Help shape the new Cardinal Conversations

Stanford students interested in helping shape the speaker series can provide feedback and suggestions for the program’s format, governance structure and name, and possibly become a member of its steering committee.

Students who are passionate about free speech, inclusivity and rigorous debate are invited to help with a reboot of Cardinal Conversations. The speaker series that explores diverse ideas on challenging topics will be re-imagined for its second year and students are encouraged to be part of the process.

This week the program’s faculty advisers – Thomas Gilligan, director of the Hoover Institution; Deborah Rhode, the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law; and Claude Steele, professor emeritus of psychology and dean emeritus of Stanford Graduate School of Education – published a proposal for the reboot of Cardinal Conversations.

“Our goal is to establish a structure that commands the greatest possible trust and credibility within the campus community and ensures student leadership and agency,” the statement read.

The first step in this process is gathering feedback. Through a short online survey, students can share how they think the program can be improved. Specifically, they can submit suggestions for the forms of outreach that will ensure a diverse and inclusive governing body, provide recommendations for the governance structure and submit ideas for a new name.

“We now invite comment from the entire student community to ensure that the series going forward will reflect a broad diversity of views and alternative formats that maximize student engagement,” wrote Gilligan, Rhode and Steele in an email sent Wednesday to all students.

The deadline to submit feedback is Jan. 30.

Last September, Provost Persis Drell appointed the three faculty members to advise the formation of the new Cardinal Conversations program. Once feedback is collected, they will seek 10 to 15 student leaders to join them on a steering committee that will be responsible for choosing topics, speakers and formats for all forum events. The committee will also solicit proposals from the campus community and work with other organizations to publicize events.

Cardinal Conversations was created in 2017 by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Drell as a forum for thought leaders and public intellectuals to engage in respectful and rigorous discussion on important social issues. The first event took place a year ago with Palantir founder Peter Thiel, BS ’85, JD ’92, and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, BS ’90. Four additional events followed. While many appreciated the opportunity to listen to and engage with leading intellectuals, many in the Stanford community felt the program’s topics and speakers lacked diversity, noted Drell in a post to the Notes from the Quad blog.

“We also struggled to find the appropriate leadership and committee structure for the series that would include the right mix of faculty and student representation,” she wrote.

The new leadership will aim to develop a program that demonstrates how free expression and an inclusive culture can coexist.

“There were definitely some missteps and missed opportunities with the inaugural Cardinal Conversations series,” Drell wrote. “We don’t always get everything right at first. However, I think it makes us stronger when we are willing to acknowledge that we tried, it didn’t work the way we wanted, but the goal is so important that we are willing to try again.”