Faculty Senate focuses on support for undergraduate education

At its Thursday meeting, the senate also voted to amend the principal investigator policy for the School of Medicine.

Stanford is working to find better ways to support undergraduate students in their academic journey – including through additional resources for first-generation students, new first-year learning opportunities, strengthening the advising program and more attention to student health and well-being, the Faculty Senate heard Thursday.

“Our students have abundant opportunities here. We want students to find their own definition of Stanford,” said Senior Vice Provost for Education Harry Elam. However, he said, undergraduate students need support and guidance to optimize their educational experience as they chart their own academic pathways.

Harry Elam speaking in front of a screen

Senior Vice Provost for Education Harry Elam addressing the Faculty Senate. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

In his annual report to the Faculty Senate, Elam highlighted some key programs and initiatives for supporting Stanford’s 7,062 undergraduate students. He focused on issues in the areas of academic choices, health and well-being, and access and equity.

The senate also heard a report from the Committee on Research and voted to approve a policy change extending, in perpetuity, eligibility to serve as a principal investigator to select clinical fellows and postdoctoral scholars in the School of Medicine.

Report on undergraduate education

In his presentation, Elam said that as the undergraduate population continues to become more diverse, it’s important to ensure access to the richness of Stanford for students of all backgrounds.

“Admissions has done an incredible job in bringing us a diverse and talented array of students. But we’ve not yet done an adequate job of ensuring that each of our students are fully supported and guided according to their needs,” he said.

Elam said the university continues looking for ways to expand and enhance resources for students who are the first in their families to attend college and students from under-resourced high schools. He said that the most recently admitted class has the highest proportion – more than 18 percent – of first-generation college students in Stanford’s history.

One Stanford initiative to support first-generation students is the summer Leland Scholars Program (LSP), which helps students prepare both socially and academically for college. The program has expanded to accommodate 60 students, though more than 140 students applied for the summer 2017 session.

“LSP on its own is not enough. We have to do more for these students as they negotiate Stanford,” said Elam.

Humanities and Sciences Dean Richard Saller is leading a task force charged with assessing support for Stanford’s first-generation and low-income students. The committee is taking stock of programs and services currently offered for these students to find where there may be gaps.

Elam noted that, given the abundant opportunities offered at Stanford, undergraduate students often struggle with making academic choices. Advising is a key component in assisting students in this process and he advocates an approach that engages students at key moments in their academic path.

Plans to strengthen the advising program include increasing the number of professional advisers and boosting online resources for students. Stanford also recently launched the Stanford Newcomer Guides mentorship program, which is designed to complement and support academic advising.

The first-year experience is another area that is receiving more attention, Elam emphasized in his presentation.

“What has become increasingly clear to me is that first-year education needs to be more holistic, intentionally integrating the learning that happens both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Elam.

He noted that issues of health and well-being greatly impact the learning process for first-year students and Stanford is developing programs to address this.

One of those is Frosh 101, a pilot program that was offered at five student residences beginning in fall 2017. The program, which received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from participants, is designed to help students with the transition to college and focuses on issues of belonging, identity and community. In fall 2018, Frosh 101 will expand to 10 dorms with an anticipated participation of 300 students, Elam said.

Committee on Research

Earth system science Professor Steven Gorelick, chair of the Committee on Research, gave a brief presentation on the committee’s mission and current activities. Working in concert with the office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research, the committee is charged with formulating university policies on research and reviewing implementation of research practices.

Following the presentation, the committee put forth a proposal for a policy change extending, in perpetuity, eligibility to serve as a principal investigator to select clinical fellows and postdoctoral scholars in the School of Medicine.

Harry Greenberg at the April 26 meeting of the Faculty Senate

Harry Greenberg, senior associate dean for research at the School of Medicine, delivers a report and recommendation from the Committee on Research to the Faculty Senate. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Harry Greenberg, senior associate dean for research in the School of Medicine, provided the senate with background on the proposal. In 2010, the senate approved a four-year trial period for exceptions to Stanford’s policy on principal investigator eligibility. The exception allowed School of Medicine clinical fellows and postdoctoral scholars holding MD or MD/PhD degrees to submit one proposal for a traditional investigator-initiated research award. The senate voted in 2014 to extend the trial period for another four years to allow more time for evaluation.

Discussion following the presentation of the proposal centered around several issues, including concerns that the change would set a precedent for other schools wanting to amend their policies, increased demands on university resources, concerns about the number of grant proposals and the fact that the change would be permanent.

Greenberg assured senate members that numerous controls were in place to assure both the quantity and quality of research grant proposals, including approvals by the faculty mentor and department chair and the endorsement of a standing independent faculty review committee. He also cited the success of the eight-year pilot.

Several senators saw the benefits of the program in helping to better prepare postdoctoral scholars for grant support in the future. Some senators commented that the change in policy would send a positive message to postdoctoral scholars about their value to the university.

After much discussion, the senate voted to approve the proposal.

The full minutes of the April 26 meeting, including the discussion that followed the presentations, will be posted on the Faculty Senate website.