Rice hosted its semiannual Town Hall meeting in the Shepherd School of Music's Stude Concert Hall on Wednesday morning. An audience comprised largely of faculty and staff filled the auditorium to listen to President David Leebron make a special presentation in celebration of Rice Day and the university's 99th birthday.
Research at Rice
Leebron opened the meeting by giving an outline of his presentation and talking about notable discoveries from Rice's past and present – from David Hellum's research of artificial hearts to Matteo Pasquali's studies about continuous blood flow pumps. He also mentioned Robert Curl and Richard Smalley's discovery of the buckyball and Jim Tour's research on solar panel and LED lighting.
Leebron also cited the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, Rice Public Art Program, and Shepherd School of Music as examples of lasting community presences that arose from Rice initiatives. He said he was especially impressed by the growth of the Rice Business Plan Competition. When it was started in 2000, the competition offered $10,000 in prize money; today, it has become the biggest business plan competition in the world, with 42 teams competing for $1.4 million in prizes next year. Leebron added that the competition helped launch 250 start-ups.
"The numbers astound me every time," Leebron said.
Leebron added he commended the research being done in Brockman Hall and the Bioscience Research Collaborative and internationally in countries like Brazil and Japan. Overall, research funding at the university has been growing, reaching $115.3 million in 2011, Leebron said.
Rice's Staff and Faculty
Leebron then discussed the growth of Rice's faculty and staff in recent years, citing a growth of almost 200 faculty members between 2000 and 2011. He added that the faculty recently received a variety of awards and recognitions, including a National Medal of Science and a musical piece performed by the Houston Symphony. Rice has been featuring the achievements of its faculty and students through Youtube videos, Leebron noted.
"I'm really excited about the exposure these videos have been getting for Rice," Leebron said. "Steven Spielberg should take a look at some of them."
The number of students applying to Rice grew by about 1,500 students compared to last year, Leebron said. While Rice's admission rate has decreased, the percentage of students accepting the university's offers of admission has increased, leading to the expansion of the undergraduate body.
"Our admissions are still hot," Leebron noted.
However, he said the 1000 students who entered Rice this year was an overestimate, and the university planned to compensate for this by only permitting 935 applicants into Rice in 2012 and only gradually shifting that number back to 950.
Leebron mentioned that while the university admitted more students from Texas in 2011 than in previous years, they comprised a smaller percentage of the overall undergraduate population because the number of non-Texan students had increased at a higher rate.
In the face of diminished funding from the Texas legislature, Rice has increased their private financial aid to meet the needs of undergraduates, Leebron said. Still, around 17 percent of Rice undergraduates are Pell Grant recipients, a proportion higher than in other universities like Stanford and Yale.
This year, Princeton Review ranked Rice in the top 20 of a variety of categories, including number one for quality of life and number six for race and class interactions. Leebron said he was especially happy about the university being classified as having the happiest students.
Leebron also described the campus' increased vibrancy, including more places to gather and eat and more special events like concerts and lectures.
"I remember asking a freshman if she wanted to study abroad, and she said no because she was too happy at Rice," Leebron noted. "Perhaps we need to make it just a little bit more miserable here," he joked.
Rice's budget grew from $385 million to $525 million from fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2012, though the proportion of revenues attributable to the endowment has decreased, Leebron said.
Leebron also spoke about the current state of the endowment, pointing out its decrease due to economic hardships in 2009 and subsequent recovery. He also said Rice has raise $741 million of the $1 billion Centennial campaign goal.
Leebron then talked about Rice's working and overall environment, saying each staff position at the university averaged around 87 qualified applicants, with 26,786 applications for 306 jobs in 2011.
"It is harder to get a job at Rice than to become a student here," Leebron noted.
During the economic downturn, Rice minimized layoffs, maintained a steady pay raise pool, and kept insurance coverage comprehensive with the smallest possible premium increases, Leebron said.
The Rice campus is currently suffering a crisis, according to Leebron. The recent drought has led to the loss of 20 trees and the university has mobilized to save the rest of them, Leebron said.
The university is also undertaking a variety of water conservation measures, raising building temperatures and retrofitting showerheads and toilets.
Leebron closed his speech by talking about the ways Rice is currently reaching out to and making an impact on the surrounding community, such as through the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program and Rice Owls Crochet Knitters.
"Rice stands for responsibility, integrity, community and excellence, and it is time for us to yell that we are here." Leebron said. "UT has its own brand of bottled water, but Rice has its own beer!"
Leebron then reviewed a few upcoming additions to the university in celebration of the centennial. Namely, new banners featuring benchmarks in Rice history will be hung around campus, and the university has started the Centennial Story Project, where faculty, staff, alumni and students can post anecdotes about their Rice experiences. Furthermore, through the new Centennial Stars program, 100 nominated staff members will be recognized for excelling at their jobs, supporting the goals of the university, positively impacting Rice culture, and contributing to a better future.
Leebron said he encourages everyone to take part in this year's Rice Day festivities and continue to celebrate Rice at upcoming events like the Unconvention in the spring before the ultimate Centennial Celebration, which will last from Oct. 12 to 14 in 2012.
The meeting ended with performances from the Fly Rice Owls Dance Team – Rice's step team – and the Rice Chorale.
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