Long-range planning white papers released to campus community

Documents address a range of topics from research and educational initiatives to housing, sustainability and university operations. A 30-day comment period on the papers now begins.

Stanford’s long-range planning effort takes a leap forward today with the release to the campus community of 37 white papers produced by four area steering groups.

The white papers represent high-level summaries of the more than 2,800 ideas and proposals for Stanford’s future that were submitted by members of the university community. The documents cover a breadth of topics ranging from research objectives, educational initiatives and public service proposals to housing, sustainability and university operations.

The area steering groups – organized around the topics of Education, Research, Our Community and Engagement Beyond Our University – were composed of more than 100 faculty, undergraduates, graduate students, staff, academic staff and postdoctoral scholars. They were charged with organizing proposals into a conceptual framework, editorializing and providing perspective and analysis focusing on the future.

View two recent videos in which the faculty co-chairs discuss how the steering groups accomplished their work:

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell, who launched the long-range planning effort last year to help shape a shared vision for the university’s future, said they were deeply appreciative of the work of the steering groups and impressed with the breadth of ideas and level of creativity shown by the Stanford community.

“The white papers demonstrate the depth of the university community’s engagement with the long-range planning process, the care with which the area steering groups have reviewed the proposals and our community’s commitment to making meaningful contributions to help solve large global problems,” Tessier-Lavigne said.

“We’re grateful to the area steering groups for taking on the herculean task of digesting the 2,800 submissions, and for providing, in these white papers, such a cogent and comprehensive picture of how members of our community imagine Stanford’s future,” he said.

Read a post by President Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Drell about the white papers on the Notes from the Quad blog.

Drell acknowledged that some of the proposals referenced in the white papers took a more critical look at the university, pointing to challenges Stanford faces in areas such as housing and transportation, diversity, technology and communication.

“We specifically issued a call for ideas to both strengthen our foundations and propel the university into the future, and the community responded,” Drell said. “We welcome all of the ideas, however critical of current practices, however large or small in scale. Strengthening what we do requires honestly assessing ourselves. We didn’t expect people to tell us how great we are – we expected them to tell us how to become better.”

She encouraged the community to embrace the feedback – both positive and critical – and to view the contents of the white papers not as finished products but rather as starting points for critical evaluation, creative thinking and positive change. This is especially important since, she noted, many ideas take opposing perspectives – as might be expected of input from Stanford’s large and diverse community.

The white papers are available to members of the Stanford community with a SUNet ID. The community is invited to provide comment on the white papers over the next 30 days by sending an email to stanford_planning@stanford.edu.

Major themes emerged

Although many ideas are contained in the white papers, Tessier-Lavigne noted the emergence of some overarching themes, including:

  • The desire to make significant contributions to our local community, nation and our world through education, research and service; to take on big issues facing humanity and have a greater impact; to work within and across disciplines; to engage meaningfully with diverse communities; and to inform public policy
  • The desire to reimagine what it means to be a “learning” community and to better prepare students
  • The desire to enhance support for the university community and improve operational efficiency

Many of the proposals in the white papers describe visionary ways in which Stanford can encourage inquiry and discovery and accelerate innovation. There are also proposals that called for a reinvigorated and bold approach to education, to make Stanford an even greater leader in teaching and a change agent for student learning.

“As we move into the next stage of developing the long-range vision, we will be mindful of what we heard from the community and respectful of the collective desire to strengthen and expand the university’s important mission of advancing knowledge and applying it for the benefit of humanity,” said Tessier-Lavigne.

Initiatives under way

Several white papers presented new ideas for operational and organizational improvements, while others proposed fresh ways to address ongoing campus challenges.

Some of the most crucial operational issues raised in the white papers are being examined and addressed now, Drell said. In recent months, the Provost’s Office has been working in concert with units across the university to support initiatives in the areas of affordability, student learning and well-being, faculty development and operational effectiveness, among others.

Given the rising costs and lack of availability of housing in the region, it came as no surprise that affordability emerged as a key issue in the white papers, Drell said, with the area steering groups reviewing more than 300 submissions on the topic.

“The affordability issue seriously affects our community’s quality of life and must be factored into Stanford’s short- and long-range plans. It’s a daunting challenge, one that must be examined and addressed from multiple angles,” said Drell.

She recently formed a housing task force made up of leaders from Land, Buildings & Real Estate; the University Budget Office; Residential & Dining Enterprises; Faculty Staff Housing; and University Human Resources to tackle housing issues in a more holistic, cross-departmental fashion.

The university is also exploring flexible work arrangements that could help mitigate long commutes and lack of affordable housing near campus. In October 2017, Stanford launched a test satellite worksite in downtown San Jose. Program participants are providing feedback throughout the 13-month pilot, which will help determine whether the university will explore other satellite locations.

Employee compensation is another component of the affordability issue, said Drell, noting that the university regularly conducts in-depth analyses of its compensation and benefits programs to ensure that these programs are competitive with the local market. In response to the issues raised in the long-range planning process, she said the university will conduct a strategic and comprehensive review of its total rewards and workplace policies. As part of this process, University Human Resources will work with both established and newly formed work groups to evaluate the suggestions from the university community.

Drell also pointed to some recent efforts that are designed to address concerns regarding student learning and well-being:

  • The university is developing a new campus climate survey as part of its ongoing effort to achieve a campus environment free of sexual violence and harassment. A committee of faculty, students and staff is working now to discuss the survey instrument and its timing.
  • Humanities & Sciences Dean Richard Saller is leading a small task force charged with assessing the institution’s support for Stanford’s first-generation and low-income students. The committee will take stock of programs and services currently offered for these students and find where there may be gaps.
  • The Committee on Graduate Studies and Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education are collaborating on a year-long graduate student advising initiative, working with faculty, students and staff in departments to identify best practices and new resources that will enhance student-faculty advising relationships.
  • Drell co-hosted workshops on institutional change for students in May 2017 and is participating in an ASSU-hosted workshop on this topic this month. Students are facilitating the sessions, which are designed both to increase institutional knowledge and to provide tools for students to become agents of change.

Strengthening Stanford’s teaching mission also was a collective desire voiced in the white papers. One effort already under way related to teaching focuses on lecturers at Stanford. The Provost’s Committee on Lecturers, formed in October 2017, is charged with looking at the role of lecturers, senior lecturers and other teaching staff in implementing the education mission at Stanford. The committee is also focusing on career definition, development and advancement for teaching staff.

The white papers also contained several suggestions on how to improve campus technology and resolve some issues associated with the university’s decentralized operational model. Responding to a desire for a strategic vison for university-wide IT, a chief information officer position was created. Stephen Gallagher will join Stanford in this role in March. Collaborating closely with distributed IT departments across campus, he will work to improve the efficiency of IT operations, improve user experience and satisfaction, improve compliance and reduce risk.

Next steps

The 37 white papers are available now for review by the campus community and may be accessed with a SUNet ID. The 30-day comment period begins today and concludes March 2.

The Faculty Senate has planned a discussion of the white papers at its Feb. 22 meeting; faculty will play a key role in planning deliberations in the coming months given the senate’s central role in the academic governance of the university. In addition, Tessier-Lavigne and Drell have their periodic “Conversations with the Campus Community” scheduled for March 6 and May 2, where long-range planning will be a lead topic of discussion. They will also host a community meeting on the long-range vision at Stanford’s Porter Drive offices on March 8.

The university’s Executive Cabinet has been reviewing the white papers along with all of the underlying ideas and proposals. Cabinet members will continue this work, review comments that come in from the community and then create a framework conveying a high-level vision for the university’s future.

This framework will be presented to the Stanford University Board of Trustees in April for its input and approval. The final vision will then be presented to the Stanford community. From there, working groups will be formed to help establish priorities and set implementation goals.