Faculty Senate hears presentation on SLAC and votes on resolution to affirm diversity, free expression and civility

At its Feb. 21 meeting, the senate also passed a motion endorsing need-blind international admissions and established a new Committee on the Professoriate.

Chi-Chang Kao speaking to the Faculty Senate

SLAC Director Chi-Chang Kao speaking to the Faculty Senate on Thursday. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The partnership of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University allows both organizations to leverage their resources and expertise to advance scientific discovery, SLAC Director Chi-Chang Kao said in his report to the Faculty Senate on Thursday. His presentation touched on the laboratory’s storied 57-year history, the partnership with Stanford, its current focus and its aspirations for the future.

At the meeting, the senate also approved a motion endorsing need-blind admissions for international undergraduate students and passed a resolution to affirm diversity, free expression and civility. In other business, the senate voted to establish the charge of a new ad hoc Committee on the Professoriate, which will look at the recommendations from the Provost’s Task Force on Lecturers.

Report from SLAC

Founded in 1962, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory managed by Stanford. Kao said that SLAC’s unique partnership with Stanford distinguishes the lab from other DOE sites and enables SLAC to increase its scientific impact.

Last year, DOE funding at SLAC supported the work of nearly 50 Stanford researchers and 400 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, and a growing number of Stanford researchers from across the campus – more than 500 in 2018 – use the state-of-the-art facilities.

Kao said SLAC’s partnership with Stanford is “very important” and envisions more opportunities to collaborate with the university. Looking to the future, SLAC aspires to solve the big science questions – from the origin of the universe to the laws of physics, and Stanford researchers will be integral to this work. “These big questions need research at scale both in terms of the size of the teams, the cost and the complexity. A national laboratory is exactly the place to do that,” Kao said.

Today, SLAC designs, constructs and operates large-scale instruments to explore the universe using satellites, telescopes, underground detectors and instrumentation capabilities, Kao said. Two instruments are currently under construction: the LCLS-II, an upgrade to the LCLS (Linac Coherent Light Source), which creates X-rays a billion times brighter than available before, and FACET-II (Facility for Advanced Accelerator Experimental Tests), which will drive new research in accelerator technology.

Developing new technologies is a central focus at SLAC and the lab has broadened its mission into new areas like national security, cancer treatment, neuroscience, telecommunications and advanced electronics for autonomous vehicles.

In response to a question about how SLAC negotiates with the government about the projects it undertakes, Kao responded that in recent years the government has exerted more influence; however, “the more engagement campus faculty have with SLAC, that will help us be the leader in influencing the policy of the future.”

International undergraduate admissions and financial aid

The Faculty Senate approved a motion from the Committee on Undergraduate Admission and Financial Aid (C-UAFA) endorsing need-blind admissions for international students. Stanford currently has a need-blind admission process for U.S. domestic students and meets the full demonstrated financial need of all students who are admitted to Stanford and are eligible for aid.

C-UAFA chair David Lobell, professor of Earth system science, introduced the motion regarding need-blind international admissions, which stated, in part, “As a global leader in higher education, Stanford University should be accessible to the best students in the world regardless of their socio-economic background.”

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne applauded the work of C-UAFA in bring the issue forward. He noted that last spring the university made the commitment to go down the path to becoming need-blind for international undergraduate students. “We all recognize that it requires tremendous resources and it can’t happen overnight, but unless we prioritize it, it won’t get done,” he said.

Resolution on diversity, free expression and civility

The senate also voted to approve a resolution to reaffirm the university’s commitment to diversity, the observance of mutual respect and civility in discussion of controversial subjects and adherence to the university’s Fundamental Standard of student conduct. Developed by the Steering Committee of the Faculty Senate, this resolution is the result of several conversations the senate has had this academic year about this issue, including an entire meeting devoted to free speech and academic freedom. The document was conceived out of concern about the damages to the larger democracy incurred by hate speech and disinformation and the importance of academic freedom to the university’s educational mission.

Prior to the vote, there was much discussion about the wording of the resolution, particularly on a passage that directly quotes from the Fundamental Standard: “Students are expected to show both within and without the university such respect for order, morality, personal honor and the rights of others as is demanded of good citizens.”

Acknowledging that the Fundamental Standard, adopted in 1896, was a product of its time, several senate members argued that some of the language in the resolution should be changed to better reflect current thinking about standards of conduct. However, two amendments proposing alterations to the language in the resolution failed to pass.

The resolution charges the Planning and Policy Board to develop recommendations for “promoting a culture of civility in the service of diversity, academic freedom and educative discourse at Stanford University.”

Committee on the Professoriate

In other business, the senate voted to establish the charge of a new ad hoc Committee on the Professoriate. The committee will consider recommendations made last fall by the Provost’s Task Force on Lecturers, specifically about adding, changing and eliminating some titles for teaching faculty and clarifying the criteria for the ranks of senior fellow and center fellow.

The new committee is charged with providing the senate with a final report by the end of autumn quarter 2020.

Provost’s report

Provost Persis Drell reported on challenges the Budget Group is facing in putting together the 2019-20 budget plan. She said several factors are contributing to what she expects will be a “tight” year, including modest returns on the university’s endowment payout. She noted that the endowment payout has not kept up with inflation for the past four years, and that trend is anticipated to continue.

She said that implementing the long-range vision is also a priority for the university, and while some initiatives will attract philanthropy, others may require realignment of existing resources in order to fulfill.

The need to continue to address affordability challenges for all segments of the Stanford community is also a major consideration in budget planning, said Drell. “I believe our community will accept some cost cutting in order to meet the affordability challenges we are all facing, and meeting those is an essential component in ensuring a dynamic future for the university,” she said, adding that cost savings would be best accomplished by letting the leaders of the units figure out how to implement them, rather than a top-down approach.

“In the Budget Group process, we’ve seen very thoughtful submissions, making it clear that university leadership is looking for ways to protect our core programs and departments while building a framework for our future,” she said.

The full minutes of the Feb. 21 meeting, including the discussion that followed the presentations, will be posted on the Faculty Senate website. The next senate meeting is scheduled for March 7.