Rice University Breaks With Tradition in Naming its Next President

Reginald DesRoches will become the 8th president of Rice in July 2022.
Reginald DesRoches will become the 8th president of Rice in July 2022. Photo by Tommy LaVergne/Rice University
Reginald DesRoches will be president of Rice University after David Leebron steps down next June — becoming the first Black, first immigrant and first engineer to hold the top post at a university originally established for white students only.

The private university with only a 9 percent acceptance rate and a 93 percent graduation rate, according to U.S. Department of Education figures, has big plans for the future as it undertakes several on-campus building projects and seeks to expand its undergraduate student body size from 7,500 to 9,000.

After a nationwide search, Rice's Board of Trustees named DesRoches, who has been the school's chief academic officer as provost (named to the position in 2020) is credited with increasing the university's research awards and establishing new majors and master's programs  while at the same time leading the school through the transition to remote learning during the height of the pandemic.

In a press release from Rice, DesRoches was quoted as saying: “I am deeply honored to be named the next president of Rice University,” DesRoches said. “The past 4½ years at Rice have been among the most rewarding in my professional career and I look forward to building on the tradition of excellence established by President Leebron and those who served before him.”

Fittingly enough, since he began at Rice in 2017 when he became Dean of the Brown School of Engineering, DesRoches established the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion which has worked successfully to increase diversity among Rice's faculty and grad school.

DesRoches was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and raised in Queens. He went to University of California, Berkeley where he got his undergrad degree in mechanical engineering. He also got his master's and Ph.D. degrees from Berkeley, these in structural engineering.

He is a national recognized expert on earthquake resilience, which attempts to find new building methods to better withstand the effects of earthquakes.

William Marsh Rice, the founder of Rice University, was a slave owner and documented racist who specifically said in his will he was leaving his fortune for the establishment of a school for “the white inhabitants of Houston, and the state of Texas.” A statue commemorating him — called Willy's Statue — has been the ongoing site of protestors who want it removed from campus.

Rice did not accept its first black student, a graduate student, until 1964.The first black undergrads were admitted in 1965. 
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