David L. Rice: building a foundation


Photo courtesy of USI Archives

Dr. David L. Rice helped push the university into becoming independent.

Robert Reid said that David Rice understood, better than anyone, that USI needed to be whatever the community thought was needed. 

Rice was the founding president of USI where he served for 27 years. Rice oversaw USI back when it was still Indiana State University Evansville and it was his push for independence that led to USI becoming the independent university it is today. His impact can still be felt by students on campus even after all these years.

Reid served as the academic vice provost for almost 30 years under Rice and later under President Ray Hoops. He said Rice had an understanding, when he came to Evansville, that the community wanted the university to be independent.

“That’s what (Dr. Rice) knew and understood and committed to achieving,” Reid said. “He provided a kind of founding father to the institution and the drive and determination and dedication that made it happen.”

He said Rice’s interest in making higher education available to an area that was neglected by the state helped develop the university to the place where current USI students live, work and study.

“He was dedicated to making this the very finest establishment of higher education possible,” Reid said. “He was a master at making resources available and used effectively by the faculty and by the students as we built program after program and reached out into the community, reached out internationally and developed programs that have a strong sense of responsibility for the entire globe as well as for the local region.”

Sherrianne Standley worked at USI for over 31 years. She started as the director of publications in 1976 before becoming the administrative assistant to the president. Standley was made Vice President for university relations in 1986, at Rice’s recommendation, and she retired in 2008.

She said she had a good expectation as to what it would be like to work in a president’s office because she worked with a university president before. Standley said Rice was wonderful to work with.

“He was always a good teacher and he was always very clear about his expectations,” she said. “For example, we can make no mistakes. That was an expectation and that was a good thing to know.”

Standley said Dr. Rice compared to other presidents with his even temperament. She said she never heard him raise his voice.

“He was always thinking about ways that we could improve the university and he was always sharing those ideas,” Standley said. “He didn’t have a meeting with the senior team without his little handwritten agenda in front of him. And it wasn’t always little, sometimes we’ll have a legal pad, but he was always extremely well organized and a careful thinker.”

She said the fact that USI had three more successful presidents with their own management styles is a testament to the foundation Rice laid behind him. Standley attributed the openness to new ideas at USI as apart of the impact that Rice left on campus, as well as the relationship he created with the wider Evansville community that opened up job opportunities for students.

“Employers are happy to hire our graduates and happy to hire our students part-time because of the academic reputation and the rigor of the program that (Rice) put in play,” she said. “And I think that, in the community, USI is regarded as an invaluable resource for talent.”