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On July 1, Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman sent an email detailing Rice University’s fall semester plans to the undergraduate student body. However, this email — like the previous emails updating students on fall plans — had a caveat: these plans could be subject to change, depending on the evolving coronavirus situation in Houston.
On June 19, an anonymous group of Black students released a list of demands for the administration called “Tangible Ways to Improve the Black Experience, as Demanded by Black Students: Inaction is Not an Option.” The six-page document was circulated widely by current students and alumni on social media, and went on to catch the attention of Fox News, who ran a biased story on the demands that was riddled with inaccuracies, including the false claim that the group behind the demands was associated with the Black Student Association. The story, which incorrectly named certain students as leaders of BSA, led hundreds of people to flood the organization’s Instagram and email with racist criticisms — some of them containing racial slurs.
In case the massive fences and mud pits did not make the fact obvious, Rice is undergoing a surge of construction. But beyond the large-scale additions of the pavilion, new power plant and two new colleges, there are also subtler improvements in campus life — notably, replacing and upgrading the emergency phone system.
The Jones Graduate School of Management proposed a doctoral program in management to the Graduate Council last semester. While we greatly applaud this step of increasing research on campus, we have a big reservation about the courses associated with the doctorate.
On May 25, Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. Chauvin, a Minnesota police officer, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on the ground. Floyd did not merely “die in police custody” as the Washington Post and other publications continue to insist on phrasing it. As Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe, a police officer killed him. Active voice.
On Monday, California State University, Fullerton became one of the first colleges in the country to announce that it will start the fall semester virtually. Rice is not CSUF — a 40,000-student campus in a state significantly more affected by COVID-19 than Texas — so we do not expect the Rice administration to announce contingency plans at this time. The status of the fall semester at Rice has not yet been announced, and the administration has not communicated their plans or decision to the Thresher or the student body at this time. But when they make plans about future semesters, which they will have to do eventually, we urge them to consider the following factors.
This Thursday, the Faculty Senate will meet to finalize their April 22 agenda. As an editorial board, we endorse the measures they plan to vote on. As students, we are suggesting they take a step further to consider more accommodations such as making finals optional for all students. We also ask that professors take proactive steps now to adjust their classes, regardless of what the Faculty Senate eventually decides.
President David Leebron previously promised staff members that “despite the significant reduction in campus activity this semester,” Rice would not furlough or reduce compensation for its employees in his March 15 email. However, little clarifications or information on how Rice will be supporting employees has been released since then. At the Thresher we have been wondering: Who at Rice is considered an “employee,” and how are less visible populations being protected during this time?
Last week, we urged the administration to grant students academic accommodations in light of the unprecedented era we are existing in. That happened the next day, when the Faculty Senate voted unanimously in favor of a series of motions intended to alleviate the weight of academics on undergraduates this semester, including one that allows students to designate all courses this semester pass/fail. We applaud the administration for taking such an important step in doing right by students as we try to navigate the rest of our semester remotely.
Other universities gave students very little time to move out, mandated that all students leave campus no matter their home situation or gave their students very little information. In light of this, we want to commend the administration, faculty and staff for doing the best they can in constantly changing circumstances. Communication about the crisis began early and stayed up to date. For the most part, professors have been working hard to transfer the rest of the semester to an online format and have been empathetic to student concerns with the restructuring of classes. President David Leebron and Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman were also quick to offer partial refunds for room and board and other fees, a step that many universities have yet to take.
As students in the midst of a global epidemic, we understand that there are things we must sacrifice for our safety and the safety of our community: no in-person classes, no Beer Bike, no school-sponsored trips. We accept these measures because we understand what’s at stake, but the problem is what we don’t understand: The information being obscured from us or only slowly leaked out, a handful of people at a time. While we appreciate the abundance of caution that the university has taken, we find transparency and communication rather scarce in a time when it’s more necessary than ever.
Basmati Beats, one of the a cappella groups on campus, recently won first place at a national competition, an already impressive feat made only more difficult by the lack of funding received from the university. They’re not alone: most clubs are not consistently funded by the university on a yearly basis except for some club sports and blanket tax organizations, which include the Student Association, the Thresher, Rice Program Council and eight other organizations.
Early voting ends this Friday, Feb. 28 and Election Day is next Tuesday, March 3. If you have the privilege of being registered to vote, get out the vote on behalf of yourself, your communities and everyone who is institutionally excluded from our election processes. Political apathy is rampant in this country and on our campus with only 42 percent voter turnout last year. But we urge you to care. Our future will be shaped by the people we elect to office and the decisions they make regarding the issues we talk about, protest for and care about.
“At this point we are beating a dead horse,” the Thresher Editorial Board wrote in 2017. “If the [Student Association] cares so deeply about the constitution … then why do they continue to completely disregard it?”
Last Sunday, Ashley Fitzpatrick began a write-in campaign against the previously uncontested internal vice president candidate Kendall Vining. While the Thresher’s editorial board normally endorses candidates in contested races, we were unable to reach a consensus on endorsement for the IVP role of either Vining, a Martel College sophomore and former new student representative, or Fitzpatrick, a Martel sophomore and current senator.
Saturday night, hundreds of Rice students paid $2 to stand in line for one of the most popular publics of the year, Y2K, with some waiting over two hours only to not get in. Despite claiming that they based the number of wristband sales on statistical “models” that would allow entry to everyone, McMurtry College refused to release this data publicly, leaving the logic and intent behind this new system unclear. Additionally, the conflicting explanations given by various McMurtry student leaders have muddled the situation rather than clarified it.
With the start of a new election season, there are only a few weeks remaining for the current Student Association Executive Council to meet goals set at the beginning of their terms. Given the Thresher Editorial Board’s previous endorsement of Grace Wickerson for SA president on the basis of promises they made at the time, we were particularly interested in progress made on those promises. Basing our research on publicly available SA records and our own coverage, we found that while strides in two areas — financial accessibility and support for underrepresented groups — were significant and laudable, many campaign promises fell to the wayside or were not raised at all after elections.
As undergraduates, we are far more likely to be familiar with the everyday work and initiatives that come from the Office of the Dean of Undergraduates than those from the Offices of the Provost or even the President. Often, the Thresher’s coverage reflects this uneven familiarity. However, when Rice announced that current Dean of Engineering Reginald DesRoches was named the incoming provost, we were excited for the new era of university leadership to come.
In the spirit of the new year, we as the Thresher’s editorial board have set a few resolutions and invite y’all as the readers to hold us accountable. Going forward, we want to be more transparent about our operations as well as maintaining the standards and policies we’ve created this year in the spirit of transparency.
Ask any Rice student why they chose this university, and they might say they were excited about the residential college system, the small class sizes or even Beer Bike. But every student is ultimately here to get an education, and most of us are privileged enough to take that for granted.