Stanford president, provost answer questions during informal meeting with university community

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell answered a range of questions on issues from housing availability to the importance of the humanities during a town hall meeting Monday.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s commitment to engage with the Stanford community and discuss the university’s most pressing issues was demonstrated again Monday afternoon during a Brown Bag Town Hall meeting in the Oak Room at Tresidder Memorial Union.

Tessier-Lavigne, joined by Provost Persis Drell, addressed questions about issues including housing affordability, the university’s sexual assault and alcohol policies, support for the humanities and social sciences and concerns over the effects of the U.S. administration’s immigration order.

The hour-long, informal meeting, attended by approximately 150 students, faculty and staff, was the first of a series of meetings the president and the provost plan to hold in an effort to foster an open dialogue between the Stanford administration and the university’s community members. Monday’s town hall meeting came just five days after Tessier-Lavigne spoke to hundreds at Memorial Church during the “What Matters to Me and Why” series.

“This town hall is something new that we’re trying,” Tessier-Lavigne said in the beginning of the meeting. “What both Persis and I have heard consistently is a desire for open communication with all members of the campus. The great thing is that, for Persis and for myself, this is actually very much our natural style. That’s what we enjoy doing. That’s how we like to interact with the community. So we welcome the suggestion with open arms.”

Elizabeth Zacarias

Elizabeth Zacharias, vice president for human resources, was on hand at the Brown Bag Town Hall Meeting and helped to more fully answer a question. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Tessier-Lavigne also reiterated his intention to start a long-range planning process for Stanford in the coming weeks with an aim to articulate a vision for the university’s future through collaborating with every part of Stanford’s community.

As part of the development of the new long-range plan, Tessier-Lavigne said university officials will ask Stanford community members for their ideas and input around at least four key areas: education, research, our community and engagement beyond the university.

“The aim is to develop a shared vision for our university,” said Tessier-Lavigne, adding that more information about the planning process is scheduled to come out in early March.

Drell, who became provost less than a month ago, also emphasized the importance of communication and gathering input from community members.

In reflecting on her first weeks on the job, Drell mentioned two issues that have been on her mind: Stanford’s process for sexual assault cases and the executive order on immigration that affected many Stanford community members last month. Both topics were brought up again later in questions submitted by audience members.

“We at Stanford value and will work to support all members of our community,” Drell said. “We will do everything in our power to support and protect members of our community.”

Tessier-Lavigne and Drell addressed the issue of decreasing housing affordability in and around Stanford, and they said it’s a problem they hear about repeatedly from the Stanford community.

“We recognize that we’re in the area of an incredibly high cost of living,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “We do want you to know that this is foremost on our list of things to worry about.”

Tessier-Lavigne said the university’s approach has largely been to tackle housing projects year by year, trying to help different segments of the Stanford community. But moving forward, Tessier-Lavigne said he hopes to assess whether the university should shift to a long-term view on its housing approach as he gathers the community’s input over the next year while putting together the long-range plan for the university.

In an answer to a question about the importance of humanities and social sciences at Stanford, Tessier-Lavigne restated his commitment to making sure that those disciplines get as much support as do the fields of sciences, technology, engineering and math.

“One of the great things about Stanford is our strength across the board in humanities, arts, social sciences, sciences and engineering,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “It’s essential for the university and for our students and researchers that we maintain that strength and that breadth.”

Another questioner brought up transportation problems that are affecting Stanford and the surrounding communities. Drell and the president said Stanford’s administration is working to address those issues.

“We continue to work on mechanisms to improve transportation and reduce the number of trips and congestion,” Tessier-Lavigne said.

Other topics the president and the provost discussed during the question-and-answer session included diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math; security and video cameras on campus; the university’s staff experience; mental health resources; and attracting and retaining talent at Stanford.