Leebron discusses Call to Conversation at SA forum
More than 60 students answered President David Leebron’s call Monday.
The Student Association and President’s Office jointly hosted a forum in Farnsworth Pavilion, at which students asked Leebron questions about the Call to Conversation, a document asking questions about Rice’s future he released in July.
Leebron has held similar events with faculty and staff, and many alumni events are scheduled for the fall. He is in the process of holding a forum at each residential college. After getting feedback from these groups, Leebron will propose a 10-year plan to the Board of Trustees at its December meeting.
“How we choose to be a small university is important,” Leebron said at the forum.
Leebron said he values students’ input and encouraged them to be involved throughout the process.
“[We want] to preserve things [students] consider distinctively important,” Leebron said. “Conversation is very helpful. … We haven’t made any decisions yet.”
Leebron said having a defined plan will help the university in its capital campaign, with which he hopes to raise $800 million. Leebron said he has met with alumni in many cities but also plans to encourage people from Houston who are not alumni to donate to Rice.
In the Call to Conversation, Leebron asked questions about Rice’s mission, size, research areas, undergraduate experience, and graduate and postgraduate education. Most questions at Monday’s forum concerned size, tuition and the residential colleges.
In response to a question about the shortage of on-campus housing, Leebron said Rice will not increase undergraduate enrollment without first increasing the number of beds on campus. Leebron said a new Recreation Center will also be built before enrollment goes up.
Even with a larger student body, Rice should have enough housing for 80 percent of undergraduates instead of the current 71 percent, Leebron said. About 80 percent of students live on campus at similar universities with nearby inexpensive housing, such as Duke University and Washington University in St. Louis, he said.
To meet the housing demand, Leebron proposed building two additional colleges, expanding existing colleges and possibly building university-owned off-campus housing. An off-campus apartment building is more likely than a college to have all its beds filled, because students from all colleges could live in it, Leebron said.
Leebron said the number of faculty should increase at a slower rate than the undergraduate population, but that Rice’s small classes would be maintained.
“Growing from 60 to 70 students in a lecture class probably does not have a substantial effect on students,” Leebron said.
Rice can sustain the high caliber of undergraduate students without increasing the number of applicants, Leebron said. Although enrollment will not increase until housing does, Rice should market itself better now, he said.
“There are a lot of things we haven’t done to generate more interest,” Leebron said.
Rice should involve current students more in recruiting, especially at out-of-state high schools, he said.
Student Association Internal Vice President Ames Grawert said he approves of Leebron’s goal of increasing out-of-state enrollment while maintaining the number of students from Texas.
“As a student from outside Texas, I’m really excited we have a president who recognizes the importance of bringing people from outside Texas to Rice,” Grawert said. “[People outside of Texas] should recognize Rice as an excellent organization.”
Leebron said having a larger student body will also lead more employers to recruit at Rice. Leebron said students have complained about the lack of breadth of job opportunities available to graduating seniors, especially those majoring in the humanities.
Leebron said Rice can also improve its national recognition by expanding certain departments.
“To ensure our future, we need to enhance our reputation,” Leebron said. “We are not the only good southern university anymore.”
However, Leebron also said small departments provide curricular diversity and will not be eliminated.
Leebron said Rice should offer more incentives for undergraduate research projects, possibly including stipends for research-related travel.
Several students said they were concerned about rising tuition. Leebron said tuition will continue to increase but also said Rice should remain distinctively less expensive than comparable universities. Regardless of tuition, Rice will continue to guarantee to meet students’ demonstrated need, so only students not currently receiving need-based financial aid will be affected by the increases, Leebron said. However, Rice must be careful not to become unaffordable for families with household incomes of about $100,000 per year, he said.
Some students said they had heard rumors Leebron intends to alter the residential college system. Leebron said he thinks the residential colleges have been successful in incorporating freshmen into their communities immediately. Leebron said he would like to see graduate students serve as resident associates, citing the original model for the residential colleges that involved graduate student participation.
Leebron said he would also like to see more campus-wide activities. Varsity athletic events can create a fun campus atmosphere, he said.
Leebron said students can continue to give him feedback on the document at http://www.rice.edu/c2c.
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