Faculty Senate discusses support for undocumented students, the future of liberal arts education on campus, new policy on privacy in electronic information

The speakers at the Jan. 26 senate meeting included President Marc Tessier-Lavigne; Provost John Etchemendy; Professor Russell Berman, chair of the Planning and Policy Board; and Professor Andrew Fire, chair of the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on IT Security and Privacy.

The Faculty Senate discussed a variety of issues Thursday, including continuing support for undocumented students, evolving national immigration policies, ensuring the vibrancy of liberal arts education and a new university policy on privacy in electronic information.

Speaking at the Jan. 26 meeting, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said there were many issues of continuing concern on campus. He said it was time to again reaffirm the university’s values, noting that some communities within Stanford, including the Jewish community, have reported feeling concerned and vulnerable.

“We value free expression, but acts of hate are unacceptable here,” he said. “All members of our community belong here at Stanford, and we are here to support them.”

Marc Tessier-Lavigne speaking to the Faculty Senate.

At Thursday’s Faculty Senate meeting, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne talks about the importance of ensuring that all members of the Stanford community feel supported. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Tessier-Lavigne said he recently sent a letter to members of the U.S. Congress expressing support for the proposed BRIDGE Act. The bipartisan federal legislation would preserve protections for those who have remained in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which has allowed undocumented individuals who entered the United States as children to remain in the country without fear of deportation.

Saying Stanford will continue to provide services and support to undocumented students, he reiterated policies described in the Stanford Statement on Campus Climate and Immigration, which the university posted on its website in November 2016.

Tessier-Lavigne said Stanford is closely monitoring developments related to a leaked draft executive order, apparently under consideration by the new federal administration, that would place temporary restrictions on the ability of visa holders from certain countries to enter – or re-enter – the United States.

“We are looking carefully at who in our community may be impacted by this, in terms of their ability to return to the United States if they leave, and we are reaching out to members of our community who may be traveling in the affected countries or considering traveling there,” he said.

“This is an issue that is still evolving, as are other new issues emerging from Washington. We intend to stay on top of them and provide timely information and support to students, faculty and other members of our community.”

Tessier-Lavigne also took the occasion to recognize Provost John Etchemendy, a professor of philosophy whose tenure as provost ends Jan. 31. Persis Drell, dean of the School of Engineering, will become provost on Feb. 1.

“John is a passionately dedicated citizen of the university,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “He exemplifies the best in Stanford leadership and has contributed immeasurably to Stanford’s strength and evolution. His leadership has played a central role in creating the Stanford we know today.”

The senate gave Etchemendy a prolonged standing ovation.

Etchemendy said Tessier-Lavigne and Drell will do a wonderful job leading Stanford. He encouraged the faculty to continue doing the important work of the senate.

“The senate is an extraordinarily valuable organization,” Etchemendy said. “When push comes to shove, when there’s a crisis at the university, when there is an important policy question, a policy question about research practices or a question about ROTC, and so forth and so on, we are absolutely so lucky to have this body to discuss it, and to discuss it with the administration. You have to preserve that.”

Etchemendy will serve as special assistant to Tessier-Lavigne and Drell for the remainder of the academic year. He will then take a year-long sabbatical before returning to teaching. Stanford Report recently published a story about Etchemendy’s remarkable legacy as provost.

Promoting Stanford as a liberal arts institution

In other business, the Faculty Senate discussed a new report that recommends Stanford promote itself more effectively as a liberal arts institution in which students can thrive in all areas of study, and whose graduates proceed to excellence and leadership in all fields.

Russell Berman

Russell Berman, chair of the Faculty Senate’s Planning and Policy Board, speaking to the senate on Thursday. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Professor Russell Berman, chair of the Planning and Policy Board, which produced the 60-page report, said it recommends that Stanford implement a comprehensive communications strategy to help ensure the continuing vibrancy of liberal arts education on campus.

That was one of eight recommendations of the committee, which the senate convened last year to study the distribution of undergraduate majors at Stanford. One of the issues the committee studied was the rising student interest in engineering, which accounted for 37 percent of the undergraduate degrees awarded at Stanford in June 2016.

The report said that that much – but not all – of the growth in the interest in engineering can be attributed to computer science, reflecting the high quality of Stanford’s faculty, real transformations in culture and society, the proximity of the campus to Silicon Valley and Stanford’s historical ties to the industry.

“Visions of success in fields related to computer science loom large in the imagination of undergraduates – and their parents – and rightly so,” the report said.

“However, these are by no means the sole paths to success in life. Stanford must remain committed to a rich diversity of courses of study, but also to a wide range of career paths, many of which are unknown to our first-year students. The university must validate the choices of those students who pursue excellence in the liberal arts, in academic careers, or in dedicated public service as much as the dreams of students aspiring to found start-ups or to pursue success in the private sector.”

In 2016, one of every two male undergraduates at Stanford was an engineering major.

Members of the Faculty Senate in discussion.

Senate members, clockwise from left, Harry Elam, Persis Drell, Debra Satz, Adrian Daub and Karen Cook discuss the distribution of undergraduate majors after the Faculty Senate was divided into small groups to consider the issue. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

“Students in other areas report feeling isolated, suggesting consequences for the character of the undergraduate experience,” the report said. “The faculty should be concerned with changes in student culture, but also with the public perception of the university and its effect on the type of student who chooses to apply – or not to apply – to Stanford.”

The report said the future of the liberal arts at Stanford depends on the quality of teaching.

“We should review, revise, and if necessary reinvent curricula at all levels, but especially in introductory courses, to make the full range of this university’s intellectual endeavors compelling to today’s undergraduates,” the report said.

Among the report’s other recommendations: provide students with professional advising staff; expand job fairs to mirror the breadth of liberal arts education; and energetically recruit students across the full range of academic opportunities available at Stanford.

After a short presentation by Berman, who is a professor of German Studies and of comparative literature, the senate broke up into small groups to discuss the report for 15 minutes – a new practice for the body.

The study, Report and Recommendations on Students’ Curricular Choices and the Critical Role of a Liberal Arts Education, is available on the Faculty Senate website.

IT privacy and security

In an earlier presentation at the meeting, Professor Andrew Fire, chair of the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on IT Security and Privacy, drew the senate’s attention to a new Administrative Guide memo.

The new memo, Privacy and Access to Electronic Information (Section 6.1.1.), establishes a policy on privacy in electronic information, and the circumstances under which electronic information may be accessed and/or disclosed without the consent of the user. The seven-page policy was approved in October 2016.

Fire, a professor of pathology and of genetics, urged faculty to review the document.

Shifts in composition of Faculty Senate

In addition, the Faculty Senate approved a reapportionment plan that will shift the composition of the 50th Senate (2017-18) and its successors. Several schools will gain members: Engineering (+2), Business (+1) and Medicine (+1). The School of Humanities & Sciences will lose three of its 24 senate seats. Next year, as a result of rounding, the overall size of the senate will increase to 56, compared with 55 today. The plan is based on a complicated formula designed to reflect the composition of Stanford’s seven schools and reflects each one’s share of the faculty members of the Academic Council and each one’s teaching volume, as measure in units taught and degrees awarded. The university’s office of Institutional Research & Decision Support provided data and analysis for the plan.

The full minutes of the Jan. 26 meeting, including the discussion that followed both presentations, will be posted on the Faculty Senate website. The next senate meeting is scheduled for Feb. 9.