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$25 million for social science building

By Molly Chiu     3/29/12 7:00pm

Rice University is adding one more building to its landscape. At its March 22 meeting, the board of trustees approved a proposal for a new School of Social Sciences building, funded by a $25 million donation from Rice alumnus Robert Klein. The Robert A. Klein Hall for Social Sciences will be located across the Inner Loop from the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and is planned to house all social science departments except psychology. A construction start date has not been decided.

Klein, who earned his master's and doctorate in economics from Rice in 1975 and 1976, respectively, said that he thought Rice needed a new building for social sciences because the discipline had outgrown its space.

"The social science[s] ... have faculty and classroom space spread [out over] several buildings on campus," Klein said. "This impedes collaboration and is inefficient."

Dean of the School of Social Sciences Lyn Ragsdale echoed Klein's statements and said a new building would increase the strength of her school.

"The greatest benefit to the building is that there will be a singular physical presence for the social sciences on campus," Ragsdale said. "It is more than having a majority of our departments, centers and institutes all in one place. The building will be a symbol of Rice's strength in the social sciences."

Klein said he hopes to build that strength, especially in the field of research.

"I have a vision to raise the quality of social science research at Rice," Klein said. "I would like to create research and collaborative areas within the new building for graduate student study. I will be seeking additional contributions to fund these resources."

Ragsdale said she is looking forward to these collaborative areas.

"We have a real chance to incorporate the very best ideas on teaching and learning into the design of these facilities," Ragsdale said.

When asked what he thought the importance of the social sciences is in today's age, Klein said, "I think of engineering, the sciences, law, medicine and computer science as disciplines that teach tools. The social sciences teach the users of the tools how to more responsibly use them."

Klein currently works as the director of Riverbank Power, a renewable energy firm. When asked what advice he had for social sciences majors, he said, "As you may know, my undergraduate degree is in chemical engineering. I would encourage the social science majors to remember that engineers are people, too, and appreciate cocktail and dinner party invitations."

President David Leebron said he was very thankful for Klein's donation to Rice.

"We are tremendously grateful to Bob Klein for such a visionary and generous gift at a time when the social sciences are growing rapidly in importance both at Rice and in the world," Leebron said. "With a location in close proximity to the Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Jones Graduate School of Business, this new addition to our campus will facilitate collaborative interdisciplinary study and create a policy-oriented corridor at Rice that will further contribute to solutions for the pressing problems of our city, our nation and our planet."

He added that he thought the new building would alleviate campus-wide space issues.

"In addition to addressing space needs of the social sciences and enabling more rational and collaborative approaches to space, the social sciences building will free up needed space on a campus which is now very tight for space for both academic and administrative purposes," Leebron said.

Brown College junior Ben Seidensticker said that although he had some reservations about taking up more campus space, he would appreciate a new building.

"I'm kind of concerned that they're constructing another building on campus," Seidensticker, mathematical economic analysis major, said. "They are covering up a lot of green space. But it [will] be cool for social sciences to have an identity [in one building]. I've had economics classes in Sewall, in Keck, in Herzstein, and it would be nice for the department to be in one place."

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