Message to the Rice Community

Dear Rice community,

This has been an unusual and difficult week in the midst of a very unusual and difficult year. As an extreme cold front and severe winter storms moved across Texas and much of the United States earlier this week, the consequences for Texas were severe as the electrical grid collapsed and blackouts rolled across our city and state.  In the midst of freezing weather, many were left without power, heat and water. As the problems endured for days, many people also lost the ability to use their cell phones, let alone access the internet. With so many students, faculty and staff suddenly facing these challenging circumstances, we chose to cancel classes and other events for the entire week, and generally limited those coming to campus to essential personnel.

It has been a rough week, and I hope that you and your families and friends are doing okay at this point.

As hard as this week has been on all of us, we shouldn’t conclude that it was equally hard across our community. Fortunately, we did not lose power or water on the campus, although some Rice buildings off campus lost both power and water and a few campus buildings experienced broken pipes and water damage. Off campus, many in our community spent days without power or water while also trying to deal with the needs of small children, elderly adults or others with health issues.

In the midst of these challenges, we were given many reasons to be grateful once more for the compassion and resilience of the Rice community. Dealing with these consequences of the winter freeze was made especially challenging by the omnipresent pandemic to avoid the risk of spreading the disease. And yet, we found ways to bring some students in our community who were living in intolerable circumstances to our campus, and made available warm places to work, showers and food for those who continued to live off campus but needed assistance. Just yesterday, when a local hospital asked us to assist with securing blood donors, our students stepped up and fulfilled the request almost immediately after the notice went out. Many of us who did not suffer significant power or water losses invited others into our homes, even while trying to maintain pandemic health protocols.

So the most important message I want to convey today is gratitude to those who assisted our community and made sure that we dealt with these circumstances in accordance with our values. As we have seen so many times, the near universal response by the Rice community was: How can I help?

Thanks are due to so many that we cannot list them all. They include most especially our facilities and engineering staff who kept us operating throughout this time, our housing and dining staff who kept our campus residents safely housed and fed, and our IT staff who kept us connected. Our crisis management team worked incredible hours to respond to every harm and threatened harm posed by the storm. Our RUPD officers and medical staff and EMS teams were essential to keeping us safe. The payroll office made sure there was no interruption to the pay schedule. Our magisters and resident associates continued to provide support to our undergraduates both on and off campus.  The RVA and RGA RAs and staff provided essential assistance in the graduate student apartments.

The storm also brought an unexpected opportunity to vaccinate many in our community, and once more our staff and students stepped up to make it possible for us to administer the vaccines distributed to us before they expired within a few hours. A great many people adjusted to difficult circumstances to do their jobs and meet the needs of the campus community, and I know I speak for many when I say that we are grateful to all of you.  I also want to express thanks to the many members of our community who selflessly reached out to help their friends and fellow students who were in more difficult circumstances, exemplifying our culture of care.

As of now, over 99% of power has been restored in Houston, and most of the water service has also been restored with the remainder expected today.  For some, as after a hurricane, the damage is  substantial and the recovery difficult.  They will need understanding and in some cases assistance.

Temperatures are forecast to be mildly cool over the weekend and even 70 degrees by mid-week, so for most of us life will return to “normal.”  Hopefully, this coming Monday will allow the beginning of the more active campus we were hoping to see this week.  At the same time, however, we will need to be vigilant to prevent the spread of the pandemic.

So let us approach the remainder of this difficult academic year with optimism about what we can still achieve and still experience. Let us redouble efforts to address the needs of the least fortunate in our community and around the globe, and continue to build a community that is welcoming and inclusive for all. The year of 2020-21 at Rice will certainly go down in our history as perhaps our most challenging. I believe it will also go down in our history as a time when we rose to those challenges not merely to meet them, but to set and achieve even higher aspirations for Rice University.

With warm regards,