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Looking back at Rice presidents

Photo courtesy Thresher Archive

By Riya Misra     10/25/22 10:19pm

In light of Reginald DesRoches’ inauguration this past Saturday, the Thresher looked back at past Rice presidents and their respective inaugurations.

Edgar Odell Lovett

Although never officially inaugurated, Lovett served as the first president of Rice. According to the Thresher’s April 10, 1947 issue, Lovett presided over the university’s formal inauguration in October of 1912 before passing along the university’s reins to Houston in 1947.

William Vermillion Houston

A physicist hailing from the California Institute of Technology, Houston was officially inaugurated in April of 1947 after spending a year in office, according to the Thresher’s April 17, 1942 issue. Deeply invested in science and engineering fields, Houston announced during one of his inauguration speeches changes he had enacted to the engineering curriculum, such as requiring engineering students to enroll in core subjects.

Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer

Pitzer marked yet another West Coaster in the history of Rice presidents. A Californian chemist, Pitzer was inaugurated Oct. 10, 1962, according to the Thresher’s Oct. 17, 1962 issue. During his speech, Pitzer indicated a higher graduate student enrollment and stronger international presence within the student body as goals for his upcoming presidency. Pitzer ultimately resigned in Aug. 1968, electing to return to his Californian roots as president of Stanford University.

William H. Masterson

Standing a whopping five days, Masteron’s presidency marked the shortest — and most tumultuous — of Rice presidencies. According to Fondren Library’s Digital Scholarship Services, Masterson was appointed in February of 1969, after Pitzer’s resignation. The university’s failure to consult the proper student-faculty Presidential Selection Committee, prompted an outburst of peaceful protest from students and faculty, leading to Masterson’s resignation. It’s important to remember that these protests occurred in the late ‘60s, amid a cultural phenomenon of student rebellion: think feminism, the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement.

"It impresses me that Rice is capable of being a model of a new type of operation between student and faculty," Thomas Leland, head of the chemical engineering department at the time, said in the Thresher's Feb. 28, 1969 issue. "This may be the most important contribution Rice has ever made as a University."

Norman Hackerman

Soon after the dust from the Masterson fallout settled and Frank Vandiver's term as acting president finished, Hackerman was officially inaugurated on Sept. 24, 1971. An "uncomfortably warm crowd" bore witness to Hackerman's speech, where he emphasized the importance of leadership to continue and preserve the culture represented by Rice, according to the Thresher's Sept. 30, 1971 issue.

George Erik Rupp

An unlikely president himself, a theologian with degrees in religion instead of science, as well as expertise in Buddhism, not engineering, Rupp was inaugurated on Oct. 25, 1985. The Thresher's Oct. 25, 1985 issue said that Rupp was at the center of Rice's transition from a science-oriented Southern institute to a greater, more encompassing, university.

"We are firmly committed to the crucial importance of technical competence, whether that competence is in music or in the use of language or in engineering or in designing experiments or in architecture or in public policy analysis," Rupp said in his inauguration speech, which was quoted in the Thresher's Nov. 1, 1985 issue.

Malcolm Gillis

Gillis was inaugurated in a three-day festival, from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31, 1993. 8,000 attendants, along with hundreds of delegates from other universities, arrived in Houston to bear witness to his inauguration, according to the Thresher's Oct. 29, 1993 issue. Of course, the highlight of the ceremonies was Tea Trike — a more family-friendly parody of Beer Bike, with cups of chamomile chugged instead of Corona.

David W. Leebron

In 2004, Rice saw its second-most recent president, Leebron, be inaugurated. The ceremonies featured 220 university delegates, coupled with an academic procession, according to the Thresher's Oct. 8, 2004 issue. In true Houston fashion, sudden rain forced the ceremonies indoors — a true Rice inauguration.

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