Faculty Senate hears update on federal tax proposals, General Use Permit process

At its Nov. 9 meeting, the Senate also heard an update from Dean Lloyd Minor on activities and accomplishments in the School of Medicine.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne seated in the senate meeting.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne spoke to the Faculty Senate about implications of the federal tax proposals and about free speech on campus. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

At the Faculty Senate meeting on Thursday, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne discussed the implications of the federal tax plan recently proposed by House Republicans and addressed the university’s efforts to advance both the free expression of ideas and an inclusive campus culture.

The senate also heard a report from university planners on Stanford’s application to Santa Clara County for an updated land use permit, which would provide a framework for campus development from 2018 through 2035.

In addition, Dean Lloyd Minor gave a presentation on the School of Medicine, touching on recent accomplishments, current initiatives and the school’s guiding vision of “precision health” for future developments in research, education and patient care.

Federal tax proposals

Tessier-Lavigne expressed his concerns about the current effort by Congress to pass a large-scale tax reform bill. Several provisions in the bill proposed by House Republicans would adversely impact the Stanford community and the higher education sector in general, he said.

Of particular concern is a provision calling for an excise tax on investment earnings from the endowment, which support a wide array of programs at Stanford. He also called attention to a provision removing the tax exemption for the tuition grant remission program, which would have a negative effect on employees and on graduate students who serve as teaching and research assistants.

“It is extremely unfortunate that such provisions run contrary to what should be shared national goals of advancing important research, increasing accessibility and affordability for students, or furthering our education mission,” said Tessier-Lavigne. He added that the provisions are designed to offset tax reductions in others areas, as opposed to being grounded in sound policy rationales.

Tessier-Lavigne said Stanford is working with peer universities and national associations to advocate directly against these and other provisions in the bill, adding that the legislative process is in its early stages and changes to the bill are expected before it comes before both houses of Congress for a vote. Indeed, he mentioned that just prior to the senate meeting, Senate Republicans released a tax proposal in which the education relief benefit for graduate students appeared to be preserved.

“We’re taking this tax proposal extremely seriously and we’re working very hard both directly and in concert with our peer institutions,” he said.

Free expression and inclusion

Tessier-Lavigne also addressed the university’s efforts to advance both the free expression of ideas and an inclusive campus culture, providing an overview of key points in a recent blog post he co-authored with Provost Persis Drell on the subject.

There was a discussion of an upcoming campus event at which the Stanford College Republicans have invited controversial figure Robert Spencer to speak. Tessier-Lavigne said he shared the views expressed by Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole and Dean for Religious Life Jane Shaw, who in a statement Thursday offered firm support for members of Stanford’s Muslim community and voiced their commitment to the open exchange of ideas.

The university has posted a set of answers to frequently asked questions about the event on the freespeech.stanford.edu website.

“These are difficult issues, and we welcome responses and suggestions from the campus community on how we can work together to further the goals of free expression of ideas and creating an inclusive culture,” said Tessier-Lavigne.

Guide for campus development

Catherine Palter standing before the senate

Catherine Palter discussing the General Use Permit application process at the Faculty Senate meeting on Thursday. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Stanford’s application for an updated General Use Permit would allow the university to expand on-campus housing and academic space to address emerging academic needs and opportunities out to the year 2035. The current phase of the process encourages members of the public to comment on a draft environmental impact report that was issued last month, said Catherine Palter, associate vice president for land use and environmental planning.

The draft report found that the proposed permit would not have significant adverse effects on most environmental resources. Out of 80 potential environmental impacts evaluated over the life of the proposed permit, 47 were determined to be less than significant and 29 were judged to be less than significant after mitigation. Four were identified as significant and possibly unavoidable in the areas of construction noise, transportation and cultural/historic resources – mainly because the report needs to make conservative assumptions, Palter said. Stanford fully intends to meet its goal of “no net new commute trips” during the life of the permit to address the transportation impacts, she said.

The proposed permit would allow Stanford to construct up to 3,150 units/beds of housing and 2.275 million square feet of academic facilities out to 2035, with housing being built on pace with academic facilities. Stanford would preserve the existing academic growth boundary that separates the foothills from the core campus, and the university would make a sizable contribution to Santa Clara County’s Affordable Housing Fund.

The application for the new permit was submitted in November 2016. Since that time Stanford has conducted more than 25 internal and external outreach meetings, Palter said. The public comment phase for the draft environment impact report will conclude Dec. 4.

The next step will be the preparation of a final environmental impact report in advance of consideration of the full General Use Permit application by the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, which also will hold public hearings in 2018.

“Our efforts are founded on principles that have allowed Stanford to grow in a manner that is thoughtful, balanced and with minimal environmental impacts – in fact, improved environmental outcomes,” said Robert Reidy, vice president for land, buildings and real estate.

School of Medicine aims for precision health

Providing the senate with an overview of activities at the School of Medicine, Minor introduced his report by remarking on the school’s unique tripartite mission of research, teaching and patient care delivery. The school’s clinical work is critical to its success, he said. Minor noted that the clinical enterprise enables biomedical innovation and world-class teaching and research, and helps the university carry out its service mission.

Enhancing diversity and inclusion has been, and will continue to be, a key priority for the school, Minor said. Through expanded programming and outreach, this year’s PhD and MD entering classes include, respectively, 25 and 26 percent members of underrepresented minority groups, up from 10 percent and 12 percent in 2012.

Collaborative work across the university, particularly in the area of biomedicine, is an area of expansion for the school. Minor noted the establishment in 2016 of a new center, Presence, that works with all seven schools at Stanford to conduct evidence-based research projects examining the human experience and communication in medicine. In addition, last year there were more than 7,000 undergraduate enrollments in courses taught by School of Medicine faculty.

“The greatest strength of the School of Medicine is that we are part of Stanford University,” he said.

Medical treatment is now moving toward precision health, which focuses on maintaining health and wellness, not solely on sick care, said Minor. Precision medicine uses cutting-edge tools – genomics, big data science and regenerative medicine – and applies them in a proactive and personally tailored way to predict, prevent and cure disease precisely.

Minor summed up his presentation by referencing Stanford’s founding principle of promoting the public welfare.

“That’s a goal we embrace at the School of Medicine,” he said. “It’s our privilege to contribute to the success of Stanford as a purposeful university.”

The full minutes of the Nov. 9 meeting, including the discussion that followed the presentations, will be posted on the Faculty Senate website. The next senate meeting is scheduled for Nov. 30.