Rice: The Next Century

Report of the Strategic Planning Committee


It is essential that we have a clearly defined process to ensure that the measures recommended in this plan are fully implemented, the subsequent outcomes measured and evaluated, and future plans recalibrated as appropriate. An effective strategic plan is a living document that is continually tested and revised. It must be widely disseminated so as to become a touchstone for every aspect of the operation of the University. With this in mind, we recommend that:

Initiative 31. The President will establish and appoint a University Planning Committee, to be chaired by the Provost. Its charge will be to measure progress toward strategic goals, revise long-term strategic objectives where needed, set institutional priorities, and evaluate proposals for establishing new programs and revising existing ones.

The Committee will comprise a representative group of faculty, students and deans. It will meet regularly and, as an advisory body, report annually to the president. This committee will closely coordinate its work with the efforts of other standing and ad-hoc committees, such as the Space Planning Committee, the University Information Resources Committee (as recommended in this report), The Library Planning Committee, the Self-Study Committee (responsible for accreditation review), and others as appropriate. The principal focus of its work will be academic programs and, although it will not exercise explicit authority over budgetary decisions, it will, where appropriate, draw upon specific financial information in developing its recommendations to the president.

In the same way that university-wide planning informs and drives the pursuit of excellence at the institutional level, unit-based planning and analysis will in the future play a critical role in shaping and focusing the programs of the several academic Divisions of the University. It is essential that such planning reflect and harmonize with the overall goals and strategic initiatives of the University as reflected in this document and future planning documents developed by the University Planning Committee. At the same time, such plans should, taken together, form a comprehensive operational plan for Rice that takes into account the evolving programmatic agendas of every part of the university. Toward this end, we recommend that:

Initiative 32. Each division will on an ongoing basis develop, implement , assess, and update a strategic plan. These plans should be developed in such a way that each division will systematically take full stock of its strengths and weaknesses, establish its goals and priorities accordingly, and develop strategies for achieving its goals. Such divisional planning activities must be fully consistent with the mission, vision and goals of the University, coordinated with the University Planning Committee, and linked to both the annual budgeting process and fund-raising initiatives.

Initiatives 31 and 32 provide in broad outline the structures for planning that Rice should develop as it moves into the next century. These structures will provide mechanisms for the comprehensive, ongoing review of new initiatives and for ordering the University's priorities over time. Such structures notwithstanding, excellence can never be assured at Rice - or at any institution - unless planning at all levels rewards creative initiative, encourages improvement, and enables us to seize opportunities as they arise. As noted above, Rice must, because of its small size and its unique mission, be selective in its programmatic development. As we move forward with planning and implementation, we must take special care always to be aggressively opportunistic in our approach to change. Special opportunities should be identified in those few fields where further support will allow us to achieve worldwide distinction.

The faculty are the key to this process. Departments and interdisciplinary faculty groups must be encouraged to be innovative and resourceful in developing new initiatives. All proposals for additional support should be considered carefully within the context of Divisional and University-wide planning. A central factor in determining the priorities for funding should be how creatively current resources are being used. This strategy has important advantages. It targets 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.

For such cases, it is important to develop a set of criteria to select areas for special consideration, so that new investments will be made in the programs with the greatest potential. We propose the following criteria:

1. All initiatives must be compatible with and supportive of the vision, mission, and strategic goals of the University;

2. We will build on established strengths while remaining alert to the rise of new fields of knowledge and new opportunities;

3. We must give priority to programs that will allow us to forge intellectual communities across departmental, divisional, and even institutional lines. The record at leading research universities shows increasingly that much innovative work occurs when scholars cross the boundaries that define the traditional disciplines, when faculty and investigators from divergent but complementary fields come together within a rich, collaborative, and supportive environment.

4. We will give special consideration to support for emerging areas already represented at Rice. Developing new programs from the ground up is extraordinarily risky, often extremely expensive and, when in direct competition with strong, established programs elsewhere, unlikely to achieve excellence.

5. We must continue to be ever mindful of the need to exploit areas that draw on the unique resources of our location, such as the Texas Medical Center, NASA, the oil and gas industry, and the fact that Houston is home to a diverse population of nearly 4 million people, that it is a port city, and that it is geographically close to Latin America.

Cognizant of the value from time to time of applying an external optic to our programs, we heartily endorse and encourage the practice of making assessments of existing programs through the process of external peer review. Therefore we recommend that:

Initiative 33. Rice will continuously engage in a process of external peer review at both the divisional and departmental levels.

We recommend that all programs, departments, and divisions, whether new or existing, be reviewed at regular intervals by external peers. These reviews should be conducted on an ongoing basis at intervals of approximately three to four years. The divisional reviews will be administered by the provost and the departmental reviews will be administered by the divisional deans. In conducting these reviews, we recommend the following measures be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a specific program:

scholarship of international distinction;
the value of the program for undergraduate education;
the placement of graduates, graduation rates and retention of students;
the quality of the instruction and the effectiveness of research facilities;
the selectivity and yield of the graduate admissions process;
the willingness of faculty to teach and collaborate with graduate students;
interdisciplinary potential and impact on other fields at Rice; and
optimal size.

We also recommend that, among others, the following questions be asked when reviewing programs:

Are there alternative research practices less dependent on doctoral students?
Are there appropriate opportunities for greater inclusion of undergraduates in research?
Are graduate enrollments unnecessarily driven by the faculty review process and an undue emphasis on quantity of publications?
Can partnerships with industry or other external entities provide alternative sources of support for research, consistent with the University's traditions?
Should we provide multi-track doctoral programs for those students who do not intend to pursue an academic career?

Initiative 34. In order to seize new opportunities in emerging academic areas and implement the many initiatives of this report, we recommend that Rice continue its policy of modest growth of faculty and students.

The Strategic Planning Committee devoted considerable discussion to the question of the University's size. After considering the educational, social, and financial implications of various size models, there was broad consensus, but not unanimity, that large-scale growth would seriously compromise the most highly valued and profoundly characteristic virtues of Rice. Undoubtedly, our size places unusually heavy responsibilities on a faculty committed to undergraduate and graduate teaching, research and scholarship, service to the regional and national communities, and the time-intensive demands of University governance. Yet our relative smallness is essential to the collegial atmosphere that is so rare at research universities - an atmosphere characterized by ease of interaction among persons at all levels, mutual concern, a climate of integrity, opportunity for participation and expression, and a sense of responsibility for intellectual, social, and moral development.

At the same time, we recognize that the initiatives discussed throughout this report can be implemented most successfully in an environment of continued modest growth - between 1 and 2 percent annually over the next decade.[10] This growth would continue the enrollment pattern since about 1980. Growth in carefully selected areas would allow the university to seize new opportunities in emerging academic areas, which it could not do as quickly or at all if it had to rely entirely on the internal reallocations of resources. While Rice, like all universities, must engage in a constant process of self-examination with a view to the reallocations, it must have the flexibility to move forward in new directions.

For this reason, modest growth in carefully targeted areas, as elaborated in Initiative 16, is a desirable goal. We should adopt strategies that promote growth primarily in quality rather than numbers and that intensify the educational and social virtues that make Rice the productive small community it has always been.


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