Faculty Senate hears presentations on academic computing and student government concerns

The speakers at the Feb. 18 meeting were Vijay Pande, professor of chemistry; John-Lancaster Finley, ASSU president; and Brandon Hill, ASSU vice president.

Twenty years ago, research computing was the domain of scientists, but in today’s academic landscape computers play a key role in everyone’s research, Vijay Pande, former chair of the Committee on Academic Computing and Information Systems, told the Faculty Senate yesterday.

John-Lancaster Finley and Brandon Hill

ASSU President John-Lancaster Finley speaking to the Faculty Senate on Thursday. ASSU Vice President Brandon Hill is in the foreground. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Speaking at the Feb. 18 senate meeting, Pande, a professor of chemistry, said computation will continue to play a key role in university research in all disciplines. With its array of digital humanities endeavors, Stanford is a leader in the field, he said.

Pande said one of the challenges facing Stanford is finding financial support for research computing. He wondered aloud what fraction of funding should come from the university and how much should come from principal investigators’ research grants.

“The challenge that we’re facing is that the amount we can get from federal funding is getting more and more difficult, and we need to look for other ways to handle it,” he said.

In addition to research computing, Pande said other key topics discussed by the 2014-15 Committee on Academic Computing and Information Systems were computer security, specifically the tension between security and academic freedom; the infrastructure for basic academic work (email and calendaring); and learning management systems, specifically the role information technology and computers can play in teaching.

The Committee on Academic Computing and Information Systems formulates policies to meet the academic and administrative needs of faculty, students and academic staff.

Student leaders speak

John-Lancaster Finley, president of the Associated Students of Stanford University, and Brandon Hill, ASSU vice president, said one of their priorities as student leaders was to “leave the university in better condition than we found it,” by figuring out ways to partner with faculty in identifying curricular or institutional changes for Stanford to consider – changes that would have a lasting impact on the university.

They discussed three issues: ideas for strengthening the “engaging diversity” requirement in Stanford’s new Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing general education breadth system that would better meet its goals; ways to improve Stanford’s efforts on prevention of sexual and gender-based violence; and ways to better celebrate the history of the Native people, such as the Muwekma-Ohlone people, who lived on the land long before it became Stanford’s home.

Regarding the “engaging diversity” requirement, Finley and Hill suggested that a “diversity in the major” course be taken around the time students declare their majors to provide them with an opportunity to reflect on diversity issues within their major field of study. They offered examples of possible class titles: “Women in Tech,” “Understanding Diversity in Medicine,” “Global Thinking in Management” and “Product Design for Diverse Communities.”

“This is an opportunity we see for Stanford to really pioneer a new type of diversity education,” Finley said.

They also proposed requiring freshmen to take a gender identity course during fall quarter in their residences.

“We want to engage faculty in a conversation about a requirement for first-year students on human-centered, healthy sexual relationship education as a method for primary prevention of sexual assault,” Hill said.

“This means addressing the socio-cultural ground zero of rape culture at Stanford. By taking a fresh, kinetic, residential approach to fashioning a new sex-education requirement, we at once fulfill the recommendation of the Provost’s Task Force on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices of ‘ongoing and continuous education’ around this issue, spark the potential for culture shift on sexual assault on campus, as well as position Stanford to be the first university in the country to pioneer this type of curricular amendment for first-year students.”

Finally, they discussed ways to reaffirm Stanford’s “matchless commitment” to the Native community, by finding new ways to celebrate and commemorate Native history, such as honoring Ohlone words and distinguished Native graduates on campus.

Hill said the ASSU Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council had both passed resolutions requesting that the university rename buildings currently bearing the name of Father Junipero Serra out of respect to the indigenous and Native American communities.

The full minutes of the Feb. 18 meeting, including the question-and-answer sessions that followed the presentation, will be posted on the Faculty Senate website.