Bold Change Ahead

Historical research, stakeholder opinions and debate inform trustees’ decision to relocate the Rice Founder’s Memorial statue.

A photo illustration showing the statue of William Marsh Rice juxtaposed with Lovett Hall, and the first Black students admitted to Rice — Jacqueline McCauley and Raymond Johnson
Illustration by Israel G. Vargas

The Academic Quadrangle will undergo a redesign that will include moving the Founder’s Memorial statue of William Marsh Rice to a new location within the quadrangle. That’s the decision announced by Rice’s Board of Trustees Jan. 25, 2022.

“We intend for the Academic Quadrangle to both fully acknowledge the history of our founding and founder and to mark and celebrate the important evolution and growth of our university over time,” said Rob Ladd ’78, chairman of the board of trustees. The relocated statue will be presented with historical context and information about the university’s founder, including his ownership of enslaved people and his broad connections to the slave economy in 19th-century Texas.

The trustees’ decision embraces recommendations from Rice’s Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice. In a June 2021 progress report focused on the Founder’s Memorial, the task force was unanimous in its call for “bold change” in the Academic Quadrangle, which “can and must be significantly redesigned to reflect more accurately Rice’s values, the history of the university, and the current diversity of the campus, and in a way that clearly and visibly rebukes the institution’s segregationist founding and decades of racial exclusion.”

We intend for the Academic Quadrangle to both fully acknowledge the history of our founding and founder and to mark and celebrate the important evolution and growth of our university over time.  

And last December, the Rice Student Association passed a resolution calling for the statue’s relocation and said that it should no longer serve as the area’s “singular point of attraction.”

The university has launched a process to reimagine the quadrangle with the goal of presenting a proposal to the trustees in May. The physical work on the redesign will begin as soon as practical after that. Once the plans are finalized, the university will hold a competition for the new monument commemorating the university’s integration.

“This new vision for the Academic Quadrangle will reflect our growth and progress as a university and a community,” said President David Leebron. “The campus discussions that informed the board’s decision were guided by a spirit of creating a stronger and more inclusive Rice, as we recognize both flaws and progress in our history.”

The board of trustees solicited ideas and opinions from students, faculty, staff and alumni, who submitted more than 1,200 responses through an online portal. They also consulted with Alexander X. Byrd ’90 and Caleb McDaniel, chairs of the task force; the executive committee of the Association of Rice University Black Alumni (ARUBA); and other leaders in the Rice community.

In a message to alumni, the Association of Rice Alumni Board Executive Committee wrote, “The diversity of input from the Rice community, including many Rice alumni, was extremely helpful to understanding the perspectives on our university’s history, present and future.” The ARUBA Executive Board also issued a statement expressing gratitude for the leadership and work of both the task force and the board of trustees. “We understand that opinions about this decision will vary, and we remain mindful that there is always more work to do.”  — Jeff Falk