Education News

Rice University relocates statue, remains of slave-owning founder as part of quad redesign

Construction began earlier this month on the long-planned redesign of Rice’s Academic Quadrangle and is expected to be complete by the spring. A statue of university founder William Marsh Rice is being moved from the center of the courtyard to a less-prominent location.

Rice University Founder Memorial Statue
Daderot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The statue of Rice University founder William Marsh Rice, long positioned at the center of the school’s Academic Quadrangle, is being relocated to a less-prominent location as part of a redesign. Lovett Hall is in background.

The remains of Rice University's founder have been moved from the heart of the Houston campus, which is undergoing a long-planned redesign in response to the realization that school namesake William Marsh Rice was a slave owner who supported racial segregation.

The Founder's Memorial statue depicting Rice, which had long been at the center of the private university's Academic Quadrangle where commencement ceremonies have been held for decades, also is being moved, but not out of the quad altogether. It is being relocated to a less-prominent location within the courtyard, where construction for the redesign began earlier this month and is expected to conclude by the end of April, before the next graduation ceremony.

"A new monument of similar prominence will be incorporated into the design to commemorate the beginning of the university's integration a half-century after its opening (in 1912)," the university says on its website. "Over time, additional monuments representing other milestones in the university's history will be added."

University spokesperson Jeff Falk wrote in an email Wednesday that the school does not yet have further details on the "new major artwork" that will fill the central area of the quad, which is flanked by Lovett Hall and Fondren Library. That's where the statue of William Marsh Rice, along with his remains, had previously been located.

William Marsh Rice Statue
File photo
Pictured is a statue of William Marsh Rice on the campus of Rice University in Houston.

Rice's board of trustees decided in January 2022 to redesign the quad and relocate the statue of its founder while presenting additional historical context about him, including his ownership of enslaved people, based on community input and the recommendations of the Rice University Task Force on Slavery, Segregation, and Racial Injustice. The task force was commissioned in 2019 by then-university president David Leebron and released its final report this September.

In that report, the task force wrote that "following the evidence has led us to the conclusion that slavery, segregation, and racial injustice were not incidental to the histories of William Marsh Rice and the university he endowed, but part of their very foundations. The process of desegregation ... required changes so fundamental that they amounted to a re-founding of the university."

Still, university leaders want to continue acknowledging William Marsh Rice's role in the school's founding. In a joint statement issued Nov. 20 by the trustees, university leaders and the founder's descendants, they said his remains had been transferred to a family plot in Glenwood Cemetery, where he will be interred alongside his brother and two nephews who were Rice University trustees and benefactors, in accordance with the family's wishes.

"The descendants of William Marsh Rice and members of the Rice University Board of Trustees and senior leaders have worked together in a deliberative and careful manner to respect and maintain the history and extraordinary philanthropy of the university's founder," the statement reads.

Rice Academic Quad Rendering
Rice University
Pictured is an artist’s rendering of a redesign of Rice University’s Academic Quadrangle. Construction began in November 2023.

Construction fencing has been erected around the perimeter of the quad, where landscaping work has begun. The university has enlisted landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz to execute the redesign, which the university previously announced will include new gathering spaces, a space near the middle of the quad for "performance and civic conversation" and a new permanent walkway between the courtyard's southwest corner at Rayzor Hall and its northeast corner at Herzstein Hall.

"The iconic space ... will preserve the university's legacy and create new areas that will build community and deepen connections to this important of campus," reads the joint statement from Nov. 20.