Rice University — is a private school worth it?

I worked at Rice for just over a year. But funnily enough, by a coincidence of circumstances, of which coronavirus contributed just 2 months, I was only in Houston for about 7 months during my whole time working there, haha.

I came to Rice (a filthy rich private school) as a committed Tar Heel, and for the most part my only reference point for comparison was my long experience at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (a public state school).

Fall colors in Chapel Hill
Rice University
February in Rice University, Houston

So how did things compare? Well, I was very under-impressed with Rice when I first got there. Partly because I was robbed as soon as I got to Houston. I was therefore very disposed to being angry at everything to do with Houston and with Rice. This is what I found out at first:

  1. Their library, which everyone seems to be so proud of, and which they all lovingly short-hand refer to as Fondren, is a complete mess. It’s completely disorganized. Oh, for the beauty and peerless symmetry and regularity of UNC’s Davis Library — the tall, austere shelves, all in order, the confirmed pathways through the books, the simple roadmap of getting from point A to B. An order reliably, simply, and flawlessly repeated over 8 stories, so no matter where you are in Davis, you at least KNOW where you are. Forget all that at Rice’s library. That one is only 4 stories; but it is a big bumbling collection of books splayed out lazily and frumpily — you never know where you are, and there’s never anyone around to ask questions — and if you do ask questions, the staff — almost all of which is grumpy men and women — is sure to yell at you. The numbering of the books are out of order. Forget nice straight paths — these books are collected in a series of caves, with no roadmap of how you get from cave A to cave B, so good luck if you need to get from cave A to cave Z. Oh, wait, did I say no roadmap? The library is apparently aware of their mess, so they actually do have roadmaps everywhere to help you figure out which cave of shelves you’re currently traipsing through — and even with those roadmaps, I couldn’t figure things out. I’ve never seen a library organized so badly.
  2. Not just that, but Fondren Library at Rice only has 2 million books, and they can’t manage any order for them. While UNC libraries have like 8 million books. There is no place at Fondren where you get that lovely faraway silent smell of miles of old books all around you — you can get that at almost any corner of Davis. I don’t even know if Fondren should be called a library, it’s such a fraud.
  3. My first impression, furthermore, when I was in the middle of having to do all the new employee paperwork, was that no one knows what’s going on. No one had a clue what’s going on. The benefits enrollment office sent me an email as follows:

“The Rice University benefits portal can be accessed through any computer, tablet, or smart phone by visiting benefits.rice.edu, selecting the “Enroll in Benefits” hyperlink and using your Net ID to access the enrollment platform.”

Did that work? Of course not. You have to call the number provided, and they send you to an entirely different website.

4. They have this pdf about the benefits and what you’d pay for the medical options. When you actually go to enroll, none of those payment numbers are accurate. Everything is more expensive, and not just that, but you pay “twice monthly”. They give you a low-looking number, and unless you’re careful, you don’t even realize that you’re paying this number twice a month. You’d think with all their riches they could update their benefits booklet, but no. I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it was a big deal when I’d just arrived in Houston; I’d left everything of comfort behind; I’d just been robbed; and here I was with the expenses not being what Rice had promised. They should have accurate numbers on their material for employees.

5. When you’re at Chapel Hill, whether as a student or grad student or for a special program or as a worker, there is no end to the number of t-shirts, water bottles, umbrellas, and other fine swag that you receive. For my welcome at Rice, I was given absolutely nothing. It made me feel like, so do you actually want me? I didn’t even get a welcome pen. Seriously not even a welcome pen.

6. Chapel Hill’s school-grounds are beautiful. Rice is really fake-looking. Like someone was trying too hard when they designed (and if you look in the school history, this is exactly the case!)

7. I was trying to get my work email set up. They told me I’d get an “email” about setting it up (was the email supposed to get to the work email I still had no access to?) I don’t remember how I finally got access, but it didn’t happen the way they said it would happen.

Looking back now, a lot of my complaints seem silly (except for the part about the library and the swag, that is unacceptable, and the pretty campus, too). But the other points were a really big deal and a big stressor when I was new at Rice. And my conclusion is, filthy rich private universities brag all the time about how they have all the money to do everything, so why can’t they even do these simple things?

UNC Chapel Hill, on the other hand, I always found to be very organized. Things like moving into dorms; or paperwork that you fill out for employment; there were always clear instructions and simple forms.

Two more bad things about the city of Houston, and then I’ll say some nice things about Rice.

8. A big selling point of Houston, apparently, is that the rents are cheap. They are not.

9. Also, apparently there’s a campaign out of Houston to try to convince people the air quality isn’t that bad. Hahahahahahaha. I’m pretty sure the air quality sensors in Houston have been perched on the top of the tallest skyscrapers, where they can’t pick up on the exhaust from all the cars and the other mess spewing poison out into the air.

10. Houston is kind of a fun city, anyways, though.

Now for some nice things about Rice.

11. They have some cool classes. Here’s three of them (at the least the subjects and experiences were cool, even if the professors were not the most nurturing).

12. They have a cool place called the Print Palace where they make fabric, or they make pretty prints on paper. Well, in theory it’s a cool place. I went there once to watch them. It was all old people who got super-bent out of shape because someone with black hair had walked in. It was all those artistic, profound types who act like they’re super good, but it doesn’t take much scratching under the surface for all the greedy, nasty sludge to come out.

13. The President of Rice — I liked him. And the administration in general. They are not so tied behind their backs as all the leadership at UNC is. So when terrible, racist things are done in this country, that makes immigrants miserable, for example, the administration at Rice was much quicker to send an email out saying that Rice stood against that sort of thing. I know this might sound like not much — just an email. But “just an email” is sometimes more than what UNC can compass, and if they do send an email, it’s a very weak statement that’s more about not saying something that would offend a Nazi. Rice would issue pretty strong statements, and it does make a difference for them to say something — it makes you feel that it’s not just your own misery, but someone else is recognizing your misery.

14. In Fondren Library — yes, the stupid one — they have these puzzles out by the circulation desk, and you can sit and do them. Big puzzles that have 1000 pieces. That was what I did my first two months at work when I was stressed and sad about being at Rice. But just so you know, the libraries at UNC have puzzles like that, too!

15. The President of Rice invited all the Muslims on campus to his palatial residence for dinner once.  And they had quite a fancy spread! And I think he does that with all the minority groups on campus. And he gave us a nice speech telling us we were valued. You know, when you never hear that, it kind of makes you tear up when someone does say it. I don’t remember any chancellor at UNC ever do that. Not even after the Chapel Hill shooting of three defenseless Muslim students (that the local police department tried to dress up to imply the Muslim students were the evil ones and deserved to be shot.) And for the record, the statement that the UNC leadership put out in the wake of that statement are among those I remember being weak and stupid, with a main goal of not offending Nazis).

16. Rice gives a lot of financial support to students from poverty-stricken backgrounds, as in full rides. But UNC does the same (the Covenant) and I think UNC started the Covenant before Rice started their program. But Rice is now taking it a step further, such that even if you come from a middle-class background, apparently everything will be free for them, too. Well, it is a really rich school.

17. The free food game is quite strong. It’s strong at UNC, but I had no complaints at Rice, either.

18. Rice did something that was very nice — every Friday they had something called a Diversity Dialogue. This was an initiative run out of the top leadership offices. Everyone was invited, but mostly it was only minority students who would actually come, and everyone would get to vent about their problems stemming from lack of money, or immigrant background, or racial problems. They were really amazing conversations. I remember UNC trying to do the same thing, but I never found those conversations to be that great. I think it might have been because UNC is a much bigger school, so you can’t fit everyone in a room. At Rice, it would be about 30-50 people who would gather. Everyone would get lunch. And then they’d talk. Anyone could talk, and anyone could stay silent. It was a very homey and supportive atmosphere.

19. The media office at Rice is very nice. I went to interview them so I could get some tips about how to do my job. They were so nice! Like 4 different people took an hour off from their jobs to talk to pitiful me, and they looked at my work and both gave me feedback and told me all this nice stuff.

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