Rice University inaugurates its eighth president, Reginald DesRoches

Rice University inaugurated its eighth president, Reginald DesRoches, in a historic celebration Saturday marking a new era of leadership and diversity for the 110-year-old institution.

DesRoches, an engineer who is also the university’s first black and foreign-born president, took office in July but marked the start of his term at Saturday’s investiture ceremony, where he swore is committed to continuing the major growth that has transformed Rice over the past two years. decades and cemented its place among America’s top schools.

Rice’s continued success will be defined by three values: curiosity, excellence and courage, DesRoches told the crowd.

“Rice University is at an inflection point,” DesRoches said. “As we move forward, we must value and engage in the courage of our beliefs. The courage to grow and the courage to evolve. The courage to explore new territories and take risks. The courage to stand up for what is fair and just, and the courage to make tough decisions that may not be popular or easy, but are necessary to achieve our ambitions.

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Representatives from about 150 universities and educational societies joined Rice’s board of trustees, faculty, staff and students for the ceremony in the Academic Quadrangle, one of the oldest and richest parts of campus. . University leaders presented DesRoches with an academic gown and a presidential medal, two symbols of his new office.

The quadrangle has become known of late for its central statue of founder William Marsh Rice, and speakers ignored the effigy on Saturday. The irony — and even more so, the significance — of DesRoches’s presidency cannot be overlooked, said Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University and former Rice trustee.

Rice, a slaveholder, specifically endowed the university as a whites-only institution, until Rice admitted its first black student in the mid-1960s. (The university is still drawing up plans to move the statue into a different and less visible part of the quadrangle.)

But if Rice was a man of his time, DesRoches is also a man of the moment, Simmons said.

“What does it mean to have a president of Reginald’s race and background take on the responsibility of continuing the legacy of William Marsh Rice’s vision?” she says. “I think that means everything. First, his appointment proves once again that whatever the limits of our vision in our time, future generations can never be permanently bound by them.

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Student union president Gabrielle Franklin said she sees DesRoches as a champion of fairness and hopes he continues that work.

“You continue to show us what we can achieve,” Franklin said. “You have shown us that breaking down barriers is possible through the power of education, especially as we learn and thrive here at Rice.”

DesRoches was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and raised in Queens, New York, by parents who each worked multiple jobs to support the family. He pursued a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also earned his master’s and doctoral degrees.

A nationally recognized expert in earthquake resilience, DesRoches taught at the Georgia Institute of Technology for about 18 years before coming to Rice in 2017 as dean of engineering. He became rector of the university in 2019.

Board chairman Rob Ladd said that in looking for a new chairman, he was looking for someone with vision, ambition, integrity and intellect. DesRoches showed this as the dean of engineering, where he increased the size and visibility of his programs, Ladd said.

And as provost, DesRoches amplified the school’s research efforts, prioritized faculty and student diversity, and helped lead the university during the pandemic, he added.

DesRoches succeeds David Leebron, who resigned after 18 years as president.

“In each of these roles, your personal attributes shone through – an ability to listen and connect, to be authentic in action, to build trust and to lead by example,” Ladd told DesRoches. “With a devotion to family and a passion for service, I will say that I have observed that you have lived an exemplary life.”

DesRoches shared some of what’s to come on Saturday. He said he sees room to increase Rice’s visibility as a leading research institution focused on diversity, equity and inclusion — as well as room to make the programs of Rice’s graduate studies as recognized as its undergraduate programs. Bachelor’s programs could also see changes, with a revamped general education curriculum, new majors and minors, and new global partnerships for studying abroad.

He also said he would engage in faculty research, particularly in areas suited to Rice’s location in Houston, including medicine, clean energy and urban studies. DesRoches said he plans to hire more than 200 faculty over the next five years and continue to expand campus infrastructure.

“As president, I had the opportunity to build a stronger university starting with the strong foundation that Rice has today,” DesRoches said. “Presidents, like engineers, do not do their job alone. I will need the help of all of you – your ideas, support, hard work and dedication as we build a better university that helps build a better world.

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