Rice: The Next Century

Report of the Strategic Planning Committee


At other schools, especially large ones, improvement in graduate education has often been viewed as being at the expense of a university's commitment to outstanding undergraduate teaching. This need not be the case at Rice. President Lovett, among others, understood that the pursuit of one can enrich rather than detract from the other. In 1912, he asserted that the best person to "lead the learner from the unknown to the known is the [person] who is continually leading himself from the unknown to the known." This sense of intellectual adventure is essential to a community of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates open to new ideas and able to learn from their interactions with one another. The Committee's assessment is that graduates and undergraduates currently constitute two quite separate communities. For much of Rice's history, institutional policy has prevented most graduate students from teaching. 5 Graduate students' opportunities to pursue a career in academia are substantially hindered by this policy. In effect we are certifying that our Ph.D.'s are ready for the world of teaching and research, without having given them the opportunity to teach. Given the increasingly competitive market for new faculty and the importance of placing many of our graduates in reputable universities, we believe that this issue needs to be re-examined. For undergraduates, this policy has also had negative consequences in that it has denied them valuable educational opportunities to learn in settings and classes that cannot be offered by our small faculty.

Initiative 15. While reaffirming the faculty's commitment to undergraduate teaching, we will enhance the graduate and the undergraduate curriculum by encouraging the participation of well-prepared graduate students in the education of undergraduates. This will occur under the supervision of faculty mentors and on a limited experimental basis.

Improved integration of graduate students will have a positive effect on the entire University. The university has a strong responsibility to train its graduate students as teachers, just as it has to train them as researchers. Providing pedagogical training and teaching opportunities will enhance the quality of our graduate programs and the success of our graduate students upon receiving their degrees. Increased opportunities for graduate student teaching will also enrich the curriculum of undergraduates by enlarging curricular offerings. For example, undergraduates will be able to participate with graduates as members of research teams. In the sciences and engineering, equipment not ordinarily available to undergraduates is regularly acquired in connection with graduate research activities. Capable graduate students, nearing the completion of their work, might conduct seminars in their own research areas, providing undergraduates with stimulating course offerings not otherwise available to undergraduates, and exposing them to young, enthusiastic teachers who are frequently working at the forefront of their disciplines. Graduate students could also help senior, established faculty adopt new teaching technologies.

Such an experimental program to allow well prepared graduate students to participate in the education of undergraduates would in no way undermine the faculty's commendable commitment to undergraduate teaching. This approach simply acknowledges the importance of teaching and other communication skills among our graduate students. These can be developed with care for the integrity of the undergraduate classroom. Therefore, to avoid the pitfalls that other universities have encountered, we recommend the following steps: (1) students should normally engage in classroom teaching only after successfully completing at least one full year of graduate study at Rice; (2) before entering the classroom they should be required to attend and pass a teacher training course; (3) care must be taken to ensure they have English proficiency adequate to the task; (4) they should be supervised by faculty mentors who will bear full responsibility for the courses they will teach; (5) as principal teachers, they should be limited to a maximum of two courses in four years of graduate education; and (6) student teachers and each department's program for preparing them should be reviewed each semester by the dean of the appropriate school; the quality and extent of graduate student teaching should also be reviewed by outside committees whenever external departmental reviews take place.

The reputation of any university derives primarily from the quality of its faculty. To improve the quality and international reputation of Rice, we must maintain an intellectual environment that is attractive to the best minds in the country. Rice demands a faculty committed to teaching and original research. Although there is tension between these two activities, the best scholars maintain a balance between them and strive to bring the fruits of their own work to the classroom. They naturally convey to students at all levels the excitement and challenge of discovery.

We must seek scholars who can view their work in relation to other disciplines and master the teaching of a range of courses beyond their area of research specialization. With the rapid evolution of disciplines and sub-disciplines, whose average duration is sometimes considerably shorter than a normal university career, it is essential to recruit faculty who can adapt to changing trends, and can thereby continue to be productive scholars and teachers over their entire careers.

Sustaining an open, stimulating intellectual environment is also necessary to retain faculty and to keep them at the cutting-edge of research. This need poses a particular challenge at Rice because our small size limits the number of new faculty brought to campus on "regular" appointments.

Initiative 16. We will redouble our efforts to recruit and retain outstanding scholar/teachers.

It is crucial that we recruit faculty who not only are excellent teachers and scholars, but who also are successful in bringing teaching and scholarship together. We recommend that evidence of such intellectual breadth and flexibility be included in the criteria used to evaluate faculty candidates when hired and when reviewed for promotion and tenure. To retain such faculty they must have access to the resources needed for their research. Greater facilitation of grant applications, providing salary supplements or matching funds for faculty who attract outside money, leave time, and travel stipends are essential. Such support can be particularly crucial to productive scholars in departments that do not offer comprehensive graduate programs.

Initiative 17. Rice will establish visiting scholars programs and explore ways to bring distinguished scholars and talented postdoctoral fellows to our campus on short-term appointments.

Greater reliance upon visiting or part-time scholars could improve the intellectual life of the campus while minimizing long-term commitments. The presence of such visitors helps sustain the sense of excitement that is conducive to excellence and provides the Rice community, faculty and students alike, with fresh perspectives and viewpoints. To this end we should also establish programs, and the necessary financial and administrative infrastructure, to bring outstanding scholars and postdoctoral fellows to the campus for appointments up to two or three years long. At present the country has an abundance of exceptional talent at both levels, and a rare opportunity exists to bring some of the nation's finest scholars to Houston. The presence of distinguished scholars and postdoctoral fellows whose research interests intersect those of the faculty could enrich the campus significantly.

Initiative 18. We will explore new opportunities for the formation of interdisciplinary centers and institutes.

The difficulties of maintaining a vibrant intellectual community in smaller-sized departments can also be mitigated by the formation of research Institutes and Centers. These bring faculty together across disciplinary boundaries to work on problems of common interest; they enhance the effectiveness of individual talent. Some of our Institutes have built strong reputations by spotting opportunities and acting quickly to take advantage of them. In all fields they create attractive vehicles for fundraising and help alleviate the problems, especially acute in a university of Rice's size, created by cycles of "hot" and "cold" research activity. With their widespread contacts and interdisciplinary projects, Institutes and Centers can also foster the broader education needed by graduate students today, important in preparing them for future shifts in career directions.


<-Go to Top of the Page

<-Go to Goals Page

<-Go to Strategic Plan Home Page

<-Go to Our Legacy

<-Go to The Need for Change

<-Go to Our Mission

<-Go to A Vision for the Next Century