Trustees discuss fossil fuels, quake preparedness

The Stanford University Board of Trustees gave design approval to a new campus in Redwood City, discussed its obligations to investment responsibility in light of student divestment requests, and heard presentations on earthquake preparedness, graduate education, athletics and new Law School programs.

At its Dec. 7-8 meeting, Stanford University Board of Trustees considered a wide range of critical topics, including earthquake preparedness plans, university research in clean energy and sustainability, and the search for a successor to President John L. Hennessy.

Steven Denning, trustees chair

Steven Denning, chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, said the board considered a wide range of critical topics at its December meeting. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The board also scheduled additional time to discuss a proposal from students for divestment from fossil fuel extraction companies, adhering to the board’s process for reviewing such requests.

Trustees also heard presentations by Patricia J. Gumport, a professor of education and vice provost for graduate education; M. Elizabeth Magill, a professor of law and dean of Stanford Law School; and Bernard Muir, director of Stanford Athletics.

Trustees took action on the proposed Stanford in Redwood City, an amenity-filled workplace for more than 2,300 employees engaged in vital university functions. The board gave design approval to the new campus – the third step in the approval process. Construction approval is expected in October 2016. The new campus – Stanford’s first significant expansion outside the main campus – is scheduled to open in 2019.

The Board of Trustees also heard how Stanford has reduced water use in response to the California drought, and how the university is preparing for El Niño winter storms.

In a briefing after the two-day meeting, Steven A. Denning, chair of the Board of Trustees, said trustees also received a progress report on the search for a successor to Stanford President John L. Hennessy, who is stepping down next year. Denning said the board is on track to announce Stanford’s 11th president in spring 2016.

Divestment decision-making

During the meeting, board members discussed requests from students that Stanford divest from 200 fossil-fuel extraction companies.

Denning said the Board of Trustees will adhere to the process outlined in Stanford’s Statement on Investment Responsibility, initially adopted in 1971, to make divestment decisions. The statement includes the six requirements that must be met in order for trustees to divest and to suspend further direct investment by the endowment in that company.

Denning said the process is thorough and deliberative: The Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing reviews divestment requests; the panel makes a recommendation to the board’s Special Committee on Investment Responsibility; the committee makes a recommendation to the Board of Trustees.

“It is a process that has served us exceptionally well over the years,” he said. “We are moving as rapidly as we can. The Special Committee on Investment Responsibility met Sunday evening, and met again at 7 a.m. on Monday morning. We take our commitment to investment responsibility very seriously.”

Denning noted that Stanford recently created Investment Responsibility Stakeholder Relations (IRSR) to improve the university’s ability to research and review divestment issues. IRSR will be staffed by a director who fields requests for review of investment responsibility issues, coordinates with campus constituencies, serves as a liaison to the Board of Trustees and works with the Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing.

Addressing the challenges of climate change

During an informal Sunday evening dinner on campus, trustees listened to two Stanford faculty members talk about energy and sustainability research on campus: Stacey F. Bent, a professor of chemical engineering and director of the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy, and Arun Majumdar, a professor of mechanical engineering and co-director of the Precourt Institute for Energy.

“They talked about some quite imaginative research into sustainable sources of energy, including how we can remove carbon from energy sources without compromising economic growth,” Denning said, noting that Stanford is studying new ways to develop clean liquid hydrocarbon fuels, lower the costs of geothermal energy, develop lighter photovoltaic systems and capture carbon from power plants. “Their presentation gave us a glimpse of some of the innovative and ground-breaking research ideas Stanford is pursuing.”

Denning said Stanford is committed to addressing the problems caused by climate change, not just in its research but also in its cutting-edge energy system.

In an Oct. 28 letter that Stanford leaders sent to the conveners of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, the university urged global leaders to look to universities for climate solutions.

The letter highlighted Stanford’s innovative new campus energy system, which will reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions by 68 percent and allow Stanford to exceed state, national and international energy goals for 2020 several years early. The statement also described research breakthroughs, energy upgrades and sustainability initiatives the Stanford community has achieved in recent years.

Earthquakes, PhDs, legal education, athletics

Denning said trustees heard a thorough presentation on the risks future earthquakes of varying magnitudes pose to university operations, including physical damage to academic, residential, research and administrative buildings, and to university finances.

The presenters were Greg Beroza, a professor of geophysics in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences; Larry Gibbs, associate vice provost, Environmental Health & Safety; Laura Goldstein, director of Project Management, Lands, Buildings & Real Estate; and Randy Livingston, vice president, Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer.

Denning described earthquakes as the “single biggest risk” to Stanford, noting that there is a 64 percent chance that a temblor will strike the Bay Area during the next 30 years.

He said Stanford has plans in place to protect the safety of faculty, students and staff in the event of an earthquake.

During the meeting, Patricia Gumport, vice provost for graduate education, discussed a variety of Stanford programs and initiatives for graduate students, including new graduate housing proposed for Escondido Village, and career advising programs that support graduate students as they pursue careers inside or outside academia.

M. Elizabeth “Liz” Magill, dean of Stanford Law School, gave a state-of-the-school report that included a discussion about the impact of globalization on legal education.

Bernard Muir, director of Stanford Athletics, discussed recent court decisions and pending legal appeals related to player status – paying college athletes as university employees.

Departing trustees

Trustees also bid farewell to two trustees whose terms will end Jan. 31, 2016 – James E. Canales and Bruce W. Dunlevie – in a program recognizing their service during a trustee dinner. They both were elected to the Board of Trustees in 2006.

Denning commended the two trustees for their service and for accepting additional responsibilities by serving as committee chairs. Canales served as chair of the board’s Committee on Trusteeship. Dunlevie served as chair of the board’s Committee on Land & Buildings. He will continue  to serve as chair of the Board of Directors of the Stanford Management Company, which invests and manages the university’s endowment and other financial assets.

“They did phenomenal jobs,” Denning said. “We will miss them both.”