanently [from] Stanford.”According to Warner, the admissions office does not keep most of the records used during the consideration process, including teacher recommendations, internal notes and almost all material authored by the student.“It’s interesting for students to exercise  [their FERPA] rights,” Warner said. “Frankly, it’s a nice professional development opportunity for my staff – but at the same time, there’s not a whole lot of information of the nature I suspect students are wanting.”Warner said the admissions office does keep demographic information such as name and address, as well as test scores, while the registrar’s office also retains students’ high school transcripts and test scores. Additionally, the admissions office keeps records of messages sent out to prospective students, including whether messages have been opened by students, according to Warner.“We can do some analysis on how many messages were opened, how many students actually came, so we can assess the efficacy of different messages and our process,” Warner said.Warner also said the office keeps certain pieces of information about matriculated students to generate a profile of the incoming class for publicity, with information such as the number of class presidents or students involved in community service.“We aggregate that information,” Warner said. “[But] there’s really not any need for [most records]. Once a student is admitted and matriculating to Rice, we don’t have a need to keep [the information].”According to Warner, students wishing to see records must submit a request to a particular office. The admissions office is developing a process to provide information to students. “We’re not going to get 1,000 requests like Stanford has gotten, but we obviously want to facilitate multiple requests,” Warner said. Under the new system, Warner said the admissions office would likely schedule appointments during which they would show students their electronic records. However, the office is not required to and will not provide a hard copy, partially to protect the proprietary software used to organize student information. According to Warner, students who made information requests should receive a response from the admissions office detailing next steps sometime in the coming week.Warner said the increased attention to FERPA requests will not have any effect on the practices of the admissions office in the future.“We’re still going to ask for the same information we asked for in the past,” Warner said. “Every year we try to improve on what we do but it’s largely going to be the same.”




Faculty Senate reconsiders AP policy

(12/03/14 7:12am)

Drew KellerStaff WriterA Faculty Senate committee is studying the school’s policy of awarding course credit for high scores on most Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams amid concerns that such credits give some students an unfair advantage and a less comprehensive college education.University Committee on the Undergraduate Curriculum Chair Susan McIntosh presented an analysis of the committee’s current policy on Pre-Matriculation Credits at the Nov. 12 Faculty Senate meeting. McIntosh said many other universities have reduced the amount of AP and other exam credit they grant in recent years.“We wanted to just examine, to see the kind of effect of these credits and our policies, which are quite liberal,” McIntosh, a professor of anthropology, said.According to McIntosh, the committee found that students with more exam credit hours spent significantly less time at Rice, based on data from students who matriculated in 2006, 2007 and 2008.“Students who are coming in with less than 20 to 30 credit hours are, in general, taking more than eight semesters to graduate,” McIntosh said. “[Students] who are coming in with over 30 are taking between 7.5 and eight semesters to graduate. What we take from this is that it’s a disadvantage for students to come in without many credit hours that their majors require.”Additionally, the committee’s data showed a clear correlation between exam credits and GPA, with more exam credits corresponding to a higher GPA. Michael Wolf, the faculty director of the Rice Emerging Scholars Program, said students without many exam credits might not be as prepared as their peers for college academics.“There happens to be a very high correlation between not very many AP courses and decently crummy high schools,” Wolf, a professor of mathematics, said. “So it’s not just how many college credits you come in with; it also correlates to their general preparation to do Rice work.”Wolf also said international students have less access to AP courses, though IB and several other programs offer comparable credit. However, according to President David Leebron, access to college-comparable courses in high school does not affect admission to Rice.“We judge applicants by the level of courses they take relative to what is offered at their school,” Leebron said. “Students who attend a school that offers honors credit, and who choose not to take those courses, ... are heavily disadvantaged in the application … They can get straight As and we don’t treat that as a straight-A student.”At the Faculty Senate meeting, several faculty members expressed support for reducing the extent to which AP credit is applied, including Gerald Dickens, a professor of earth science. “There should be a minimum threshold of what a student has to experience in college, has to experience in classes,” Dickens said. “There should be a minimum threshold of distribution.” Dickens said he was concerned with students’ ability to get a Rice degree with a relatively small number of actual college classes and students using exam credits for distribution and never taking classes outside of their major. “I think the argument that students are taking too many classes is false,” Dickens said. “It’s students taking [fewer] and using AP credits, consistently.”However, the data presented by McIntosh showed the number of credits students earn at Rice generally is not affected by the number of pre-matriculation credits, at least for the large majority of students matriculating with fewer than 60 exam credits. The mean number of Rice credits earned by graduation increased slightly from 116.7 to 119 between 2006 and 2008.“We didn’t see any trend [with regards to pre-matriculation credits] there,” McIntosh said. “[Exam credits] allow students to experiment with more majors in different types of schools.”Michael Diehl, a professor of bioengineering and chemistry, also disagreed with the argument that students use exam credits to reduce the number of courses they take at Rice.“It’s my impression that it could be quite the opposite,” Diehl said. “I’ve had a number of students come through my laboratory who want to do research but don’t have the time … They’re loading up on credits, not getting out of them. I think there’s a tendency in the undergraduate populace to take too many courses.”According to Wolf, the workload required by many majors, especially in natural sciences and engineering, is difficult for students to handle without pre-matriculation credit. Wolf questioned whether it was plausible to graduate with majors such as bioengineering without exam credit. Adrian Perez, a Brown College freshman, also said test credit could provide a valuable advantage.“It’s helpful to have a head start with AP credits, especially for engineering,” Perez said. “I think [the credit system] is fine how it is right now, but if they were to change something it would only be for specific majors … Like a chemistry major wouldn’t be able to use AP Chem, but any other major would be. I know [General] Chemistry is way harder than AP Chem.”Cody VanZandt, a sophomore computer science major, said his lack of AP credit has set him back in his major. VanZandt’s high school did not offer AP classes for him to take.“I know for sure it’s put me definitely behind the ball on my Comp Sci degree, especially switching into Comp Sci sophomore year,” VanZandt, a member of Brown College, said. “At this point, I’m going to have to take classes outside of Rice. Especially if you decide to change your major, it makes a serious difference.”


Course, instructor evaluations show engineering lags

(11/18/14 3:51pm)

Course evaluations have improved on average for all academic schools at Rice University since they were first published in 2004, but the engineering and natural sciences departments still lag behind social sciences and humanities in both course and instructor evaluations.President David Leebron mentioned the rise in evaluations during his speech to the Student Association on Oct. 1, and the evaluation process is currently being investigated by an SA Senate subcommittee that includes students, faculty and Registrar David Tenney (Sid Richardson ’87).Course evaluations have been made publicly available since 2004, a development Tenney said is valuable to Rice’s student body.“There’s a recognition that evaluations serve an important role for Rice students,” Tenney said. “They’re not just for teachers; they’re critical forstudents.”Since 2007, all six of Rice’s academic schools have shown improvement in two important measures included in evaluations: average course quality and average instructor effectiveness. Both of these metrics are measured on a five-point scale where one is the best possible response and five is the worst. The departmental averages have fallen by between 0.1 and 0.2 points since 2007, with the School of Architecture and School of Social Sciences showing thegreatest improvement. Despite the advances, a clear difference still exists between the evaluations for the STEM and non-STEM subjects. Since 2007, the School of Engineering has consistently had the worst or second-worst average course and instructor evaluations, around 2.15 and 2.1 respectively for the fall 2013 semester. This is between 0.3 and 0.4 points worse than the School of Social Sciences, the School of Humanities and the School of Architecture, which are all in the 1.7to 1.9 range. The School of Natural Sciences has received evaluations only slightly better than the School of Engineering, standing at 2.05 for course quality and 1.9 for instructor effectiveness for the fall 2013 semester. The School of Music, on the other hand, has the best evaluations of any division at 1.5 for both metrics, though it has shown the least improvement, about 0.05 points,since 2007.However, not all engineering classes or even majors have lower evaluations than other subjects. For example, mechanical engineering and chemical and biomolecular engineering courses tend to have worse reviews than computer science and electrical engineering, which are actually comparable to average courses in the humanities. In addition to this trend, which holds true across departments, upper-level courses generally have better evaluations than introductoryclasses.Dimitri Nikolaou, a  chemical and biomolecular engineering major, pointed to course difficulty and lack of focus on teaching as reasons for the School of Engineering’s worseevaluations.“The kids are pushed more, so innately they’re more frustrated because they have to work more,” Nikolaou, a Brown College junior, said. “I feel like more engineering professors are brought in for being research-oriented rather than oriented toward undergraduateteaching.”According to Alexandra Franklin, the Brown Senator and a member of the SA Senate subcommittee on evaluations, the SA plans to modify the evaluation process in the future to make it more useful to administration andstudents. “We are currently looking into different options for future evaluations,” Franklin, a junior, said. “The changes will probably take about two years to completely integrate, but everything is pending presentation to the Teaching Committee at large and the Faculty Senate.”With the changes, Franklin said the SA hopes to continue the role of evaluations as an important tool in the Rice community.“We want to create evaluations that better serve the students, the faculty themselves and the administration as a whole,” Franklin said.


Journalist reflects on Mexican identity

(11/12/14 7:52am)

Alfredo Corchado, a well-known Mexican-American journalist and author, spoke at Rice University about drug-related violence and journalism in Mexico this Monday.Corchado, who was born in Mexico, said his experience with journalism began after his family immigrated to the United States; when he was working on a farm in California at age 13, a reporter investigating immigrant labor asked him how old he was.“It really marked me; it was like, wow, somebody really wants to tell my story,” Corchado said. “What a noble profession... It’s that sense of giving a voice that always inspires me.”Corchado said he later dropped out of high school and expected to become a hairdresser, but he ended up graduating from community college in Texas and then attending the University of Texas, El Paso and finally Harvard University. Corchado has worked for the Dallas Morning News since 1994, winning several journalism awards, and is now the Mexico bureau chief for the newspaper.Earlier this year, Corchado also authored a book, Midnight in Mexico, which relates his experience reporting in the dangerous conditions of present-day Mexico. According to Corchado, the book deals with the emotional side of his experiences much more than his reporting did.“As reporters, something we do a pretty good job of is keeping our emotions to ourselves,” Corchado said. “And then when you open the gates, it’s like a flood — the emotions take over. There were times [writing the book] when I couldn’t stop crying.”Corchado identified his split Mexican-American identity as one of his main sources of emotion.“It’s the nostalgia of the immigrant,” Corchado said. “It’s like you’re searching for your identity, you know, where do you belong? Do you belong in Mexico, do you belong in the United States? That’s the tears — it wasn’t just the bloodshed in Mexico, it was also this longing to belong to one country or the other.”Throughout the talk, Corchado emphasized the importance of being informed about events in Mexico. He pointed to the protests in the U.S. of South African apartheid when he was in school as an example of Americans becoming passionate about a foreign injustice.“I wonder whether that kind of outrage is here about Mexico,” Corchado said. “I think what Mexicans want more than anything is for the outside world to share her pain.” Enrique Walsh, a Baker College sophomore originally from El Salvador who attended Corchado’s talk, also said he emphasized the importance of spreading concern for Mexico.“I always find it very interesting and encouraging that people like [Corchado], who have first-hand experience with these problems, can spread their voice, write a book,” Walsh said. “[They] make other people feel the same way I feel, and other Mexicans and Central Americans feel, about issues that are very hard to solve.”Walsh said he went to the discussion hoping to hear about possible solutions.“I see a lot of the same problems in my country as in Mexico,” Walsh said. “I was curious about how [Corchado] treated these problems in his book and if he would talk about any solutions.” While acknowledging the continued conflict in Mexico, including the recent disappearance and likely murder of 43 students in the state of Guerrero, Corchado concluded his talk on a hopeful note.“Think about where Mexico has been in the last 20 years,” Corchado said. “And yeah, this is a very dark, difficult time in Mexico. It’s almost like the country is transfixed by what has happened with the massacre of these students in Guerrero... but it’s also a much more plural, much more open society [than 20 years ago].”According to Corchado, the fact that the media has been publicly reporting on the role of the government in Guerrero is emblematic of the changes occurring in Mexico more generally.“Think about the fact that you have journalists today who in the last ten days have been shedding all this light about the administration,” Corchado said. “That kind of stuff you wouldn’t have seen 20 years ago. Is it a country that has changed? No. But it’s a country that’s changing.”


New Economics chair initiates revamp

(10/21/14 4:07pm)

A multiyear revamp of the Rice University economics department has begun under newly-hired professor and department chair Antonio Merlo, who plans to take major steps to develop Rice’s economics teaching and research.Merlo, a native of Italy, moved from the University of Pennsylvania to Rice this summer to head the economics department and the Rice Initiative for the Study of Economics (RISE). In these roles, he will lead the effort launched by President David Leebron to rework the department, which Merlo said is currently not fulfilling its potential. “[The Rice economics department is lagging] in a very basic way,” Merlo said. “The economics department at Rice for several years has not been ranked in the place that Rice University deserves. Rice University has been consistently a top-twenty institution; the economics department is not that status. I think that this is something Rice University [should] strive to have: a first-rate economics department that is on par with the quality of the institution overall. That’s why I’m here.”Merlo said Leebron’s vision for the future of economics at Rice is what attracted him to the job at the university. “The stated goal is really to make this a vibrant department that is able to attract the top researchers from around the world, where faculty are actively engaged in teaching and can give the quality of teaching the students deserve and be a vibrant intellectual community where economics thrives,” Merlo said.According to Merlo, RISE is taking several steps towards this goal, starting by hiring 10 more faculty members. Merlo said four academics from the University of Pennsylvania, including himself, and one from Johns Hopkins University have already been hired. “The fact that distinguished scholars were willing to embrace the vision and come here to Rice should already be a testament to how things are changing and evolving,” Merlo said. Merlo said the department is also working to revise the curriculum to better fit the needs of Rice’s undergraduate and graduate economics students.“The curriculum is trying to offer a broader set of classes, but also a different set of classes,” Merlo said. “So it’s not just a matter of a sheer number; it’s also how do we envision a natural progression in the fields of study so that everything makes sense.”The addition of new faculty involved in research will also enhance economics at Rice, according to Merlo.“The way I view the research enterprise is that there are individual faculty who are all interested in different areas, and once you bring them together it expands the set of questions they can address,” Merlo said. “We want faculty who can bring their research experience into the classroom.”Merlo said research experience in addition to teaching ability are important qualities the department is searching for, especially for lower-level classes.“For teaching introductory courses, a combination of people who are really invested in the teaching mission and really invested in the research mission may be the way to go,” Merlo said. “Certainly, the goal is to have a department that is recognized worldwide for their research but also their excellence in teaching.”Mathematical economic analysis major Andrew Jacobson agreed that a focus on introductory economics classes would improve the department.“The gap I see is in the lower level, especially because you have a lot of different [professors], and they all have different teaching styles, so when you get up into the upper levels, people are going to have different levels of knowledge and that’s kind of where an imbalance happens,” Jacobson, a Brown College senior, said. “My experience has been really good once [I reached] the upper-level classes.”According to Merlo, RISE is a five-year-long plan, and the department has just begun to implement changes; more specific plans are under development.“I think we’re just at the early stages, but certainly things are going very well,” Merlo said. “It’s amazing how our alumni, the board, all the friends that Rice has, how energized the whole community is and how responsive people have been to the initiative.”Merlo said he is optimistic about the initiative’s prospects.“We can do something really amazing together, starting with the students and working all the way up to the administration,” Merlo said. “I think the chemistry is there, and there are certainly some positive vibes in motion that are making people understand it is a viable initiative, which is very exciting and the potential gains are very large.”According to Merlo, a strong economics department is important due to the field’s ability to address a wide range of topics.“I was always fascinated by economics as a discipline that really allows you to answer a very diverse set of questions, but at the same time uses a common language and diverse set of tools to answer those questions,” Merlo said.Merlo taught at the University of Minnesota and New York University before beginning his latest tenure at the University of Pennsylvania. Over the course of his career, he said he has researched topics ranging from conventional economics to crime and the choice of politicians by political parties.“My view of the field of economics is a little different than the traditional view; I actually view economics as the science of choice subject to constraints,” Merlo said. “Economics is not just macroeconomics; it’s not that if you’re an economist the only conversation you can have is what’s going to happen to the interest rate.”According to Merlo, the department will incorporate this expanded view of economics as it adapts to changes in the field.“Economics is so central to everything we do in human life,” Merlo said. “It can really help a lot in almost every aspect of whatever career an individual may choose to have.”