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NEWS 10/7/14 5:14pm

In-class instant feedback programs pilot to test popularity against current system

Seven Rice undergraduate professors from various departments began piloting two different in-class instant student feedback programs, Top Hat and Poll Everywhere, at the beginning of the fall semester. The end goal of these pilot programs is to select a standardized immediate feedback system to be used by professors across campus. Though the official Rice audience feedback brand has been Turning Point for the past five years, professors have individually branched out to implement various other student polling systems, such as iClicker, in their classes. The pilot programs exist due to professors’ expressed interest in moving towards a unified product at the end of last year, according to Carlos Solis, Assistant Director of Academic Technology Services.“Over time, faculty members have started using different products all over campus, and during a meeting with faculty members early last year, there was an expressed desire for standardization,” Solis said. “[They wanted] a product that is more flexible than what we have right now that will add capabilities that will serve instructional purposes of the faculty better.”Solis acknowledged that professors who have already become accustomed to using particular brand products, like iClicker, might have difficulties making a system transition over to Top Hat or Poll Everywhere. However, he said there would be a benefit for everyone to find one product to fit most people’s purposes. “We want to get to the point of standardization where students do not need to be carrying different clickers or applications on their cell phones or using one product in one class and another in one class,” Solis said. Rice IT identified products on the market and narrowed the choices down to Top Hat and Poll Everywhere after considering the systems’ features and reviewing feedback from other academic institutions and Rice faculty members who have previously used them, according to Solis.Having utilized iClicker in his previous classes, Professor of Physics and Astronomy Paul Padley is one of seven professors piloting one of these two programs.“If I just think about my experience as a professor, I would prefer iClicker [over Top Hat],” Padley said. “However, when I imagine the student perspective, I think Top Hat is better because of the [free] cost and the [reduced] burden of students losing their clickers.” Martel College freshman Jorge Whitley has been using Poll Everywhere in General Chemistry I, a class that has previously used iClickers for instant feedback.“Though I see where it might be useful, it seems to be used primarily as a method of taking attendance,” Whitley said. “I think the polling system itself is clean and easy to use. It’s a question with four answer choices and that’s it, but many of the questions asked in the class have more than one right answer, which can be frustrating given the single-response restriction.”If Rice transitioned towards using one of these systems, there would be no additional individual monetary cost for students beyond the single annual payment that the university would make for a site-wide license. According to Solis, the price of this annual payment is yet to be negotiated and will be largely determined by the choice of response system and the final total volume needed as dictated by the quantity of users. Both systems being piloted offer attractive, user-friendly features that add to the range of interactions professors can have with students, Solis said. “With your typical clicker, you can answer ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’ or ‘E’,” Solis said. “With these clickers, you can submit full-text answers, so you can have open-ended questions. There is also the opportunity to ask questions using images and point on the parts of the image for the different answers.” The range of interfaces on which these downloadable programs can be accessed gives professors more room to include all students in this immediate-response-mediated learning.  “We do a survey at the beginning of the year that lets us know what students are bringing to Rice,” Solis said. “Students are, on average, bringing one laptop plus two to three wireless devices with them.”Sid Richardson College sophomore Sean Dilliard said he has tried multiple forms of feedback programs and is glad to hear that professors are using programs other than iClickers.“Considering the high cost I paid to make use of the technology once, maybe twice in my time during the class, I found the iClickers to be rather impractical,” Dilliard said. “While the use of iClickers is rooted in good intentions, to engage the class and increase interactions with the curriculum, their minimal use at such a high cost offsets most of their good. There are and always have been better alternatives to the clickers; I made use of them in one of my CHBE classes.”According to Solis, Top Hat and Poll Everywhere allow students to use specific applications that they can install on their phone, either iOS or Android. The programs can also be accessed through a browser on a phone, laptop or tablet. Student may also use text services and submit answers via SMS.The opinions of faculty members and students will have weight in the final institution-wide decision, according to Solis. In November, both groups will be invited to attend a presentation made by current professor users who will discuss their experiences with Top Hat and Poll Everywhere. “We feel that if we bring vendors to do a sales pitch to the faculty, we will get always get the rosy picture, and it is important to have the users present their experiences to make decisions based off of real-world usage scenarios rather than vendors’ self-serving interests,” Solis said. “Towards the end of the semester, we also want to survey the students in the classes where these products are being tested.” The IT department would like to act quickly after a faculty and student-driven choice is made. “We would like to have this decision taken care off so that by the fall of 2015 we can move forward with a unified system,” Solis said.

NEWS 10/7/14 5:00pm

SA begins review of Honor Council taxes

The Student Association Blanket Tax Contingency Committee sent Honor Council a request for documents and a written statement regarding the organization’s blanket tax on Oct. 5. The Contingency Committee compiled a list of questions for Honor Council, which the organization must answer in a statement by Oct. 20. According to the official statement released by the Contingency Committee, Honor Council must submit a budget for the coming year and documentation of the organization’s C-Fund and D-Fund. All registered clubs managed by students and overseen by a department have a C-Fund through which their funds are handled, and the D-Fund is used for specific activities within a department. Honor Council must also explain the amount of money spent at its annual changeover dinner, the reoccurrence of a rollover more than 50 percent, the importance of such a rollover to the organization and how a decrease in their blanket tax allocation would affect spending. According to SA President and Contingency Committee Chair Ravi Sheth, the Contingency Committee can recommend a decrease in funding to the Student Senate if Honor Council is found in violation three years out of a four year period. The new proposed blanket tax amount would then be placed on the ballot. However, Sheth said the current system is not feasible and does not encourage responsibility within blanket tax organizations. “Our current blanket tax processes are broken,” Sheth, a Martel College senior, said. “Lengthened, multi-year processes limit the agility and ability of student groups to respond to initiatives and new ideas; this year we are struggling to fund exciting and impactful initiatives such as Future Alumni Committee, Rally Club, Senior Committee or even Homecoming. Furthermore, these processes, in my opinion, do not encourage responsible usage of student money.”Honor Council External Vice-Chair Shayak Sengupta said the organization plans to work with the Contingency Committee to reach a viable solution. “The Honor Council looks forward to working closely with this new committee to resolve the blanket tax issue as quickly as possible,” Sengupta, a Will Rice College senior, said. “We hope to develop a feasible, transparent solution to the challenges that have arisen. Furthermore, we hope that this solution is fair and equitable, first and foremost to the student body and to all blanket tax organizations.” The Contingency Committee, which met on Oct. 3, had met earlier this year to address the concerns raised by Honor Council’s blanket tax review. However, the previous meeting was invalidated because it was not publicly announced, violating the SA Constitution.  All information regarding the Contingency Committee, including future meeting times and locations as well as public documents, can be accessed at sa.rice.edu/btcc. The Contingency Committee will meet with Honor Council the week of Oct. 27 and is currently accepting public comments.

NEWS 10/1/14 3:54am

Baker Institute hosts panel discussing lessons and applications of World War I

The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy hosted a panel discussion titled “Causes and Consequences of World War I: Can the Past Speak to the Present?” on Thursday, Sept. 29, featuring University of Houston Honors College Professor Robert Zaretsky, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies Adam R. Seipp, Samuel McCann Professor of History Peter C. Caldwell and commentary by Bonner Means Baker Fellow Joe Barnes. Robert ZaretskyAccording to Zaretsky, the past itself does not speak. Rather, the interpreters — the historians — try to make it speak, and when they ask if the past speaks to the present, they need to specify which past, and which present. “The events of June, July and August of 1914 were not the beginning of the war,” Zaretsky said. “Instead they were the beginning of the end to a story that had begun years before. But when it exactly did it begin? Did it begin in 1903, with the assassination of King Alexander and Queen Draga of Serbia? Or did it begin in the 1890s, Alfred von Schlieffen’s plans for a war fought on two fronts by Germany, or did it  begin with the so called German War Council of 1912? Does this mean we should forget 1892 and the Franco-Russian Entente?”Zaretsky said where a historian decides to enter a story is just as crucial as where she chooses to start her story.“It goes without saying that these decisions are made by the historian’s particular present, namely the way her own time and her own place have shaped the questions she poses to the past,” Zaretsky said. People need to be careful about equating history with learning lessons, Zaretsky said. “All of us, I suspect, know that famous [quote] of George Santayana’s — those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” Zaretsky said. “But we forget that Santayana was a philosopher and a poet. He was not a practicing historian. In fact, is it not equally likely that those who do remember the past are doomed either to repeat it, or to make equally appalling mistakes? Consider the actions of the European leaders during the summer of 1914. They were persuaded that the July crisis of that year, sparked by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was no different than the earlier crises that had traversed the continent, and that all of these crises had been surmounted by European diplomacy. They had been resolved peacefully or contained locally.”Zaretsky said it was this past, marked by diplomatic scrambling and muddling through, that political leaders in Europe remembered in 1914.“20,000,000 casualties, immeasurable horrors and hardship later, the world learned its lesson,” Zaretsky said. “We learn from past mistakes only to make new ones.”Carl CaldwellCaldwell said history seldom offers lessons, and it is important to analyze it at a specific level, not a general one.“[History] offers complex circumstances and unforeseen outcomes,” Caldwell said. “Historical actors are only ever partly aware of what’s going on around them; often, maybe usually, they’re surprised by outcomes. If we abstract from the specifics of an event to find a general lesson, to try to utter a scientific verdict about the causes of war, we risk losing the real dilemmas that historical actors actually faced. In other words, the search for the lesson can actually obscure the history.”Caldwell said the two World Wars seem to offer two big, general lessons about the origin of war.“1914 seems to offer a lesson about what happens when diplomacy fails and military planning takes over — one must keep diplomacy open to preserve the peace, right?” Caldwell said. “When military plans are activated, all the good intentions of diplomats become useless with horrendous outcomes. 1938, however, seems to offer the opposite lesson — diplomatic efforts to preserve the peace at all costs can lead to disastrous consequences.”According to Caldwell, underneath these lessons is also an interpretation of the event itself, as well as the interpretation of the event now that is compared to the past. “To declare, as some of our politicians have, that the situation in Syria today is like 1938, is to make an assumption that something in Syria is like Nazi Germany,” Caldwell said. “I’m not sure what — whether it’s [Bashar al-] Assad’s regime, or whether it’s ISIS. The complexity makes it really hard to make a judgement on the case at hand.” Adam SeippSeipp explored the question of what lessons those who participated in the first World War, and later participated in the second World War — namely French military commander Maurice Gamelin, German Chancellor and war leader Adolf Hitler, and lawyer-turned-politician-turned-President of Czechoslovakia Edvard Benes — derived. “In these three very brief examples, what we see is a bright, flashing cautionary tale about the so-called lessons of history,” Seipp said. “These were men who watched the same war from different vantage points and who derived completely different lessons from it.”Those lessons were mutually contradictory, Seipp said.“In some cases, those lessons would lead directly to state policies that, in part because of what happened in the second World War, seem to us to be morally dubious or atrocious,” Seipp said. “It was the lessons of World War I, as absorbed by this cohort, that would help to fundamentally shape the far bloodier war of the 1940s.”Seipp said, if we want to understand Europe’s disaster fully, we need to see that the two World Wars were fundamentally intertwined. “We have to look to a generation that was not just butchered, that was not just slaughtered, that was not just a lost generation,” Seipp said. “It was a generation that absorbed the lessons it had been taught in Flanders, on the Isonzo River, in the forteresses in Galicia. A generation that absorbed those lessons all too well, even when those lessons were fundamentally opposed to the lessons learned by someone living across an international border.”Joe BarnesBarnes said the question of when World War I begins and ends can be applied to the current situation in Ukraine.“You could quite plausibly say the crisis in the Ukraine is a mopping up operation at the end of a century-long struggle for mastery in Europe, the first armed portion of which ended in essentially an armistice and a stalemate, the second portion of which ended in defeat of Germany, the third portion of which ended in the defeat of the Soviet Union,” Barnes said.Barnes said he found all of the presentations interesting.“They gave us a small taste of how complex and contentious this issue remains after a full century,” Barnes said.McMurtry College sophomore Ruby Sanchez said she particularly liked Caldwell and Seipp’s speech for how they animatedly wove a narrative about the figures, governments and conflicts that started the war and how they lingered into the next one.“As a whole I thought [the discussion] was very interesting and well worth going to,” Sanchez said. 

NEWS 10/1/14 3:53am

Visiting students to receive Rice Gmail accounts for duration of their stays

The IT department is making provisions for visiting undergraduate students to have Rice Gmail accounts, according to Barry Ribbeck, Director of Systems, Architecture, Infrastructure, Cloud Strategies and Initiatives at Rice University. Visiting students are those enrolled at another college or university, but are approved, enrolled and classified as a non-matriculated Rice student.Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said visiting students should have the same access to Gmail as other Rice students. The decision to switch visiting students from RiceMail to Rice Gmail was collectively made by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduates, the Office of the Registrar, the IT department and the Administrative Department.“The Student Association Senators brought this issue to me, explaining that our visiting students were not able to have the same access to Gmail as all other students,” Hutchinson said. “We agreed that this was not appropriate. In the interest of fairness to all students, we wished to extend Gmail access to the visiting students.”Google Student Ambassador Julia Hossu said Gmail, unlike RiceMail, is part of Google Apps for Education, which provides educational organizations features including email, online storage, calendars and file sharing within the university.“Currently, visiting students, faculty and graduate students do not have a Google account due to a variety of intellectual property and privacy reasons,” Hossu, a Martel College senior, said. “The main issue that pops up is they are not officially part of the Rice University Google community, so any documents, surveys, etc. shared publicly to only members of the Rice community will not be accessible to them.”According to Ribbeck, the IT department is modifying existing account-management software to automatically provide visiting students with Rice Gmail accounts.“There are two pieces to the process,” Ribbeck said. “One is to ensure that any new incoming students who are marked as visitors get a Gmail account. And then we have to take care of migrating all of the existing visitors from the current mail system to Google.”According to Manager of Rice IT Technical Communications Carlyn Chatfield, the IT department will migrate visiting students’ RiceMail accounts to Gmail on Sept. 30. “During the migration process, [visiting students] will have access to new messages immediately and [their] old messages will be transferred at a rate of 1 message/second until they have all been migrated,” Chatfield said in an email to affected students.Ribbeck said visiting undergraduate students, like any other Rice student, will retain access to their email accounts for eight months after they leave Rice.“[Three months after they leave Rice], we remove the ability for the students to be able to change their passwords,” Ribbeck said. “All the services still work. Sometime in the fall, we start a cleanup process. We start doing communications with them, for about two to three months. Generally in December or January, all the [graduated] students are purged from the system. All [their data] are gone.”Bela Kelbecheva, a visiting student from Paris, said she is happy about this change because with her RiceMail account, she has no access to other Google Apps resources.“[RiceMail] was OK to write emails,” Kelbecheva said. “But it’s impossible to delete mails on [RiceMail]. If you delete it, it still stays there, just crossed out. [RiceMail is] a bit inefficient overall, [and it is] hard to find old emails. I’m happy that communication within Rice is facilitated for me.”

NEWS 10/1/14 3:52am

New cloud-based CampusPress to host Rice blogs

The IT department has signed the contract to switch from WordPress to CampusPress, a specialized blogging platform designed for schools, this month. According to Rice University Director of Enterprise Application Andrea Martin, the switch was discussed in October 2013, and will be made later this year. Martin said CampusPress will address student demand for additional plug-ins and custom themes and provide for greater storage and unlimited blogs, users and bandwidth since it’s hosted online instead of Rice’s servers.“It’s a very good deal for the campus,” Martin said. “[Bloggers] will be getting much more functionality through the cloud offering compared to what we were able to provide on campus.”In addition to the new features that CampusPress will make available, Martin said using CampusPress’ cloud offering will be less expensive than providing the blog services through Rice. Martin said the change will occur seamlessly by December, after a short three-month test period done by the CampusPress company. “The names of [all the existing blogs] will remain the same and you won’t really know that it is hosted on the cloud versus here at Rice,” Martin said. “We will also keep our old server for a while, so there will be opportunity and time [to fix] any issues that are to come up.” Martin said she will send out notifications to administrators of any blog.rice.edu site and ask them for their feedback. She said she hopes CampusPress can be integrated with OwlSpace course blogs to improve learning experiences.“They have a module that we are going to try once we go into production and see whether it will work with Owlspace,” Martin said. “We are hoping that is the case, but that is something that we will consider in the future.”

NEWS 10/1/14 3:51am

Forum on Ferguson draws large crowd

A panel of faculty, staff and students held a town hall discussion entitled “Mobilizing Student Dialogue: What happened in Ferguson? Could it happen here?” to address the shooting of Michael Brown. The event, sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Center for Civic Leadership, had more people in attendance than could be seated at Farnsworth Pavillion. Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9. His death led to protests and continued unrest. According to Felicia Martin, Associate Director of the CCL, the purpose of the town hall was to create a safe space for diverse perspectives and inquiry.“We hope that this conversation will inspire you all to challenge your own assumptions and the assumptions that your peers might have about some of these issues,” Martin said. Donald Bowers II (Hanszen ‘91), Association of Rice Alumni Board President, served as the moderator for the conversation. The event was divided into two parts; in the first, panelists presented on police brutality against people of color and, in the second, panelists answered audience questions. Associate professor of history Alexander Byrd discussed the history of the killing of African-American youth in American history, according to Bowers. Byrd said students should educate themselves as scholar-activists.“The methods of social control and the violence meted out to so-called New Negroes in the late 19th century is of a kind of similar type of violence that is often meted out to African-Americans now,” Byrd said. “I don’t think that 2014, in this context, is a new era.”Associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese Luis Duno-Guttberg discussed criminalization of minorities and mass incarceration, as well as racial profiling.“Racial profiling rests in a visual regime, [fed] by a series of cultural discourses that fit into seeing the other as the criminal,” Duno-Guttberg said. “This is not connected to a single policeman who is racist. There is a whole history that constructs that whole visual regime.”Rice University Police Department Chief Johnny Whitehead said there are reasons other than bias to explain why events such as the Ferguson shooting occur, including poor training, lack of equipment, poor recruitment processes and lack of accountability when these events do occur. Whitehead also said he encourages students to know their rights during police encounters.“There are some things that we can do when we have an encounter with a police officer, in terms of how we react,” Whitehead said. “Make sure that you’re doing everything to keep the encounter safe as well.”The three student panelists included Rice Democrats Outreach Co-Chair James Carter, Women’s Resource Center Wellness Coordinator Michelle Pham and Will Rice College junior Abraham Younes.“I’m proud to be black, but in recent years, being black has been something that has scared me a lot,” Carter said. “With what happened to Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, it scares me that I can step outside my home and not come back because of some miscommunication, whether I made it or whether someone else [mis]understood it.”Younes said a night when he was jaywalking and was passed by police caused him to draw parallels between his life and Brown’s. Brown had been walking in the the street when he was shot. “How many more black boys and brown boys have to die before we realize that this is not about one cop?” Younes said. Several audience members contributed to the discussion, causing the event to run longer than its planned 90 minutes.Paige Polk, a Martel College senior, said she grew up surrounded by black males who were taught to regulate their behavior around authority figures and assumed that females were immune to discrimination. Polk said the discussion had been geared toward black and Latino men.“Are the conversations we’re having about black and brown men because they do face more targeted oppression, or is it implicit of sexism?” Polk said.Batter responded to Polk with a discussion on how men of color may behave a certain way in the presence of authority, and how social rules are taught to children. According to Batter, the way people of color must be aware of their behaviors from an early age indicates it has become their responsibility to respond to prejudice.“Quite frankly, although I appreciate the comments about ‘This is what I have to do when I walk into a store,’ you shouldn’t have to do those things,” Batter said. “Nobody should have to do those things. If men are being told you have to do this so you don’t get killed, know that it’s your responsibility, that’s unconscionable. ”Carter spoke after the event about engaging students who do not feel involved in issues such as Brown’s shooting.“While you might look at a situation and say this has nothing to do with me, I’m not a black, young male in Missouri, that doesn’t mean that you or the people you care about are not affected,” Carter said. “Everyone is affected when things like this happen.”

NEWS 10/1/14 3:50am

SA discusses bill to create task force on education

The Student Association is considering a bill that will create a task force to examine the future of education at Rice University. Trent Navran, the SA Executive Vice President, introduced the bill to create the Rice Education of the Future task force at the Sept. 24 student senate meeting; the bill will be put up for vote at the senate meeting today, Wednesday, Oct. 1.Navran said the idea to form and chair the REF task force arose from discussions about the Rice experience that occurred during the centennial, such as the Student Vision for the Second Century.“Going as far back as the centennial ... one of the key priorities we wanted to emphasize [was] advancing the Rice education,” Navran, a McMurtry College senior, said. “[Students] came up with really neat ideas that weren’t really acted upon ... so we were kind of thinking about how we want to spend the year as a student association and … came to the conclusion that we could really benefit from focusing on the Rice experience, how we as a student government could advance it.”The task force plans to discuss integrating co- and extracurricular opportunities into the curriculum, promoting social impact, connecting Rice with the Houston community and adding value to the Rice education in the face of changes in digital education, among other topics.Navran began the process by collecting opinions on the Rice education from graduating seniors at the end of last year. He said the importance of co- and extracurricular activities emerged as a theme during those discussions.“A lot of people remark that they did all these cool things outside of the classroom despite their Rice courseload,” Navran said. “At some point, I think it would be fantastic to see things a lot more in alignment, that the things you’re learning in class are related to the questions you’re asking and sharing with your friends at lunch, which is related to the extracurriculars you’re taking on and the problems you want to solve.”The task force will include 11 members: four at-large undergraduate representatives, one senator, one college president, four new student representatives and Navran. Navran said he wants to include students with different academic interests on the task force.“Whether it’s advancing entrepreneurship, changing physical spaces on campus to enhance collaboration, or changing degree requirements to emphasize a more experiential learning process, it would be ideal to grow our team’s interests and abilities by finding people on campus who are plugged into different academic areas,”Navran said.Online EducationThe first line of the bill states: “Whereas, the proliferation of digital technologies and Massive Open Online Courses has caused higher education institutions to continually rethink their value proposition regarding their offerings to students and communities.”Navran said the increasing relevance of Massive Open Online Courses, or ‘MOOCs,’ such as Coursera and edX, both of which Rice participate in, has forced colleges to reevaluate their value to students.“There’s a threatening aspect of MOOCs, which is you no longer need to go to a place like Rice for a quality computer science class or go to Princeton for a high quality history class; you can take them from those institutions for free on Coursera,” Navran said. “What that means for institutions like Rice is they can no longer say they’re offering an amazing academic experience; the value proposition has to shift.”Reid Whitaker, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Learning and Scholarship at Rice University, said he views MOOCs as supplements to the Rice education in the future, though not replacing it entirely.“Rice is an institution that prides itself on small classrooms and interactions, especially the relationship between teacher and student,” Whitaker said. “What I do think that will happen is we will see more ways in which students can complete different courses that may not be the essential pieces [of a Rice education].”Whitaker said MOOCs have the potential to increase the academic breadth of a Rice education through facilitating interaction with other universities.“What’s inside the hedges is the best, but reaching out there and connecting with other professors, other students at other universities ... can really enhance the experience for all students,” Whitaker said. “While we may have some limitations with Rice in terms of some co-curricular activities, MOOCs can provide an opportunity to research about all sorts of things.”According to Duncan College senior Brian Baran, MOOCs will not fundamentally affect the education Rice currently offers.“I think there’s a reasonable case to be made that higher education on the level that Rice is providing is about a lot more than the classroom experience and that the classroom experience is about much more than the lectures and assignments,” Baran said. “It’s also about being in the classroom with people from a variety of backgrounds and having quality discussions that can’t yet really take place in an online environment.”Whitaker said he also thought MOOCs will not be able to replace the core Rice classroomexperience.“I think that MOOCs will never replace that laboratory experience, the immediate live conversation, the non-verbal, the connections, the experience of college,” Whitaker said. “That can never be replaced by a MOOC, and it can never get to that level.”Moving ForwardBaran said he believes the bill should be reworded to make it clear that the task force does not presuppose specific changes should be made to the Rice education.“We should first be asking whether we need to fundamentally change the way we approach higher education, because the answer to that question determines the type of adaptations that we should be making to new technologies and opportunities,” Baran said. “I think the language of the bill implies that we have already determined that major changes need to be made, and that’s a question that the task force should first be asking and considering.”Jones College senior Lillian Seidel teaches a section of UNIV 110: First Year Foundations. She said Rice should try to incorporate leadership and extracurricular commitments into its curriculum, citing the Certificate in Civic Leadership as an example.“[Education should be] about personal development, and that was mentioned in Leebron’s Vision for the Second Century,” Seidel said. “That is something important to consider, especially when moving forward and planning the next century of what a Rice education is going to look like.”The bill states the REF task force will submit its members for approval on Oct. 8, hold town hall meetings and conversations in October and November, present progress updates on the Oct. 15, Nov. 5 and Nov. 9 senate meetings, present a document of findings at the Nov. 29 senate meeting, and submit the document to the administration’s Quality Education Task Force and Office of the President before Dec. 5. Navran said he hopes the conversations leading up to the creation of the document will be fruitful.“There are a lot of points where there is a lot of constructive data coming in, and this document will hopefully be the culmination of all of that,” Navran said. “I’m hoping that, along the way, there will be a lot of things that can inform faculty [and] administrators about what really does matter most to students.”

NEWS 10/1/14 3:48am

Show me the money: Honor Council blanket tax investigation stalls

After the Student Association Blanket Tax Standing Committee referred the Rice Honor Council to a Contingency Committee last spring for investigation into its finances, no further official follow-up has been pursued this year. As a blanket tax organization, Honor Council receives a blanket tax of $2.00 per student. All blanket tax organizations must submit a budget in the fall to the SA’s Blanket Tax Standing Committee for review. However, last fall, Honor Council declined to submit a budget for the 2013-14 year in a letter from former Internal Vice Chair Isabelle Lelogeais that outlined the organization’s expense report. “It is not possible for us to create a proposed budget, as our expenses are entirely dependent on factors beyond our control, such as the volume of cases we receive,” Lelogeais, a Jones College senior, said in the letter. The only fixed annual expense that Honor Council incurs, Lelogeais writes, is a changeover dinner that is a tradition for the organization. Despite admitting that the changeover dinner is an annual tradition, Honor Council did not include this expense in any of their reports since 2008 save one. The receipt for the 2013 changeover dinner indicates that Honor Council spent $1,400 on a meal for 30 people, which amounts to around $50 a person. In Lelogeais’ letter, however, she said the dinner is an important function for Honor Council. “While the price on this meal might seem very high ... it is a large number of people and it is essential for the organization,” Lelogeais writes. In the Blanket Tax Standing Committee meeting held last February, Honor Council maintained that its $29,000 in accumulated surplus and unspent revenue was necessary to cover unexpected costs, but it did not believe that a decrease in the blanket tax amount was needed, according to the Annual Review Report on the committee’s proceedings. Currently, based on the $2.00 per person blanket tax, Honor Council’s self-reported projected revenue for 2013-14 was $7,900.  “In its meeting with the committee, the Honor Council tended toward acknowledging that a blanket tax amount of $1.25 per student per year would be sufficient for the Honor Council to function from year to year while making adequate savings,” the report states. “However, the Honor Council declined to voluntarily request a decrease in funding.”In the Annual Review Form submitted by Honor Council, the organization stated that it received a blanket tax of $1.00 per student, which is half of the actual value. According to the Annual Review Report, Honor Council leadership did not know their organization’s actual blanket tax amount. “The Council acknowledged that past leadership has been unaware of its level of blanket tax funding,” the report states. “There has apparently been confusion as to whether the amount was $1.00 or $2.00 per student per year.”Honor Council released a projected budget for 2013-14 after its meeting with the Standing Committee. Of the $12,448.35 projected expenses, $9,291 was allocated for one-time expenses such as computers, tablets, a printer and a scanner. As per previous years, $1,500 was allocated for the changeover dinner (at $50 per person), as well as $250 worth of gifts from the Rice Bookstore for members. The budget also allocated $815.35 for sales tax on purchases, despite the fact that Rice is a tax-exempt organization. In a letter to the Standing Committee, Associate Dean of Undergraduates Donald Ostdiek said he supports Honor Council’s blanket tax level. ““I consider [Honor Council’s] use of its blanket tax funding to be appropriate, relevant to its purposes and consistent with its mission statement,” Ostdiek said in the letter.  According to Sid Richardson College President Nick Cornell, the Honor Council’s budget presented concerns over the amount of blanket tax funding the organization received. “Their operation expenditures are not really that high. In any given year, they do not have substantial fixed costs... most of it’s just variable costs, [such as] pens and [paper],” Cornell, a Sid Richardson College senior, said. “There was a concern that they were getting a fairly large blanket tax that can not possibly be spent on that much paper.”The Standing Committee referred Honor Council to a Blanket Tax Contingency Committee to further look into the organization’s funding. The purpose of the Contingency Committee, whose members were chosen last April, is to “conduct an in-depth review of Honor Council’s use of its blanket-tax funding,” according to an Executive Memorandum sent by SA President Ravi Sheth. “The end goal of the Contingency Committee is to determine Honor Council’s standing with regard to the blanket tax review criteria and...suggest a more appropriate level of funding,” Sheth, a Martel College senior, wrote in the memorandum. The Contingency Committee did not meet last year. The first meeting took place this September, but this meeting was invalidated because it wasn’t publicly announced and therefore violated the SA Constitution. Contingency Committee member Anastasia Bolshakov said she feels that a decision should have already been reached by now. “I think we should probably have already had a decision by this point, since the blanket tax process has started all over again,” Bolshakov said. “I think there are still a lot of questions about the [SA] Constitution. How we’re supposed to proceed is unclear.” A contingency committee has never been formed under the current blanket tax review process.“It’s a really hard process to go through, because there’s never been a contingency committee before,” Bolshakov said. According to the SA Constitution, a blanket tax organization needs to be found in violation by the Contingency Committee three years in a row before a change in the blanket tax level can be implemented. Cornell, who currently serves on the SA’s blanket tax pod, said this system is not feasible. “In practice this doesn’t work, because we are students and we only have a four year lifespan at Rice,” Cornell said. “Finding a group in violation three years across administration when we’re only here for like four years overall is just incredibly challenging to do.”Cornell said one the issues that the pod is looking into is potential reforms to the process so that is easier for students to implement changes to the blanket tax levels that they voted on. “The blanket tax  is a draconian process for all parties involved,” Cornell said.  “It involves a ridiculous amount of paper work and a ridiculous amount of work reviewing the paperwork and numbers year after and year only to arrive at results that don’t mean anything.”According to University Court Chair Brian Baran, the blanket tax review process as a form of student oversight is essential.“The SA leadership has been very good at advocating for its role in oversight of the blanket tax, but that needs to be accompanied by better following through on that oversight,” Baran said. “What’s the point of having an annual review if we don’t follow up on problems that it identifies?”Honor Council could not be reached for comment. 

NEWS 9/25/14 7:29am

Pod structure to encourage discussion

The Rice University Student Association is employing a new group structure, referred to as a pod, to address four presidents’ topics of interests: the LPAP requirement, campus-wide election timelines, campus-wide announcements and calendars and the blanket tax process, according to SA President Ravi Sheth.“I can't possibly claim to know the solution to these topics –– or if there is any current problem with them at all –– so I am asking small groups of four or five students to consider these topics and provide recommendations to [the] Student Senate as to how to proceed,” Sheth, a Martel College senior, said.According to Sheth, each pod will focus on a different topic.“These small groups are open to any student, and the college leadership have been asked to [inform] any relevant students who are interested in working on these issues that they can join,” Sheth said.According to Sheth, the four topics originated from discussions with different groups on campus.“In a given week, I have 15-20 hours of meetings and hundreds of emails, with groups ranging from students [such as] college presidents, senators [and] SA committees, to faculty, staff and administrators,” Sheth said. “These issues have come up in these settings or discussed informally with students.”Lovett College President Meghan Davenport said she thinks all four topics are equally important. Davenport, a senior, said she is interested in participating in the pod focused on the blanket tax process.“I think it is very important to examine the processes through which people can get funding for campus-wide initiatives,” Davenport said. “I know the staff of the Student Center does great work with that already, but even they are constrained if the process is not ideal. I have seen more and more campus-wide organizations coming to the colleges for funding, which may be okay in the short term to test out ideas if the college approves but is not a sustainable solution. It is not a good practice for the colleges to be allocating money to things that they ultimately have minimal oversight on.”University Court Chair Brian Baran said he also thinks it is important to discuss the blanket tax process because the blanket tax system allocates a huge amount of students’ money.“It's certainly worth discussing whether there's a better system for allocating those student funds in order to maximize the value they provide to the Rice community, both in terms of what organizations accomplish with them and how accessible they are to organizations deserving of student funding,” Baran, a Duncan College senior, said.Baran said he thinks the campuswide election timeline is an equally important topic.“Election timelines impact just about every student and student organization at Rice and connect to a lot of other important discussions, such as how we can make it as feasible as possible for students to study abroad,” Baran said.According to Sheth, the pod focused on the LPAP requirement will discuss whether the current requirement is in line with its original mission and possible alternatives. The pod for campus-wide announcements and calendars will discuss whether the status quo is efficient and whether a campus-wide calendar will improve the situation.Sheth said he expects the pods to provide recommendations to the SA on how these four areas should move forward.“This will be an efficient way for us to quickly gauge opinions on these issues and potential for future changes, while also making sure what we are doing is in line with what students want, and not just what I or our leadership wants,” Sheth said.Baran said he supports the idea of pods because it engages people with a strong interest to start a discussion on the topics that could lead to more formal consideration.“Because the Student Senate tends to have a crowded agenda with topics that have been raised by the administration or are the subject of legislation, it's hard to find time to discuss topics that haven't yet developed to that point,” Baran said. “The pod system is a beneficial expansion of the SA's ability to gather and structure student input and, thus, to accomplish something valuable to the student body.”According to Sheth, he will appoint the groups of students for each topic at the SA meeting on Sept. 24, and the groups will present their initial recommendations at the Oct. 8 SA meeting.

NEWS 9/25/14 7:27am

Jones School of Business develops Masters of Accounting program

The Jones School of Business is launching a new Master of Accounting program that will earn students their Master of Accounting degree in one year. Rice previously offered the MAcc program, but it dissolved in the late 90s due to lack of student interest and lack of a need for this type of program in the accounting field at the time, according to Program Director Benjamin Lansford.

NEWS 9/25/14 7:18am

RUPD to begin notifying before towing vehicles

Students, faculty and staff will be notified before their vehicle is towed for parking in an unauthorized parking lot as of Sept. 15. According to the Rice University Police Department Chief of Police Johnny Whitehead, this policy applies to registered vehicles left in unauthorized parking lots for more than two days.

NEWS 9/25/14 6:58am

Competition prompts boba sale limits

Rice University student clubs need to start looking for new fundraising ideas, due to new limits placed on boba tea sales this academic year. According to Rice Taiwanese Association President Tim Chang, three years ago the only clubs that sold boba tea were the Chinese Student Association and RTA. Chang, a McMurtry College senior, said when other clubs discovered the $200 profits boba tea fundraisers were raising, they started to sell boba tea as well, creating competition over boba tea customers amongst clubs.

NEWS 9/17/14 5:36pm

Rice responds to national divestment trend

In an email sent to the Rice Environmental Club on Sept. 3, Club President Hutson Chilton said the club would, among other initiatives and if members were interested, enact a campaign to encourage the university to withdraw from, or divest of, fossil fuel investments, following a trend at other American private universities.

NEWS 9/17/14 5:33pm

Working group looks to students

The Working Group on University Responses to Federal Initiatives on Sexual Assault continues to seek student opinion on the new sexual assault policy, according to Associate Vice Provost Matthew Taylor. Taylor and Lovett College President Meghan Davenport, the student representative of the working group, gauged opinions at the Student Association Senate meeting on Sept. 10.