President, provost address campus climate survey, university budget in conversation with the Stanford community

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell addressed many issues of concern to Stanford community members, including the results of the AAU 2019 Campus Climate Survey and the 2019-20 university budget.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell addressed many issues of concern to Stanford community members during an open conversation Thursday afternoon at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). Among the topics discussed were the recently released results of the Association of American Universities (AAU) 2019 Campus Climate Survey and the university’s budget for the 2019-20 academic year.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell addressed many issues of concern to Stanford community members during an open conversation on Thursday. (Image credit: Holly Hernandez)

The noon meeting took place at the Koret-Taube Conference Center at SIEPR and drew people from across campus, as well as others from Stanford’s Redwood City campus and elsewhere watching a livestream.

In his opening remarks, Tessier-Lavigne addressed progress on Stanford’s long-range vision initiatives, emphasizing five areas of the research and academic vision for Stanford:

  • Empowering discovery and creativity on many fronts, from data science to the arts
  • Accelerating solutions for our planet, our health and society
  • Embedding ethics in innovation
  • Renewing liberal education on campus through the faculty’s upcoming discussions of the First-Year Experience and the Future of the Major
  • Advancing the science of learning for all students at Stanford and around the world

“In each area, we have now moved from planning into action, from blueprints to construction,” he said, “As these initiatives take shape, Stanford is making plans to secure the necessary financial support.”

Tessier-Lavigne said that an important part of the vision is about strengthening support for the campus community. To explain how Stanford is implementing those efforts, Matthew Tiews, associate vice president for campus engagement, was invited to share updates on the work he is leading around furthering campus engagement, which includes reimagining White Plaza as a central hub of the university.

University budget

Tessier-Lavigne and Drell addressed the university’s budget for the 2019-20 academic year. They said that while the university has big plans that need to be executed in the coming years, it also faces budgetary constraints.

“The bottom line is that we have significant resources, but we also have significant aspirations,” Drell said, noting the complexities that come with managing a budget for a community of 33,000 people. “Many of the new things we want to do are going to require philanthropy or redirection of resources.”

For the current fiscal year, Stanford has a $6.8 billion operating budget, which includes $1.6 billion in general funds and a capital budget of $900 million. Although substantial, the budget, she said, is tight due in part to the fact that growth in the endowment payout is not keeping up with rising costs. She said that strategic decision-making was necessary to set priorities for how funds are used.

“We need to be smart with our current resources while ensuring we are able to fulfill our long-range vision,” she said.

Stanford’s single highest budget priority and most compelling need, Drell said, is mental health support for students. The university will also prioritize issues related to affordability, including financial aid and housing; supporting and hiring diverse faculty; and investing in research.

AAU Campus Climate Survey

In her remarks, Drell discussed the results of the 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct, which were released Tuesday by the AAU. While she praised the 62 percent student participation rate at Stanford – one of the highest among the 33 universities that took part in the survey – she also expressed concern for the results.

“I am deeply troubled by many of the survey’s findings,” she said. “Sexual harassment and sexual violence are prevalent at Stanford.”

Drell said that Stanford will be analyzing the survey data and learning more about how peer institutions are addressing sexual harassment and sexual assault. She said Stanford will soon initiate an external review of the university’s approach to the issue. Drell also expressed concern for specific demographics on campus who are affected by sexual harassment and violence at higher rates than others.

“We’ll be giving more support to our transgender and gender nonconforming community who showed particular vulnerability,” she said, adding that while she and Tessier-Lavigne are committed to eliminating sexual harassment and sexual violence from our campus, they cannot do it alone.

“Real and lasting solutions won’t come unless every single member of this community commits to working toward the necessary deep cultural change,” she said. “So I need your help on that and I ask for it.”

All Stanford students, faculty, staff and administration are encouraged to share thoughts and feedback on how Stanford should address the issue.

Strengthening our community

During the question-and-answer portion of the event, Tessier-Lavigne and Drell addressed a number of other issues, including the state of the national research enterprise. Tessier-Lavigne said that while research nationally is strong, there’s been downward pressure on funding. He said that Stanford will continue to work in Washington with legislators on both sides of the aisle to help them understand the importance of research.

Tessier-Lavigne recognized the contributions that foreign nationals make to research when they come to Stanford and other American universities to study. And he expressed frustration with the way many foreign nationals are characterized when they arrive.

“Some parts of Washington think of our engagement with foreign nationals in a way that I think could make people feel unwelcome,” he said. “And we feel it is important to express that they are welcome on the Stanford campus.”

Reinforcing a welcoming and strong sense of community and improving campus engagement at Stanford is another key initiative of the long-range vision that was highlighted during the meeting.

Tiews talked about the work he is leading to facilitate and strengthen connections across Stanford, with an initial focus on staff. The work will include reimagining internal communications and Stanford’s calendar of events. The group is also seeking to help staff become more engaged in campus events, such as New Student Orientation, Reunion Homecoming and Commencement weekend.

Tiews’ team is also overseeing the redesign of the White Plaza region as a central hub of the university.

“By end of year we’ll have a real sense of options for how we imagine that space,” he said.

In the meantime, his team is continuing to gather feedback from the community and brainstorm ideas for what functions and services the plaza can incorporate that will enhance belonging, creativity and intellectual engagement at Stanford.