Rice: The Next Century

Report of the Strategic Planning Committee


As President Lovett recognized, strong graduate programs are essential for "a university of the highest grade." Outstanding faculty have been attracted to Rice in large part because of them. In turn, the presence of a renowned and research-oriented faculty makes Rice attractive and distinctive for undergraduate students. The quality of our graduate programs is a key factor in recruiting and retaining outstanding faculty. Yet, with some notable exceptions, graduate programs at Rice have not been as highly regarded as undergraduate programs. This difference is reflected not only in external perceptions of our graduate programs, but also in our admissions standards and various measures of support relative to our peer institutions. While some of our programs have attained international recognition, overall, graduate education at Rice is viewed by our peer institutions as uneven.

To address this situation we recommend the following:

Initiative 12. While striving for excellence in all graduate programs, Rice will commit itself to attaining international distinction in a small number of carefully selected areas.

This will require us to make informed choices with the best use of limited resources. We cannot support the broad range of programs characteristic of large research universities - we are constrained both by our size and by our aspirations for quality. Our graduate programs should consist of a core set of programs essential to fulfilling the University's central mission in academic instruction and research. Our aim is to be a top-echelon university, not a comprehensive one. Indeed, we believe that the single most important reason for the uneven quality of our current graduate programs is that we have spread our efforts too thinly across too many programs.

Accordingly, we recognize that not all disciplines at Rice will have graduate programs. Some departments may best serve the interests of their faculty and students without one. At Rice today there are outstanding examples of such small departments which nevertheless maintain a high standard of faculty scholarship and teaching. It is clearly better in some areas to have no graduate program at all than to try to have an inadequate one.

Changes in the job market, the emergence of new disciplines, and the social urgency of certain inquiries, will cause the appropriate mix of programs to evolve over time. Our current offerings may not be optimal, and the pursuit of excellence will entail a reallocation of existing resources from time to time as well as new expenditures. It may be desirable in some fields, such as engineering and business, to expand professional masters programs. In certain areas, these degree offerings can enhance a department's reputation, fill a real market need, and be financially self-supporting.

Special opportunities should be identified in a few fields where further support will allow them to achieve international distinction. The faculty are the key to this process. Departments and interdisciplinary faculty groups should have the opportunity to develop and propose initiatives. All proposals for additional support should be considered carefully, and a central factor in determining the priorities for funding should be how creatively current resources are being used. This strategy has important advantages. It puts support where it is likely to have the most impact and places responsibility squarely in the hands of the faculty. Those who take the initiative and invest their talents, imagination, and hard work are most likely to receive additional support.

We must also strengthen our efforts to attract and retain the best graduate students. In some of our divisions, the financial support for graduate students does not compare favorably to that of our peer institutions. In the humanities and the social sciences especially, but even in the sciences and engineering, Rice graduate students receive smaller and fewer stipends than those at peer institutions, and they receive them one-year at a time rather than as multi-year packages. They also receive less support for enhancements such as travel funds to attend professional meetings, where they can develop important long-term professional contacts and where they can assess their own accomplishments against those of the working standards of the best scholars in the nation. Finally, at Graduate House Rice offers graduate students substandard housing. Both in its current location and quality, Graduate House is a liability in recruiting the best graduate students in the nation. It is also an impediment to creating an intellectual community for those graduate students who come to Rice.

To address these issues and attain our goal, we propose the following initiatives:

Initiative 13. We will provide more competitive graduate student stipends to attract and retain the most outstanding students.

Initiative 14. In the near future we will replace Graduate House with a new building, located on or immediately adjacent to the campus and capable of housing at least 250 students. In addition to student apartments, the new Graduate House should include a Graduate Center within it.

The construction of a new Graduate House will confirm that Rice's graduate students are an integral and important part of the University. It will provide a focus for graduate student life and will enhance the University's recruiting power. Not least, a Graduate Center that is part of Graduate House, will contribute importantly to campus intellectual and overall.


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