Within a year President Rupp began to project his plans for enhancing the university. The undergraduate experience was to continue to receive emphasis. Clearly, Rice’s first responsibility is to provide an excellent undergraduate education to highly talented students, and that is the university’s undeniable claim to national prominence. Accordingly, the curriculum was reviewed to see if it could be improved, and after much debate (sometimes acrimonious) a series of freshman courses evolved to ensure that humanities and social science students were introduced in a significant way to the methodologies of the sciences, and that science-engineering students were similarly introduced to humanities and the social sciences. At the same time, a plan was developed to strengthen the graduate programs by building on areas of existing excellence.
While overall the graduate programs lacked the distinction of the undergraduate, there were pockets of great strength. Because the nation’s outstanding graduate departments are two to twenty times larger than corresponding departments at Rice, there is no way across-the-board graduate strength could be achieved at Rice without changing the fundamental nature of the university, and that would clearly be undesirable.
However, by carefully choosing “targets of opportunity,” initially five clusters of research activity of high quality ranging across a variety of departments were identified: the already existing Rice Quantum Institute and the new Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, the Computer and Information Technology Institute, the Center for Institutions and Values, and the Center for Cultural Studies.
As originally proposed, approximately ten new faculty members with interdisciplinary interests and either great distinction or promise would be appointed to departments participating in the five collaborative institutes. These new scholars were intended to broaden the offerings of the separate departments and, through their interaction with the other researchers in the cluster areas chosen for enhancement, would provide the critical mass of faculty necessary for graduate programs of clearly international prominence. In these specific research areas, according to President Rupp, Rice “has the potential to be as good as any place in the world” without losing the advantages of its small size and while having a faculty that is balanced across the disciplines. Advanced research could be strengthened at the same time the undergraduate curriculum was broadened and enriched.
Rupp very significantly elevated the uni-versity’s goals. He further proposed that a construction program be commenced to provide “unsurpassed facilities” for the university. The first two buildings were finished in time for the beginning of classes in late August 1991. The Alice Pratt Brown Hall for the Shepherd School of Music and the George R. Brown Hall for Biosciences and Bioengineering, two of the largest academic structures ever built at Rice, provide stunning facilities for their respective fields. Much of the first-floor public area of the Fondren Library was handsomely renovated in 1988. An additional floor was added to the Allen Center for Business Activities, and a multipurpose building was built on the edge of the campus near the football stadium to house the police department, the ROTC program, administrative stores, and the offices of Rice University Press. To give temporary respite to the severe overcrowding of Fondren Library, a remote storage area for seldom-used books and older periodicals was built between the main concourse and the upper deck on the east side of the stadium.
Yet even this surge of construction could hardly meet the demands of a dynamic university. On the eve of the centennial of its chartering, Rice faculty and administrators were considering such needs as an essential addition to Fondren Library, a classroom building, new laboratories for chemistry and the computer institute, now enhanced by the federally funded Center for Research on Parallel Computation, and graduate student housing. Decision makers recognized that the entire ensemble of buildings and landscaping at Rice made for a spectacularly beautiful campus, an amenity that must not be compromised by badly designed or poorly sited buildings. The standard set eight decades ago by Ralph Adams Cram must be met.