As the 1950s ended, an important era in Rice’s history was ending too, and a new phase of growth and development was about to begin. During the summer of 1957 Edgar Odell Lovett died, having lived to see the college system established but not to see Rice’s name changed to “university” in 1960. In 1947 when the administration building was renamed in his honor, the inscription read: “He has reared a monument more lasting than bronze,” and in truth Rice was very much Lovett’s lengthened shadow. The 1950s brought new building and ever increasing faculty (almost 175 by the end of the decade), new academic departments such as geology, and a greater commitment to the humanities and social sciences (soon signaled by the editorial offices on campus of the Journal of Southern History, the Papers of Jefferson Davis, and Studies in English Literature).
Smaller, highly visible changes, too, transformed the campus—the gravel paths became pebble and aggregate sidewalks, and cars could no longer drive through the center of the academic quadrangle in front of the statue of the founder. Obviously Rice was in flux. In the fall of 1960 bad health forced President Houston to resign, and for a few months the charismatic geologist and provost, Carey Croneis, served as acting president. Then at the June 1961 commencement the board of trustees announced the appointment of Rice’s third president, chemist Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer from the University of California at Berkeley, where he had been a friend of mathematician and one-time Rice professor Griffith Evans.
Perhaps President Pitzer learned from Evans of the high aspirations Lovett had had for The Rice Institute from the very beginning of its history. Certainly Pitzer came to Rice determined to help the university achieve those early ambitions. When Pitzer arrived, Rice was still far better known for its superlative and rigorous undergraduate programs than for its small graduate programs. After World War II, however, university reputations were based almost entirely on the strength of graduate offerings. At the same time modern science and engineering research required teams of professors and graduate students. Pitzer and the board of trustees recognized the need for a private research university of the first rank in the Southwest.
For all these reasons they promptly made plans to improve Rice’s stature as a graduate institution. There would be more additions to the campus, the faculty would be increased , the graduate enrollment would be doubled (from approximately 400 to 800 students), and all the while the university’s one indisputable claim to excellence, its undergraduate programs, would be strengthened. The intent was to lead Rice past the threshold of being a good regional university to being a great national university. To do so would require administrative leadership and board money, the commitment of the faculty, major new sources of funds, and freedom from two inhibiting features of the 1891 charter.
Largely because of trustee chairman George Brown’s foresight, the endowment had grown rapidly, but additional sources of funds would have to be found if Rice were to fulfill the mission laid out by Edgar Odell Lovett in 1912. Many potential donors and foundations still mistakenly believed that, since it did not charge tuition, Rice had an abundance of wealth and did not need contributions. As early as 1941 the trustees had considered petitioning the courts to change the terms of the 1891 charter, but the Rincon oil field purchase in 1942 had made such a move unnecessary for two decades. Now, in the 1960s, they recognized that if Rice were to realize its plans for expansion and improvement, a great deal of new money would have to be raised.
Consequently the trustees took up the tuition question again, deciding in 1962 to begin legal action to make charging tuition possible. They argued before the court that, while the charter called for no tuition, it provided that the board could formulate any rules and regulations it deemed proper in pursuit of the overriding purpose of maintaining an educational institution of the highest quality. After a court challenge, in October 1966 the Texas Court of Civil Appeals upheld the lower court ruling of 1964 that al-lowed Rice to charge tuition. Promptly the board did so, organized a development office, and launched Rice’s first major fund campaign, netting $43 million.
The petition to revise the charter on the matter of tuition was only half of the revision sought by the trustees. In keeping with the spirit of the times in which he lived, William M. Rice had specified in the 1891 charter that The Rice Institute was to provide a variety of means to educate the “white inhabitants of the City of Houston, and state of Texas.” While out-of-state students had been accepted from the first and international students soon thereafter, Asian and Hispanic students—according to the racial protocol of the South—had been subsumed under the category of white. No black students had ever been admitted.
Pitzer, the trustees, the faculty, and a large majority of the students recognized in 1962 that no southern university could presume to attain national distinction if it discriminated against black students. Not only was it morally wrong, but such discrimination made it difficult to attract faculty members and government research funds. Students and alumni called for a charter revision. After all, the world had changed dramatically since 1891. William M. Rice’s primary aim had been to establish an educational institution of the first rank; hence logic compelled the trustees to join the issue of desegregation with the request to charge tuition, and the conjoined issues were sent to court together. The 1966 desegregation ruling by the appeals court allowed Rice University to cast aside the single most important impediment to achieving Lovett’s 1912 dream, “university standing of the highest grade.”
With the racial stigma and the tuition ban removed, Rice was primed for a significant move upward in the ranks of American higher education. As in the late l940s, there was again an impressive boom in new construction: Rayzor Hall for the humanities in 1962, Ryon Engineering Laboratories in 1965, the Space Science Building in 1966, Allen Center (the campus business office) in 1967, Herman Brown Hall for mathematics and mathematical sciences in 1968, a major addition to the library also in 1968, the Media Center in 1970. In 1971 Cleveland Sewall Hall for the fine arts and the social sciences was completed. Elaborately detailed to complement Lovett Hall and to mirror the Physics Building, this five-story academic hall (two floors beneath the ground) closed the main academic quadrangle. Moreover, to house an expanded undergraduate body eventually numbering 2700 students, three new colleges were opened: Brown College in 1965, Lovett College in 1968, and Sid Richardson College in 1971.
President Pitzer molded the modern Rice University. By the end of the 1960s the faculty had doubled again, numbering more than 350. In 1962 a long-overdue system of tenure was adopted, making it easier to attract scholars from other universities and setting up a mechanism to evaluate new faculty through clearly understood procedures. New departments such as space science and biochemistry were planned and added, while smaller departments that had been grouped together, such as anthropology, psychology, and sociology, were separated and enlarged. Political science was expanded from one faculty position in the history department to become a full-fledged department. Pitzer’s leadership in strengthening the humanities and social sciences really transformed Rice from a technical institute into a university. By the end of the decade Rice’s total enrollment for the first time exceeded 3,000, yet the student-teacher ratio fell below 10 to 1.