ADIEU, MR. LEEBRON

Prolific Rice University president announces end to storied tenure

David Leebron's tenure is one of the longest in Rice history. Photo courtesy of Rice University

For some 17 years, Rice University president David Leebron has overseen exponential growth of the school's facilities, research initiatives, and student body. Now, his tenure is coming to an end.

Leebron and the university announced on May 26 that he is leaving his position at the end of the next academic year. His official departure from the presidency will be effective on June 30, 2022, per a press release.

"Ping and I are so grateful for the opportunity we have had at Rice," Leebron noted in a statement. "This is a truly remarkable and dedicated community and it has been a privilege to be part of it."

In turn, trustees thanked the departing president for his leadership through what they describe as "an era of growth unprecedented" in the university's 109-year history.

"On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to express our deep appreciation and esteem for what David has done to transform our university while preserving its core values and community," said Rob Ladd, chair of the board, in a statement. "Over what will be an extraordinary 18 years of service, David has had the vision, courage and determination to improve almost every aspect of this university."

Students especially have benefited from Leebron's oversight. Under his leadership, Rice's student body has grown about 55 percent from 4,855 when he arrived in 2004 to some 7,500 in fall 2020, the school notes. Impressively, by 2025, the population is expected to reach 9,000 — an increase of around 85 percent.

Diversity is also a highlight. Press materials note that between 2004 and 2020, the number of domestic undergraduate students from underrepresented minority groups grew by almost 75 percent.

In effort to expand the university's reach and access to more, Leebron launched the Rice Investment, the financial aid program offering free and reduced tuition to students from low- and middle-income families.

Facilities have also vastly expanded and improved; Rice's current $1.8 billion capital improvement plan includes 29 new buildings, renovations, and other construction projects.

Linking the school to its home city, Leebron's most recent strategic plan, the Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade, aims for the Rice "to engage with and empower the success of the city of Houston."

The university, under Leebron's guidance, has launched myriad initiatives, centers, and programs. A recent success is The Ion, the centerpiece of an innovation district now under development in Houston's Midtown area.

Philadelphia-born and Harvard educated, Leebron is only the seventh president in Rice's long history. His tenure is second only to the university's founding president, Edgar Odell Lovett, who held the post for 34 years.

A search committee will be formed to find the university's next president, the school announced.

"I am proud of so many things that we've accomplished at Rice," Leebron continued in a statement. "But I'm especially proud of the community's constant desire to provide greater opportunities and address the most important challenges facing our city, our country and our world."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

For over a year now, scientists have been testing wastewater for COVID-19. Now, the public can access that information. Photo via Getty Images

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

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