Message from President David Leebron

Message from President David Leebron

President David Leebron sent this message to the Rice community Tuesday afternoon.
 
Rice staff, faculty and students:
 
Today, our university reopens after being closed for over 10 days as we dealt with one of the most devastating storms ever to strike the United States.  Our ability to reopen is the result in part of very good planning over many years, and in part of the excellent and dynamic response by many people at Rice to the storm and its effects as they unfolded.
 
While I have already communicated some of the thanks that we owe to the many people who kept us safe and enabled us to be fully operational today, they bear repeating. The crisis management team, under the extraordinary leadership of Vice President Kirby and Provost Miranda, managed our response throughout the crisis and communicated regularly with our campus.  Housing and Dining folks went above and beyond, miraculously sustaining food services throughout the storm and its aftermath.  The Facilities and Engineering staff conducted damage assessments, identifying issues and fixing them when necessary and possible even during the storm.  They surveyed every classroom and office and other campus space to assess damage, conduct repairs and determine when alternative spaces might be necessary.  Our IT staff maintained connectivity and other services, checked classroom technology room-by-room prior to reopening, and developed survey tools to learn what problems each member of our community had encountered.  Dedicated staff from our library and recreation center made sure those facilities were available to our students.  Student Health Services remained open and available, and saw nearly 100 students during the closure.  Our parking staff worked miracles to open the new garage to provide shelter to cars that might otherwise have been flooded.  Bus drivers made sure service was promptly restored so students and others could make their way around.  RUPD continued to patrol the campus, and even undertook some rescues off-campus.  Many of these and other staff members remained on campus, separated from their families, in order to deliver needed services and keep our students and campus safe.  In most cases, they accomplished this with a limited number of people who were able to get to the campus, or had remained here.
 
Dean Seiichi Matsuda for graduate students and Dean John Hutchinson for undergraduates provided necessary information and reassurance throughout the duration of Harvey.  The deans have communicated with their faculties and helped determine what our personnel challenges might be in reopening, and made sure, to the extent feasible, all courses were covered.  The college magisters maintained a positive atmosphere in the residential colleges, and dealt with problems as they arose.  Staff in public affairs assisted in drafting messages and making sure our website was updated.  The list simply goes on and on.
 
Our students in many ways made all of this work possible by volunteering for a wide range of tasks and enthusiastically cooperating with those trying to keep the campus safe.  The outpouring of that volunteer spirit came together under the aegis of the Rice Harvey Action Team (R-HAT).  I especially want to express our thanks to two remarkable student leaders, Sydney Gibson of the Graduate Student Association and Justin Onwenu of the Student Association, who participated on the crisis management team, along with Caroline Quenemoen of the Center for Civic Leadership and Tom Kolditz of the Doerr Institute, led the quick implementation of the coordinated volunteer effort under R-HAT, resulting in over 1800 volunteers.  Student computer scientists and statisticians worked on the survey tools to establish the extent of community loss and needed adjustments. 
 
As a result of all of these efforts, the university is for the most part in full operation today. Rice fully supports Houston Mayor Turner’s express request that Houston be “open for business,” which in our case means open for education, open for research, and open for serving our city and our world. 
 
This normalcy on our campus, however, must not blind us to two things.  First, many in our community have suffered extraordinary losses.  Some have been displaced from their homes and lost their vehicles. As far as we know, no Rice students, staff or faculty were severely injured.  But some may have relatives or friends who were.  Students who safely rode out the storm on our campus may now be dealing with families and friends facing devastation at home.  We must be sensitive and responsive to the needs raised by these situations.
 
Second, more broadly across Houston, entire communities have been devastated.  Although our campus is as beautiful as ever and its functionality is almost completely restored, you do not have to go far to see some of that destruction.
 
Thus while we are open for business as usual, we cannot return to business as usual.  That is why today I am announcing several measures to assure that we at Rice do what we can to help, and that we support and participate in the recovery and progress of Houston.
 
Our students have been remarkable in their willingness to volunteer, whether through R-HAT or other ways.  Now they may face the challenge of whether they can continue playing that important role as they recommit themselves to their academic endeavors.  We commit to enable those volunteering instincts and if necessary help our students better balance both obligations. We may need to adjust some of our rules and policies to do so, and we will be looking seriously at that question over the next few days.    If you have suggestions along these lines for how we can best accommodate students who have unusual needs as a result of the storm or wish to volunteer very substantial amounts of time, you can submit your ideas at https://emergency.rice.edu/harvey-curriculum-suggestions.
 
As a central source of innovation and expertise in Houston, Rice University must play a role in enabling Houston to recover quickly and fully, and to assure that both short term and long term issues are addressed.  As always, the most important element will be the volunteer spirit and innovative talent of our students, faculty and staff.  I am pleased to announce that we will be allocating a half million dollars, plus matching contributions we hope to raise, to support innovative proposals for Rice’s engagement with Houston’s recovery.  A committee, co-chaired by the president and the provost, and consisting mostly of faculty with relevant expertise and some senior administrators, will oversee our coordinated response to the challenges posed by Harvey.  More details on this committee and its work will be provided next week.
 
As I wrote before, communities are tested and revealed by how they confront a crisis.  The responses of the entire Rice community have revealed that we are true to our values.  As one alum wrote to me, “I am never more proud to be an owl.”
 
We are not finished. Our moment to make a great difference in the future of Houston following Harvey largely lies ahead, and we will seize that moment fully.
 
With warmest regards and deepest appreciation,
David
David W. Leebron
President, Rice University