At meeting of the Academic Council, Stanford president reflects on his first eight months and on long-range planning

In his first address to the annual meeting of the Academic Council, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne reported on the university’s long-range planning process and shared the stage with four of the faculty members heading the effort.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne told members of the Academic Council on Thursday that the discussions he has had with faculty, staff and students during his first eight months in office helped convince him immediately to begin a long-range planning process for the university’s future.

Some people on campus, he acknowledged, counseled him to wait a year or longer. Get settled and get to know the place, they advised. Don’t be too ambitious in your first year.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne presents his first address to the annual meeting of the Academic Council, including an update on the university’s long-range planning process. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

But Tessier-Lavigne said it was the many conversations that convinced him and Provost Persis Drell of the value of embarking right away on a community-wide, long-range planning process. The campus discussions, he said, addressed such vital topics as the importance of academic breadth and depth; the need to highlight the arts, humanities and social sciences; garnering support for fundamental research; affordability for our faculty, staff and students and improving diversity and fostering inclusiveness.

“From sexual assault to immigration restrictions, to the threat of war, to the dangers of climate change, to our hopes for better human understanding, we have had occasion to talk about many urgent issues in my first year,” he said.

Given the gravity of the issues confronting higher education and the need to keep pace with the world’s challenges, Tessier-Lavigne said he and the provost forged ahead on a collaborative and inclusive planning process engaging the entire campus community.

“Whether we are on the verge of breakthroughs to cure disease, innovating approaches to education or convening the leading minds to eradicate poverty, everything that happens on this campus also matters to people across the country and throughout the world,” he said.

Tessier-Lavigne said he was grateful to Drell for their collaboration. He described their relationship as one “aligned on the importance of academic freedom, free expression, diversity and inclusion, as well as on the urgency of doing all we can to ensure our campus is safe – including the importance of meaningfully addressing, and ultimately eliminating, sexual assault on campus.”

Ideas wanted

The long-range planning process is now in phase one, which extends through June. During this phase, members of the campus community are strongly encouraged to submit ideas and proposals through the main long-range planning website, called The Purposeful University. The planning process focuses on four conceptual areas: education, research, our community and engagement beyond our university.

Phase two, which will run from July through October, involves proposal analysis by steering groups that have been charged with overseeing the four areas. Phase three, which extends from November through February 2018, involves the synthesis of ideas by the president, provost and executive cabinet.

Tessier-Lavigne introduced faculty members who are among the leaders of the steering groups that will review the ideas and proposals and make recommendations for initiatives the university should pursue. Attending the Academic Council meeting and joining the president on stage were:

  • Ramesh Johari, associate professor of management science and engineering, who co-chairs Our Community
  • Kathryn “Kam” Moler, professor of physics and of applied physics and senior associate dean for the natural sciences, who co-chairs Research
  • Stacey Bent, professor of chemical engineering and senior associate dean for faculty and academic affairs, who co-chairs Education
  • Juliet Brodie, associate dean of clinical education, professor (teaching) of law and director of the Mills Legal Clinic, who co-chairs Engagement Beyond Our University

No stone unturned

The steering group chairs stressed that ideas need not be fully formulated. Some of the ideas that have already been submitted are no more than one sentence long, according to Moler. One model for submitting proposals, she said, is to answer the questions who, what, when, where, why and how.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne discussing the long-range planning process with a panel consisting of Ramesh Johari, Kam Moler, Stacey Bent and Juliet Brodie. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

But, she noted, “Often big ideas are made of lots of little ideas. Don’t worry that your idea is too small. Just go ahead and send it in. You can submit one sentence, three pages, a short video. Whatever it is that makes it important to you is how you should describe it to us.”

Johari asked the audience to help the steering groups with outreach to all corners of the campus. His group is pursuing venues ranging from large town hall meetings to small gatherings over lunch. With some student groups, for instance, deeply felt emotions will only emerge if the gathering is small, he said.

He emphasized that community participation is key to success of the planning process. “We’re trying to leave no stone unturned in terms of reaching out,” he said, adding that he has found it “eye-opening how large this university is.”

Bent said the university has already received about 100 ideas on the topic of education. Although each steering group  is made up of people from different schools and programs, she said members “take off our hats when we get together and represent the university as a whole.”

Among the ideas submitted for her group’s consideration is the creation of a school of architecture. Another is an interdisciplinary center of the future, where such topics as income inequality, the effects of automation and the growing diversity of populations can be discussed.

“We are interested in the best ideas from the Stanford community about what education should look like 10, 20, 30 years out,” Bent said. “Who are we going to be teaching, and where are we going to be teaching them? Are there radical changes coming in education? Can we keep up with them?”

Brodie said her group is concerned with ideas that address the university’s role beyond its campus boundaries.

“Our group really represents the commitment to the larger mission,” Brodie said. “We are not doing any of these things for their own sake. The university has a central role in the world, and we want to make sure as we think about the future and Stanford in the 21st century not to focus exclusively on our community. We want to focus on why we are here. For want of a better phrase, we are here to make the world a better place.”

49th Senate report

Also reporting to the Academic Council was Debra Satz, professor of philosophy, senior associate dean for the humanities and arts, and chair of the Faculty Senate. Satz emphasized the importance of faculty governance and encouraged more faculty members to become involved in senate affairs. The Faculty Senate, she said, deals with such vital issues as the general education curriculum, academic freedom, the composition of the undergraduate class, the well-being of students, gender equity and inclusion, and supporting the research environment.

Debra Satz at podium

Debra Satz, chair of the Faculty Senate, addressing the Academic Council. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

“The senate is the main place the faculty from across the university get to deliberate together,” she said.

Stanford’s Faculty Senate, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, has a long history of deliberating about university policies, but also of providing counsel during tumultuous times, Satz said, citing the Vietnam War era, the return of ROTC to campus and various divestment issues.

“Stanford has been lucky to have and have had excellent leadership – this year we welcomed a new president and provost to the senate – but even long-functioning democracies cannot rely only on leaders, who come and go, and institutions often drift and sometimes crash when their members are asleep at the wheel,” she said. “So, I hope that more of you will consider participating in the senate and serving on one of its committees.”

Satz highlighted three areas that earned senate attention in the past year, including the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, student well-being, and curriculum and teaching.

As it considered diversity issues, the senate passed resolutions supporting toleration and inclusiveness, especially in the wake of the 2016 election, and affirming Stanford’s commitment to all community members, regardless of country of origin or legal status. The senate discussed findings of the Task Force on Women in Leadership on Campus and heard a report on the issues faced by first-generation students at Stanford.

Satz warned that inclusion requires constant reaffirmation and commitment.

“Research shows that you can’t take your foot off the gas without a real danger of backsliding,” she said.

Long-range planning, Satz said, presents an opportunity for Stanford to consider how it can attract more low-income students. Like many peer institutions, more of Stanford’s students come from the top 1 percent of the income distribution than the bottom 60 percent.

“The good news is that low-income students do well at Stanford and later in their careers. The bad news is that there are not enough of them here,” she said.

Satz called sexual assault a “particularly egregious challenge to student well-being” and summarized the report the senate heard from the Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices and the Title IX Office. Executives from the Associated Students of Stanford University also discussed with the senate mental health services on campus.

Satz said the senate also focused on strengthening the presence of general education in the first years of a student’s time at Stanford and considering the role the major plays in an undergraduate education. Next month, the senate will continue to discuss these issues when it takes up a report on the first-year experience. Satz said the senate also considered the status of adjunct faculty and appointed a task force to gather information about non-tenure line faculty and to report back to the senate next year with recommendations.