Rice University ’s brief history is both dramatic and instructive. The university’s founder, William Marsh Rice, was apparently murdered and his fortune almost stolen by means of a fraudulent will; its first president, Edgar Odell Lovett, permanently shaped the ethos of the university; the university, though private, for much of its history was tuition free; today, Rice to an uncommon degree combines excellence in undergraduate teaching with advanced research and graduate training. Central to understanding the university Rice has become is the educational philosophy of President Lovett. His vision continues to define the university.
This point was driven home to me when, along with other representatives from Rice, I attended the hundredth birthday party for Isaac “Ike” Sanders in Tyler, Texas. Born in 1891, the year The Rice Institute was chartered, Ike came to a campus still under construction in September 1912 to enter the beginning class. He took courses from professors such as Harold A. Wilson and Stockton Axson and became President Lovett’s secretary. Ike had colorful memories of those early days, and he particularly remembered how the personality and eloquence of President Lovett infused the new university with his sense of its purpose. After graduation Ike taught college physics for fifty-five years but always kept himself informed about developments at Rice.
Ike met Rice’s fifth president, George Rupp, at an alumni gathering in 1986 and read of his plans for further enhancement of the university. Ike told us at his party that he was still excited about Rice because he felt President Rupp was helping President Lovett’s dream for the university come true. That dream, and its gradual realization, represents both the past and future of Rice University.
Ike Sanders died on March 17, 1996, the last member of Rice’s first class of students.