Faculty Senate meets Stanford's next president

Kathryn Ann Moler, chair of the Faculty Senate, introduced Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who will succeed John Hennessy as president of Stanford. Tessier-Lavigne, who will take office Sept. 1, gave a brief address. John Mitchell, vice provost for teaching and learning at Stanford, presented an overview and update of his office's work.

A few hours after he was named Stanford’s 11th president on Thursday, Marc Tessier-Lavigne made an unscheduled appearance at the Faculty Senate meeting, where he received a standing ovation and a bouquet of flowers.

In introducing Tessier-Lavigne, Kathryn Ann “Kam” Moler, chair of the Faculty Senate and a member of the Presidential Search Committee, described him as an academician, a pioneering neuroscientist, an outstanding faculty member, teacher and mentor.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne receives bouquet from Kam Moler at Faculty Senate meeting

Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who earlier in the day had been announced as Stanford’s new president, receives a bouquet from Faculty Senate Chair Kam Moler. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

“From many hours of interviews, both with him and with people who have known him well in his previous roles, we know that he is someone who will listen and consider input, who will be open-minded to ideas, who will understand that a university makes progress by working as a community together, and who has the ability to lead all of us, as a community, in turning our best ideas and hopes into reality,” said Moler, who is also a professor of applied physics and of physics.

Tessier-Lavigne, a former Stanford faculty member, said it was wonderful to be back at the university, among old friends and new ones, after a 13-year hiatus.

“I’m deeply honored and humbled to have the opportunity to work with you to build on the remarkable legacy of John Hennessy, one of the all-time great leaders in higher education, who has made an indelible mark on Stanford. As a former faculty member here, I know firsthand that the faculty are the heart of this institution, so I’m delighted that the timing of this announcement made it possible as one of my very first acts to address the senate.”

Hennessy is stepping down on Aug. 31, after more than 15 years as Stanford’s president.

Tessier-Lavigne, who is currently the president of The Rockefeller University, a premier biomedical research and graduate education institution, told the senate that he holds the highest reverence for great research universities. He said they have had an outsized impact in accelerating the progress of civilization, educating those who go on to lead societal change and producing the knowledge that underpins societal advance. He described such institutions as “custodians of humanity’s heritage” and “kindlers of innovation and progress.” He said Stanford is one of those universities.

“Stanford has superlative strength across the board, not just in research and scholarship, but also in education, not just in fundamental research, but also in applied research and entrepreneurship, and not just in the sciences and engineering, but also in arts and humanities, and in the professional schools,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “And you the faculty are at the center of that superlative strength.”

Tessier-Lavigne said he came from a typical Canadian Army family, which moved around the country and then to Europe, where he received most of his education in London and Brussels. He grew up attending French schools until college. As a Rhodes Scholar, he studied philosophy and physiology at the University of Oxford.

Tessier-Lavigne said he derived several core principles from his background and life experiences:

“First, we must continue to remain committed to the importance of a liberal arts education as the best way to prepare students for an impactful life. We also all know that preparing our students requires not just imparting knowledge and skills, but opening young minds to the world around them, teaching critical thinking and judgment, fostering a sense of personal and social responsibility, and preparing them for a lifetime of learning.”

Tessier-Lavigne said his first task will be to meet with every segment of the campus community, to listen and learn, to immerse himself in the culture, to seek to understand the great opportunities and challenges facing Stanford and to hear the community’s aspirations.

“I’m excited to work with all members of this community to lead Stanford to even greater heights,” he said.

Teaching and learning

Also during the senate meeting, John Mitchell, vice provost for teaching and learning, gave a presentation on the work of the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (VPTL), which Stanford created about a year ago.

John Mitchell

John Mitchell, vice provost for teaching and learning, gave a presentation on the work of his office. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Among the topics he addressed were VPTL’s three major initiatives: hosting the Year of Learning, a 2015-16 series of events and initiatives to engage faculty, instructors, students, staff and alumni in thinking about the art and science of teaching and learning at Stanford and beyond; implementing Stanford’s new course evaluations; and helping the Stanford community begin the transition to a cloud-based learning management system known as Canvas.

“The Year of Learning program series has engaged the faculty planning committee and the broader Stanford community in discussing, debating and planning the future of teaching and learning at Stanford – in its role as a modern research university, within the changing ecology of higher education, and in keeping with Stanford’s founding mission to serve students in the progression of their lives and broad service toward humanity and civilization,” Mitchell said. “The future requires us to fulfill that founding mission in a contemporary way.”

Regarding the rollout of the new course evaluations, Mitchell said about 40 percent of faculty and instructors took the opportunity to customize their class evaluations – one of the features of the new system.

Mitchell also discussed Stanford Online, which offers professional education courses in conjunction with many of the university’s schools and departments, and free online courses taught by Stanford faculty to lifelong learners around the world.

Among the courses he cited that are open now was International Women’s Health and Human Rights, which is reaching an international audience, including learners in China.

Mitchell also cited American Prophet: The Inner Life and Global Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr., which is taught by Stanford history Professor Clayborne Carson, founding director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. In the course, which is open now, Carson teaches participants how to use primary sources – one of the most important techniques in historical analysis – as a window into the civil rights leader’s life. Mitchell said the class is offering an invaluable service to the general public by introducing them to documents from Stanford’s King Papers Project.

The full minutes of the Feb. 4 senate meeting will be available soon on the Faculty Senate website. The minutes will include the question-and-answer session that followed the presentations.