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A Vision For Rice University's Second Century

Emerging from President David W. Leebron's Call to Conversation

A Vision For Rice University's Second Century  

"The new institution … aspires to university standing of the highest grade… .
For the present it is proposed to assign no upper limit to its educational endeavor."
-Rice University's first president Edgar Odell Lovett

In his 1912 inaugural address, Rice University president Edgar Odell Lovett set forth an ambitious vision for a great research university in Houston, Texas; one dedicated to excellence across the range of human endeavor. With this bold beginning in mind, and with Rice's centennial approaching, it is time to ask again what we aspire to in a dynamic and shrinking world in which education and the production of knowledge will play an even greater role. What shall our vision be for Rice as we prepare for its second century, and how ought we to advance over the next decade? 

This was the fundamental question posed in the Call to Conversation, a document released to the Rice community in summer 2005. The Call to Conversation asked us to reexamine many aspects of our enterprise, from our fundamental mission and aspirations to the manner in which we define and achieve excellence. It identified the pressures of a constantly changing and increasingly competitive landscape; it asked us to assess honestly Rice's comparative strengths and weaknesses; and it called on us to define strategic priorities for the future, an effort that will be a focus of the next phase of this process.

The Call to Conversation launched a sustained, vibrant, and thoughtful dialogue about Rice among all of the university's constituencies. Between July and November 2005, faculty, students, staff, alumni, and others who care deeply about our institution engaged in hundreds of conversations about the future of Rice and submitted tens of thousands of lines of comments through a special website established for that purpose. Although opinions ranged on many of the topics identified in the Call to Conversation, there was an unmistakable consensus about our commitment to excellence and high achievement. This commitment cannot be compromised as we move forward. 

We face both extraordinary opportunity and real challenges in the next decade. The challenges include relentless competition for our students and faculty, growing pressures and demands on our resources, and the increasing complexity and uncertainty of our technological, economic, and political environments. Despite these challenges, we have every reason to be confident in our ability to succeed. We take pride in the great distinction this university has already achieved in less than a century, and we fully expect that the next century holds even greater promise.

Rice's entry into its second century must be marked by the same span of ambition and imagination that Edgar Odell Lovett established at the founding of the Rice Institute. What does this require of us? First, while we must identify and preserve those things that make Rice a distinctive and special place, we must also respond to a competitive and changing world. This means that we must consistently evaluate what we are doing and effect change when necessary to advance our mission. Second, we must be strategic and selective in our choices. Our position as a small, great research university means we cannot do all things with distinction. We will have to make difficult choices and identify those priorities that have the best chance of enhancing our ability to achieve the standard of excellence we have set and make distinctive and important contributions to society, education, and knowledge. Finally, we must embark on this path together as a cohesive community, with enthusiasm for Rice's future. The choices we must make at all levels will be difficult-they may generate differences of opinion and challenge strongly-held views. Our success will depend in large measure on our ability to unite in support of a vision and plan for this university. 

The Call to Conversation launched a sustained, vibrant, and thoughtful dialogue about Rice among all of the university's constituencies. The Call to Conversation culminated in a 10-point strategic vision unanimously adopted by the Board of Trustees in December 2006. This document-developed in consultation with many members of our community-provides the first stage of elaboration of that vision. Although some issues have now been decided, including trustee approval to increase undergraduate enrollment, we plan to proceed in the spirit of continuing engagement and conversation as we refine and implement other elements of our vision for Rice. It is this dedication to openness and dialogue that must continue to characterize the decision-making that is necessary to achieve our aspirations. 

When we look back over the history of Rice, we see a university that has been evolving and ascendant. At each stage in our history, we have taken another step in the direction of realizing Edgar Odell Lovett's vision of establishing a great research university in Houston. Our world today is more competitive, and it is changing more rapidly. Extraordinary opportunity lies ahead of us, but seizing that opportunity will require clarity of vision and strength of commitment. The strength of our commitment to being a great research university of renown is not as clear as it needs to be. We have perhaps too often been content to be a "hidden gem" rather than a shining beacon. We must make our commitments and aspirations clear and embark on a plan to achieve them.

When we celebrate our centennial, it will not be enough to look back and say that we made a step forward in achieving our ambitions. We are at an important juncture in our history, and it is an important juncture for the city of Houston as well. In seven years we must not merely be able to say we took a step, but rather that we made a leap into Rice University's second century.