Faculty Senate focuses on long-range planning process

At its Feb. 22 meeting, senate members discussed ideas and proposals in the white papers produced by the area steering groups.

Stacey Bent speaking with Bryan Brown sitting nearby

Education Steering Group co-chairs Stacey Bent and Bryan Brown were among the speakers at Thursdays Faculty Senate meeting. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Long-range planning was the focus of Thursday’s Faculty Senate meeting, which included presentations and a lively discussion of some of the ideas and proposals contained in the 37 white papers produced by the four area steering groups.

Released to the campus community on Feb. 1, the white papers summarize the more than 2,800 ideas and proposals for Stanford’s future that were submitted by members of the university community.

At the senate meeting, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne outlined some overarching themes from the white papers, and Provost Persis Drell discussed next steps in the process.

In addition, the co-chairs of the area steering groups presented their observations and led a discussion with senate members.

Overview from the president

Tessier-Lavigne set the stage for the long-range planning discussion by expressing his gratitude to the campus community for engaging so deeply with the process and to the area steering groups for their “herculean work” in organizing and synthesizing the proposals that came from all parts of the Stanford community.

He said that the Executive Cabinet is meeting each week to review the white papers, along with the individual ideas and proposals, to extract major themes that will help shape a vision for Stanford’s future.

He briefly outlined some of those themes in the areas of research and education:

  • The human experience
  • Learning: access, curricular innovation and residential education
  • Society and public policy
  • Life and health
  • Sustainability
  • The physical world
  • Technology, including artificial intelligence and data science

Many of the ideas submitted by the community cut across schools, programs and departments and were concerned with strengthening the university’s foundation, said Tessier-Lavigne. Those themes are:

  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Affordability
  • Service and local community engagement
  • Health and wellness of our community
  • Sustainability on campus
  • Infrastructure support

Next steps in the process

Drell said she is already seeing the positive effects of the long-range planning effort.

“I believe the process of transforming the institution has already begun,” she said. “We need to sustain that, and there will be a lot of work on everyone’s part.”

Drell said that community engagement with long-range planning will continue in the coming months and noted that the 30-day comment period for the campus community on the white papers ends on March 2.

Tessier-Lavigne and Drell will host a series of community meetings next month. Their next “Conversations with the Campus Community” are scheduled for March 6 at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and March 8 at Stanford’s Porter Drive offices. Each will focus on the long-range vision. They will also meet with leaders of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) in March.

The deans will also convene meetings this spring for faculty to discuss long-range planning.

The university’s Executive Cabinet will continue to review the white papers, along with comments from the campus community. Cabinet members will then work to build a framework for a flexible, high-level vision for the university’s future, which will be presented to the Board of Trustees in April. The final vision will be presented to the Stanford community later in the spring.

Over the summer, the long-range planning process will move to the next phase, which will be devoted to implementation planning.

Drell said that in addition to creating a long-range vision, “there will be continuing work on near-term operational proposals that will make the institution better.”

Presentations by steering groups

The co-chairs of the four area steering groups spoke about their processes, presented some of their observations and invited discussion with senate members. Among the highlights:

  • In the Education group, major themes emerged about educating the whole student, rethinking how and where students are educated, examining the admissions and recruitment processes and suggesting how Stanford can innovate and transform teaching and learning. Co-chair Stacey Bent, professor of chemical engineering and senior associate dean in the School of Engineering, reflected on how, for the education steering group, “learning became our North Star.” This group also received many proposals about creating a school of public policy and about  how Stanford could become a leader in this arena.
  • The Research steering group looked at proposals concerned with why and how the university conducts research. Interdisciplinary research and the infrastructure to support it was also an area of concern. Co-chair Kathryn Moler, professor of physics and of applied physics and senior associate dean for the natural sciences in the School of Humanities and Sciences, observed that “there is a lot of interest in sharing on the campus today,” including sharing resources such as libraries, space, data and administrative support. She also said that the group gave much thought to what it means to be a purposeful university. She cited three intentions that the university should have in approaching research: to educate students, to understand the world and to impact society. “We would argue that every major action the university takes needs to factor in all three and their interrelationship,” said Moler.
  • The Our Community group addressed challenging issues, including the affordability of the Bay Area, which co-chair Sue McConnell, professor of biology, called an “existential threat that poses many obstacles to Stanford.” Co-chair Ramesh Johari, associate professor of management science and engineering, commented on the “high expectations” from the community for long-range planning as a model for continuing engagement within the university. The community also saw the process as an opportunity for the university to clearly define its values and to live by them, he said. McConnell called upon faculty colleagues to address the issue of the lack of faculty diversity. “How can each of us share in the responsibility for creating and supporting a diverse and inclusive community? Ultimately, it’s each of us in this room who serves on a committee, whether a search committee or a promotions committee. It’s we who are responsible for the composition of our faculty.”
  • The Engagement Beyond Our University steering group was pleasantly surprised by the number of proposals touting the benefits of a liberal education. “This reflected the thought process of the submitters that having a broad-based liberal education was important for students’ ability to interact with the world in general,” said co-chair Joseph Woo, professor of medicine. Juliet Brodie, co-chair and associate dean for clinical education at Stanford Law School, noted that the proposals expressed a strong desire for engagement with global issues and what that might mean for Stanford in the future. “As someone said, we want to take the revolution to social science and policy the way Stanford took the revolution to engineering and computer science,” Brodie said.

In other business, Drell reported on the formation of the Provost’s Committee on Lecturers, which is charged with looking at the role of lecturers, senior lecturers and other teaching staff in implementing the education mission at Stanford.

The full minutes of the Feb. 22 meeting, including the discussion that followed the presentations, will be posted on the Faculty Senate website. The next senate meeting is scheduled for March 8.