Reginald DesRoches will be Rice University’s next president. Credit: Rice University

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HOUSTON — Rice University’s board of trustees has selected Reginald DesRoches, who is now serving as school provost, to be the university’s next president.

DesRoches, born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is the first immigrant, first Black man and first engineer to lead the private research university. An internationally recognized structural engineer and earthquake resilience expert, DesRoches will succeed President David Leebron, who previously announced his plan to step down next summer after the academic year ends.

“I am deeply honored to be named the next president of Rice University,” DesRoches said in a written statement. “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.”

DesRoches will take over as the university’s eighth president on July 1.

“When President Leebron told us he was stepping down, we knew we wanted to build upon what he has accomplished these last 18 years,” Robert Ladd, chair of the board of trustees, said in a written statement. “We embarked on a search for a proven leader who will be transformational, who will lead Rice to even greater stature and national recognition. We have found a leader who is inspirational and universally respected, a leader who is visionary, strategic and kind. We are proud to welcome Reginald DesRoches as our university’s next president.”

Rice, in Houston, was established after William “Willy” Rice set aside money before he died that helped start the school in 1912 with the stipulation that it only serve white Texans.

Throughout the pandemic, Rice students demanded removal of a campus monument of Willy Rice, a slaveholder. The push from students was part of widespread protests across the state and nation condemning the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and students called for an end to racial injustice.

At Rice, 7% of students are Black or African American.

DesRoches has already begun addressing race issues at Rice. As chief academic officer, he established the office of diversity, equity and inclusion. DesRoches has also led the university’s academic, research, scholarly and creative activities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

DesRoches arrived at Rice in 2017 as dean of engineering at the George R. Brown School of Engineering. During DesRoches’ time as dean, the department underwent significant growth in research programs, including new efforts in the areas of neuroengineering and synthetic biology. He also led the establishment of the school’s first-of-its-kind collaborative research center in India with the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur.

Before joining Rice, DesRoches was chair of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech. His work there stemmed from his studies at the University of California, Berkeley. As an undergraduate student, DesRoches witnessed the damage wrought by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. That experience led him to focus on earthquake resiliency as he pursued his master’s and doctoral degrees at Berkeley.

Since then, DesRoches has become a nationally recognized expert on earthquake resilience who has testified before committees of the U.S. House and Senate. He chairs the National Construction Safety Team, an agency within the U.S. Commerce Department that is overseeing an investigation of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominiums in Surfside, Florida. He previously served on the advisory committee for the engineering directorate for the National Science Foundation.

“Reggie DesRoches is an outstanding choice as Rice’s next president,” Leebron said in a statement. “I have had the privilege of working closely with Reggie over the last 4½ years, first in his capacity of dean of engineering and then as provost, and observed firsthand his extraordinary leadership, values, thoughtfulness and ambition for Rice. I am confident he will fully achieve the aspirations of our ‘Be Bold’ campaign, and take Rice to new heights of achievement and impact.”

Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribunes journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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