Dear Rice Alumni and Friends,
Our world has changed dramatically in the last four months. For most of us, this pandemic is unlike any crisis in our lifetimes. Some have noted that our present circumstances combine aspects of 1918, the 1930s and the late 1960s, each a time of distinct crisis in our American and global histories. The challenges of the pandemic alone require that we be nimble, innovative and compassionate. We must find new ways to sustain the meaningful connections and relationships that define our community. We must continue under new constraints to provide the best opportunities for our students and faculty to teach, learn, discover and have an extraordinary impact on our world. Our alumni, parents and friends play a critical role at Rice, and I remain grateful for your continued involvement. Today I write to provide several updates related to the fall semester.
As I announced to our campus community on July 17, we intend to welcome students back for classes this fall, both online and in person through “dual delivery” or hybrid classes. For the past several months, faculty, staff and students have worked tirelessly to prepare for the school year, and when the fall semester starts on August 23, it will be fortified by a system of precautions designed to make our campus community as safe as we believe possible from COVID-19. Indeed, our leadership in preparing for the fall has been recognized, and indeed you may have seen the stories about the outdoor spaces we are creating for classes and events, including tents.
I know there is still a significant level of uncertainty and concern. This has been particularly the case as the situation across Texas worsened in the latter part of June and the first half of this month, although recently there are signs of improvement. The only way we could have a certain plan would be to decide that our campus won’t be open at all, that we will not deliver any classes on campus or conduct vital research this fall. Some schools have chosen that path, but we have not. We believe we have effectively prepared and that we are capable of responding very quickly to changing circumstances in a way that remains tailored to individual situations and choice. By adopting the strategy of being “flexible, agile and adaptable,” we can decide at a later time to adopt more measures if that proves necessary. I encourage you to read our latest update regarding the fall semester and the comprehensive steps we are taking to keep our students, faculty and staff safe. As circumstances evolve, we will continue to adjust the measures we are taking.
What we do at Rice has a profound impact not only on our students, but also on society more broadly, and we must use our intellectual and research strengths to make vital contributions to understand the virus and how to defeat it. Earlier this spring, we announced a university-wide research accelerator fund to support new efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, grants have been awarded to 19 projects in biomedicine, engineering, social sciences, humanities, music and other fields. Collectively, these efforts showcase a diverse range of talents and intellectual pursuits, from developing new diagnostic tools and safer PPE, to exploring ways to ensure safe voting for elections in November, to investigating social distancing protocols for musical performances. As our recent issue of Rice Magazine illustrated, our alumni, students and friends are equally creative and compassionate in responding to COVID-19. You can read about the latest research developments, stories and ways to connect virtually at rice.edu/rice-responds.
Even as we continue to respond to the difficulties posed by COVID-19, we must also confront the critical challenge to become a more just and inclusive university and society. As a scholarly community, we have an obligation to set an example of intellectual candor, respect, strong values and a willingness to engage in the hard conversations that are a precursor to progress. This includes engaging in dialogue with student and alumni groups and leaders who represent important perspectives on how we as a university can acknowledge Rice’s past with respect to slavery and segregation and build a stronger and more inclusive future. There have been a range of diverse opinions on a number of issues, including both for and against the removal of William Marsh Rice’s statue from the academic quad. I invite you to read a message to campus regarding the statue and other steps proposed by students. We are committed to a thoughtful approach that allows for meaningful engagement with all members of our community. Indeed, this process began in June 2019 with the creation of Rice’s Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice, which is co-chaired by Rice Professors Alex Byrd and Caleb McDaniel and includes representatives from our faculty, staff, students and alumni.
If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to view a recent webinar sponsored by the Task Force on “Movements, Monuments and Racism on Campus,” highlighting perspectives from four prominent historians. You can also view “Reflections on Juneteenth and America’s Racial Legacy,” a day of online short lectures that attracted a large audience and featured the work of several key Rice faculty across the social sciences and humanities. We are continuing to move forward on the initial actions outlined in a letter to the Rice community dated June 16th to improve our institution and contribute to solutions more broadly. This week we announced the appointment of Professor Alex Byrd as our first Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We could not be more fortunate than to have Alex take on this important responsibility, as he is a Rice graduate, distinguished historian, award winning professor and former magister of Wiess College.
You are welcome to visit our campus in the fall, but campus events will be limited to less than 50 people, most likely through the fall semester. In the meantime, our alumni and friends are finding creative ways to contribute to student success and build community online. Many of you have volunteered virtually, such as by providing career assistance and mentoring on Sallyportal.org. You provided messages of support for our graduating Class of 2020, and followed by welcoming our new Class of 2024 to Rice this summer. On June 25, you exceeded the 4,700 donor goal of the 24-Hour Challenge and raised the most funds ever in a single day of giving for Rice. Notably, your generosity extended to our student priorities, including many devoted to supporting our diverse community, and you reinforced the impact of The Rice Investment, which boldly embodies our commitment to access and affordability. Many of you have also stepped up to host webinars for fellow alumni, students and friends, while extending our digital reach to every corner of the globe. We are deeply grateful for your ongoing generosity of time and resources, and we will provide more opportunities to connect with Rice in the coming weeks and months.
Finally, construction and the development of our plans for our campus continue. The Ion, the midtown innovation hub that Rice is building, is expected to open early next year. Construction on the Brockman Music and Performing Arts Center is almost complete, and the new opera hall will open in August, although it may be some time before large performances can be held there. The Waltrip Indoor Training Center, a multipurpose inflatable facility that will serve Rice Athletics, campus events and community activities, will also open soon. Many other exciting plans are underway, including a new building for Sid Richardson College and renovations of Mech Lab, which will reopen as Maxfield Hall next year. In addition to other research facilities, plans are underway for a new student center and a new home for the visual and dramatic arts.
Ping and I walk across our campus almost daily, and we frequently encounter an alum or two among the relatively small number on campus, usually those who live nearby. For those who we haven’t been fortunate to see, I look forward to a time when we can be together again in person, both on our campus and around the globe. In the meantime, Ping and I send our best wishes for an enjoyable remainder of this difficult summer, and I look forward to sharing additional updates with you this fall.
With warm regards,
David W. Leebron
Rice University President