Dear Colleagues and Students,
The joyous celebration of the commencements of the classes of both 2020 and 2021 two weekends ago, with families and friends and finally visible smiles, was a welcome sign that we are beginning the return to a more normal world for our university. The last 15 months of the pandemic upset many of our expectations.
Three years ago, in the summer of 2018, I extended my agreement with the university to serve as president for four years. I contemplated that given what I thought we could accomplish, 2022 would likely be the right time to end my service as president. Of course, I did not at the time anticipate a global pandemic. Working together, we have navigated the pandemic well, and also made a great deal of progress on the goals we set prior to the pandemic. As we now enter the summer, not only is there light at the end of the tunnel, but the light seems near and bright. Thus I am writing to let you know that I informed the Board of Trustees earlier this month that this coming academic year will be my last year as president of Rice University, and I will step down at the conclusion of my 18th year, on June 30, 2022.
To many, it may seem that 18 years is an odd number, but in fact it has special significance in the two cultures that dominate my own family. In the Chinese culture it symbolizes “good fortune”, and in Jewish culture and Hebrew language it represents “life.” And certainly I could not have asked for more good fortune than to serve for a significant part of my life as Rice’s president.
I am so grateful to Rice University for this incredible opportunity and to you, the extraordinary people who make up the Rice community and who have time and again demonstrated our common values and commitment to excellence, creativity and compassion. Working together, we have been driven by our desire to contribute to the betterment of our world and by our constant ambition to become an ever better university.
There will be time enough to look back, so in this brief note I want to express my thanks, and to look forward to what we must accomplish together in the year ahead.
I want to thank our students. Your talent, creativity, engagement and care for each other has constantly inspired us to do better and to do more. You give us enormous hope and confidence for the future. There are many reasons that Rice succeeded so well in navigating the pandemic, but none more so than the responsibility exercised by our students. Indeed, my return to the classroom to teach this past semester, even if on Zoom, has sustained my admiration for our students and optimism about what they will accomplish after they graduate.
I want to thank our staff, which in so many cases has made the challenging and the difficult appear smooth and easy, and most especially during this last year. Your dedication to the work of our faculty, the learning of our students and the service we provide to our community and beyond makes the difference in what we as a university are able to achieve. Your expressions and actions of care and compassion have often been determinative in propelling a student to success.
I cannot fully express my admiration for and gratitude to our faculty. No university of our size spans such a range of endeavors with such excellence and impact. You, our faculty, constantly push the frontiers, whether in astrophysics or racial justice, architecture or computer engineering, business or biosciences, mechanical engineering or music. It was the depth and breadth of Rice endeavors that inspired my choice to join Rice just over 17 years ago, and has provided energy and inspiration along the way. And to quote from my favorite speech – President Kennedy’s 1962 moon shot speech at Rice Stadium – our faculty “in [its] quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred.”
I want to thank an extraordinary leadership team for its competence, integrity and values. Its excellence, as elsewhere in the university, has been fueled by its increasing diversity. I have also been grateful over many years for the leadership demonstrated by the Faculty Senate and by the students serving in the Student Association, Graduate Student Association and residential colleges, but never more so than this year.
Finally, our amazing experience here at Rice has been amplified by getting to know the people and institutions of the remarkable city of Houston. We are grateful and proud to have raised our family here, and to have had opportunities to work with many across Houston to contribute to the progress of our city.
All of our accomplishments as a university have been fostered by our faculty, staff and students working together with extraordinary support from our Board of Trustees, our alumni and friends of the university here in Houston and around the world.
The year ahead is an important one, with much to be accomplished that cannot be deferred. The world of higher education and knowledge is changing and expanding rapidly, and we must move forward to position ourselves for the future. In research and innovation, we will formally open the Ion innovation hub in midtown Houston and launch the Welch Institute for Advanced Materials. We will begin making the additional strategic investments recently approved by the Board of Trustees in neuro-engineering, in quantum science and engineering, in the study of disparities and inequities in our society, in environmental studies and in online education. To support our research and academic endeavors, we will begin construction of a major new science and engineering building, a new home for visual and dramatic arts, and an expansion of our architecture facilities.
We must continue the process of improving diversity and inclusion at our university, relying in part on the work of the Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice. We will enter the next phase of our student enrollment expansion, and must plan and make changes for that and assure that we maintain our educational excellence and unique sense of community. We must continue our commitment to the Rice Investment so that our education is accessible to all. To fully support the increasing breadth of the Rice experience, we will begin construction on an extraordinary new center for student life and opportunity to replace the current student center. And we will also begin planning for the 12th residential college in connection with our expansion.
We will continue to increase our online offerings, which enable Rice to serve and empower new groups of students in Houston and around the world. As travel opportunities return, we will work to renew and enlarge our international engagements and outreach.
And to support all of these ambitions, we must move to the next stage of our capital campaign, which has already been crucial to many achievements in these areas.
That is a lot for one year, but all necessary as we work to position the university to continue providing the best educational opportunities and producing the most impactful research.
Ping and I are focused on and energized by the year ahead, and have not made plans beyond that. We will then look for new opportunities to learn and to contribute to our world, at Rice and elsewhere.
Again, Ping and I are so grateful for the opportunity we have had, and look forward to the exciting year ahead.
With warm regards and deepest gratitude,