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NEWS 1/28/15 3:08pm

Class size growth prompts concerns

The size of Rice University’s student body has increased by 36 percent over the last 12 years as called for by President David Leebron’s Vision for the Second Century; however, the growth has prompted some students and faculty to express concerns about class sizes. According to Leebron and Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson, the administration has addressed this by hiring more faculty and looking further into optimal class sizes.

NEWS 1/28/15 3:06pm

SA revamps election timeline, voting

The 2015 General Elections have officially begun and according to Director of Elections Austin Cao, they will be conducted through an improved version of Owlection, a program that contributed to the partial invalidation of last year’s elections.Positions to be contested are the Student Association Executive Board and Blanket Tax organization leadership, including Rice Student Volunteer Program, Honor Council, University Court, Rice Program Council, Campanile, Thresher, KTRU, RTV and Sammy the Owl.In the first-round elections of 2014, two candidates, Lovett College junior Min Ji Kim and McMurtry College senior Trent Navran ran for the SA presidency. Navran gained the most votes in the election, but it was found that a loophole in the Owlection system permitted alumni to vote. “Last year in the first round of elections, we allowed all Rice students who had a NetID to vote in the general elections,” Cao, a Hanszen College freshman, said. “We discovered last year that there were alumni who voted, so we had to redo the elections.”Two SA senators filed a petition to contest the results, citing this issue as one of their four claims. University Court acknowledged the validity of two of the four filed complaints and partially invalidated the outcome of the presidential election. Consequently, a re-run of the entire elections was held via Qualtrics as opposed to Owlection. Ravi Sheth, the current SA President, ran as a write-in candidate in this second round and won; Ravi then appointed Navran as the SA executive vice president. In addition, three candidates began running for the position of SA internal vice president in the second round, when none had run in the first round; Hanszen College sophomore Sai Chilakapati won the position. The election re-run also saw a greater turnout than in the first time it was held, although several candidates were afraid a 20 percent quorum would not be reached. In light of the invalidation of first-round elections results last year, Cao said this loophole has been corrected.According to Cao, the Election Committee will again utilize Owlection, a webapp developed by Rice Apps, in the voting process. Cao said Owlection now has built-in functionalities that will restrict the pool of eligible voters to the currently enrollwed undergraduate population.“Our solution now is to get a list of all the current undergraduates from the Registrar first,” Cao said. “We’re now able to limit voting to that specified list of Rice undergraduates.”According to Cao, this year marks the beginning of a move toward the full adoption of Owlections, which shows support of Rice student initiatives.“In terms of the voting system itself, we don’t want to rely on third-party software anymore,” Cao said. “We want to continue using Owlections, which was created by Rice students, and continue to support them and help them make it more stable.”In addition, Cao said a webapp is currently under development so that, in the near future, candidates may turn in electronic rather than paper copies of their petitions. According to Cao, online submission could potentially become available in time for the second-round elections.“Our Director of Technology, Xilin Liu, has been developing a webapp for submitting petitions,” Cao said. “That way we can guarantee that people are getting the right number of signatures, that there aren’t repeats and that petitions don’t get lost in the process of turning them in.”Along with its decision to invalidate first-round election results, in a letter written last year, UCourt also emphasized the importance of publicizing meetings held by the Election Committee. Two of the petition statements that were not validated by UCourt were concerned with Cao said the Election Committee will remain transparent throughout the process.“All of our meetings are open to the public,” Cao said. “We’ll announce it on the SA website. [If anyone] wants to come join … they can definitely stop by.” 

NEWS 1/21/15 6:14pm

Student Judicial Programs revises Code of Conduct

Student Judicial Programs released an updated student Code of Conduct that went into effect beginning Jan. 12. According to their website, they aim “to articulate and enforce standards of conduct behavior among all students.” The new code includes several key updates that provide details on many aspects of student behavior.

NEWS 1/21/15 6:05pm

27-day homeless challenge pushes student to self-reflection, policy efforts

“Homeless but not hopeless. Happy holidays!” read a sign held by Hanszen College senior Chris Chu while panhandling in Washington, D.C. Chu slept outside of metro stations, panhandled and contemplated stealing food during a 27-day period in which he lived among the homeless in Washington, D.C. as part of an effort to better understand them.

NEWS 1/21/15 5:42pm

Rice hosts second ever Symposium on Teaching and Learning

Rice University’s second ever Symposium on Teaching and Learning focused on providing practical tips on how to connect with students. The symposium, which took place on Jan. 16, featured a roundtable discussion, a keynote address and multiple Rice faculty teaching demonstrations.

NEWS 1/14/15 5:16pm

Leebron ranks seventh in compensation study

Rice President David Leebron is the seventh highest paid private university president in the country. A recent study by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that in 2012, the last year for which data has been released, Leebron’s total compensation amounted to $1,522,502. 

NEWS 1/14/15 5:13pm

IT and CTE pilot cloud-based 'clicker' system

Rice Information Technology and the Center for Teaching Excellence are collaborating to implement a new cloud-based clicker system to replace existing iClickers. According to Carlyn Chatfield, Manager of Rice IT Technical Communications, the system will be university-wide by fall 2015.

NEWS 1/14/15 5:12pm

Obama calls for new college ratings system

The United States Department of Education announced its proposal for a new rating method for institutions of higher learning on Dec. 19, 2014. Based on recent rankings of colleges with the best affordability, retention rate and diversity, Rice appears to rate highly on the scale.

NEWS 1/14/15 5:08pm

Hutchinson Eliminates Cheer Battle

Orientation Week 2015 will not include a scheduled time for teaching and performing cheers before the Rice Rally. The event, referred to as Cheer Battle, will remain a possibility at the discretion of the O-Week coordinators, but will not be university-sanctioned, according to Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson.

NEWS 12/4/14 7:34am

Ferguson rally organizers to host vigil for Garner

Rice students Osaki Bilaye-Benibo and Blaque Robinson, two of the organizers of the Ferguson rally, are holding a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. in the academic quad. This event comes after a grand jury declined yesterday to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner.

NEWS 12/3/14 7:21am

Local journalist discusses future of spaceflight

Houston Chronicle journalist Eric Berger spoke on the current state and possible future of America’s space program Nov. 19 at Duncan Hall.Berger, who has researched the American space program for the past year, said one of his driving questions is the disparity between the U.S. government’s stated goals and their actions for space exploration.“How could a functional government that valued a space program — and knew literally for decades that the space shuttle's end would come — fail to put in an adequate plan to replace the shuttle?” Berger said. “To some extent, the U.S. government is dysfunctional, and, sadly, space flight doesn’t rank as high on the political agenda as a lot of us would like.”Berger said America’s lack of progress in space exploration is partly due to a lack of clear vision for the space program."Every president since Kennedy has failed to articulate a clear goal for NASA and provide the resources necessary to reach that goal," Berger said.Officially, NASA’s goal is to reach Mars by the 2030s, but that may not be possible at this point, according to Berger.“To achieve [a human landing on Mars], not in the 2030s but in the 2040s or 2050s, more likely … we would need the kind of commitment to NASA we haven’t seen in a long time,” Berger said. “NASA’s own advisory committee … suggested NASA is probably going to stay [near the Earth and moon] for the next 20 to 30 years.”Berger said NASA’s unrealistic timeline for reaching Mars will not help the organization’s image.“If you’re telling everyone you’re going to go to Mars in the 2030s and then you don’t get there, you just basically set your whole agency up to fail,” Berger said.Berger said a common suggestion among people he interviewed is for NASA to plan missions to the moon as precursors to a Mars mission.“Why not the moon?” Berger said. “It’s close, you can prove a lot of technology you need to go to Mars and … all of the international partners that NASA works on [the International Space Station] with want to go to the moon.”According to Berger, the moon’s ice may even prove an important resource for space exploration.“There’s enough fuel on the moon in form of water … to launch the equivalent of a space shuttle every day for 2,000 years,” Berger said. “If you’re going to go out and explore space, water is essential — you can drink it, shield yourself from radiation [and] provide breathable oxygen or hydrogen for fuel cells.”Berger said the rise of less-expensive vehicles produced by commercial space companies may help promote space exploration.“To really open up space, you have to lower the cost of getting stuff into orbit,” Berger said. “NASA advisors told Congress that the space shuttle would lower the cost … down to $25 a pound. The actual cost, over 135 missions in 30 years, was $25,000 a pound.”Berger said his personal prediction for America’s space program is not optimistic.“[In] the most likely scenario, unfortunately, not much changes at NASA,” Berger said. “It continues to talk boldly about going to Mars in 2030. The president or Congress or both say, ‘We’ve had enough of the budget situation and we don’t want any more major international partnerships.’ We don’t think about bringing China or India or other countries into the ISS partnership. NASA ends up with a rocket that looks great, is totally badass to launch, but is too expensive to fly very often. After the space station stops flying … what is [Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center] doing? Flying a manned mission every three or four years? Maybe the center will revert back to where it came from — Rice University.”

NEWS 12/3/14 7:19am

Crack Team to propose new blanket tax system

The Rice University Student Association’s legislation to create the Blanket Tax Crack Team was passed at SA Senate on Nov. 12. The new team is now looking to review processes that involve the current blanket tax system and to propose a better model for the system as a whole, according to team chair Nick Cornell.Cornell, president of Sid Richardson College, said the BTCT is an extension of the Blanket Tax Pod, a committee formed by the SA earlier this year to look into the blanket tax system. Cornell said an evaluation of the system as a whole was overdue, and the issue was separate from the controversies involving Honor Council.“The motivation for having a pod consider [the blanket tax] had little to do with Honor Council,” Cornell, a junior, said. “The general intuition was that what we’ve always done for the blanket tax may no longer meet the needs of students. We tried to keep our discussion at a higher level than a knee jerk response to recent events.”Cornell said the BTCT is composed of people familiar with the blanket tax system who can provide leadership and knowledge. The team is thus composed of University Court Chair Brian Baran, Thresher Editor-in-Chief Miles Kruppa, SA Treasurer Joan Liu, SA Parliamentarian Zach Birenbaum and current at-large Blanket Tax Standing Committee member Giray Ozseker.According to the SA Senate Bill #5, the BTCT has three key goals: to examine current processes and propose new mechanisms; to outreach stakeholders in the process; and to present new text to be proposed as constitutional during the 2015 spring general elections.Cornell said the BTCT first met Thursday, Nov. 20, but the pod had already proposed a new model to the SA. Cornell said the model and alternatives had not yet been fully fleshed out because blanket tax is such a comprehensive and complex process.“Our work is much bigger than any one blanket tax process,” Cornell said. “We’re trying to consider the entire system from multiple perspectives. This means taking into consideration how organizations can get blanket tax funding, how and whether we should distinguish different types of investment and spending, how blanket tax funding can reflect student priorities, how to make sure organizations have predictable cash flows, etc.”During the recent SA Senate meeting, the BTCT gave key questions they will seek to explore:How can aggregate blanket tax revenues be regularly reviewed and realigned with student priorities?How can the standard review move immediate action on an organization due to technical violations or failure to use funds in line with the organization’s meeting?Can different types of expenditures be considered at the campus-wide level when distributing funds to normalize these differences in organizations’ financial plans?Cornell said he predicts that the BTCT will have drafted models to share with the SA by the end of the semester, and they will begin with comprehensive outreach next semester. “This is going to be a crucial process, as we want both students and organizations to be better served, on average, by a new model,” Cornell said. “The end goal is to have amendments that propose our final recommendation in time for elections.”

NEWS 12/3/14 7:18am

186 solar panels to top Jones College south roof

Rice University Housing and Dining began the installation of 186 solar panels on the roof of South Jones College as a new source of sustainable power for student inhabitants at the beginning of November. This solar panel project is the start of an institutional investment toward making Rice more eco-friendly, according to H&D Senior Operations Manager David Brown.“Our main intent is to reduce our electrical demands from the normal utility and generate some of our own green, renewable power to help [lower] costs and improve our environmental footprint,” Senior Electrical Engineer and Project Manager Jason Hochstein said. According to Hochstein, aside from the power generated directly from the solar cells, there are additional energy conservation benefits from the solar panel project.“The panels provide a degree of shading,” Hochstein said. “The goal there is to reduce the solar load to the building’s roof [to] reduce the air condition requirements for the facility.”Hochstein said the panels will also help prevent the ultraviolet breakdown of the roof and protect the internal parts of the building, including the insulation and air conditioning system. In the long run, the solar panels will extend the life of the building, according to Hochstein.According to Brown, Facilities Engineering and Planning is considering additional solar panel installments on other residential colleges and academic buildings. North Jones College is tentatively slated for a solar panel installment next summer. Brown said Jones was chosen to pilot the project because its roof structure best accommodated solar panels.“One of the things that Housing and Dining is hopeful about is that if this is worth what we invested up to this point, we will continue to invest and add more solar panels to more buildings and make Rice a greener place,” Brown said.The solar panel project at Jones is a learning experiment for both Rice as an institution and the student body according to Brown.“We want to look at how going to a green source will benefit us and the university, and I am hoping that we can really set an example not just for other colleges, but for the students as they graduate and move on and take this lesson with them and share it wherever they go,” Brown said. Because many students have expressed interest in the development of this project, there will be an educative component for the student body focused on explaining how the panels operate and benefit the building and the environment. “As an educational feature, we will be mounting a 42-inch television monitor in the main lobby of South Jones College that students will be able to look at to learn how the system is performing,” Hochstein said. Student involvement played a significant role in advancing this sustainability project.“The solar panels at Jones have been a long time coming,” Lead Campus Eco-Representative Zach Bielak said. “For a while now, students have been pushing for more responsible and sustainable sources of energy, and it’s phenomenal that Rice has finally responded in a tangible way. Hopefully, this project will pave the way for future energy projects at Rice — perhaps even solar panels on top of Lovett Hall!”According to Brown, the sustainability projects at Rice involve support from institutional staff and students alike.“Students are a part of this [green initiative],” Brown said. “Everyone plays a part in the conservation.”