Stanford trustees hear presentations on renewing liberal education, undergraduate research, and the science and design of learning

At its Dec. 2-3 meeting, the board also heard an update on investment responsibility, set 2020-21 tuition and made enhancements to the university’s financial aid program.

At its meeting on Dec. 2 and 3, Stanford’s Board of Trustees heard a presentation on proposals to renew undergraduate education through a new shared first-year intellectual experience and a new approach to the undergraduate major. They also heard several undergraduate students talk about participating in research projects with faculty.

Jeffrey S. Raikes

Jeffrey S. Raikes, chair of the Board of Trustees (Image credit: Aaron Kehoe)

In addition, the board heard a presentation on the work underway in every school to advance the science and design of learning. Trustees also heard an update from a board task force reviewing a request by Fossil Free Stanford, a student organization, for divestment from oil and gas companies.

In other business, the board approved tuition for the 2020-21 academic year and reaffirmed its commitment to a strong financial aid program that meets the full demonstrated financial need of every undergraduate who qualifies for aid, including a new enhancement for middle-income families. Read more about 2020-21 tuition and financial aid here.

Renewing liberal education

In recent months, interdisciplinary faculty teams have completed two proposals for revitalizing the concept of a broad or “liberal” undergraduate education at Stanford. One proposal focuses on a program that would provide a shared intellectual and exploration experience for first-year students. The other proposal focuses on establishing new parameters for the undergraduate major. The proposals, which were developed by two faculty design teams, comprise elements of the university’s long-range vision.

Trustees heard a presentation from the four co-chairs of the design teams. Currently, committees of the Faculty Senate are reviewing the two proposals, and will bring them back to the senate for more discussion during winter quarter.

Board Chair Jeff Raikes noted that in Stanford’s shared system of governance, the faculty are responsible for the curriculum.

“But we thought this was a great opportunity for the board to get a sense of the faculty’s thinking about an important issue – and that is how to ensure that Stanford students receive not just preparation for their first job, but a broad education that will serve them well throughout their lives.”

Undergraduate research

Trustees also heard a presentation on the undergraduate research opportunities offered by the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE), which funds projects across all academic disciplines, including the creative arts, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering. The board heard an overview of the program from Harry J. Elam, Jr., senior vice provost for education.

Elam told the board that more than 1,000 students each year receive research funding from VPUE, and that approximately one-third of all Stanford undergraduates receive some kind of funding for research projects during their time at Stanford.

Trustees also heard from several undergraduate students who have participated in research projects with faculty. The students described their work, including research projects related to human trafficking, machine learning, and the effect of prescribed burns on Native cultures, as well as the value of working closely with faculty on research.

“These programs are a reminder that teaching and research are not separate at Stanford,” Raikes said. “One of the great advantages of studying at Stanford as an undergraduate is the access to world-class researchers, and the ability to participate in research directly.”

Advancing the science and design of learning

As part of Stanford’s long-range vision, design teams are developing initiatives to transform learning itself. The trustees heard about the initiatives, which involve faculty in every school, from Dan Schwartz, dean of the Graduate School of Education. The board also heard from Jennifer Widom, dean of the School of Engineering, who is leading a task force to explore additional opportunities for Stanford in the area of online learning.

Raikes said the initiatives are informed by the fact that data, technology and brain science are altering the possibilities for improving learning.

He said the goal of the initiatives is to tackle chronic problems in education, including uneven opportunities for high-quality learning experiences, and to advance solutions for 21st-century students who learn everywhere, all the time and throughout their life.

Raikes said five interdisciplinary faculty teams have been working in five specific areas:

  • Early childhood learners, with a focus on the critical formative years before traditional school begins;
  • Neuro-diverse learners, with a focus on recognizing and tailoring strategies to the broad diversity of learners and learning styles;
  • Workforce learners, with a focus on training workers for new careers as advances in technology and the “gig” economy create displacement;
  • Traditionally underserved learners, with a focus on the particular needs of ethnically, racially and linguistically marginalized students to create effective interventions and raise achievement;
  • Online learners, with a focus on finding the areas of greatest opportunity for Stanford to extend its educational reach with the use of technology.

“This is an exciting set of diverse activities that aim to enhance learning not only for our students here at Stanford, but for learners everywhere,” Raikes said. “This has the potential to make a very powerful contribution to the science and design of learning in the world.”

Investment responsibility

In October, Raikes reported that the board’s Special Committee on Investment Responsibility had set up a task force – consisting of several members of the committee – to consider a request by Fossil Free Stanford, a student organization, to divest from oil and gas companies.

The special committee is proceeding based on the university’s updated Statement on Investment Responsibility, which was approved by the board last year.

Raikes said that in recent weeks, the task force met with students and had a very helpful and constructive discussion about their proposal.

He said the task force and the special committee will be taking additional steps, including engaging further with the students about their proposal; engaging with faculty and outside experts; and reviewing the various ways Stanford can potentially address community concerns about the issue.

As part of this engagement process, during the December board meeting trustees heard from Thomas Heller and Alicia Seiger of the Sustainable Finance Initiative at the Precourt Institute for Energy. The Sustainable Finance Initiative works with public, private and development finance institutions, such as the World Bank Group, to engage Stanford researchers in developing the finance and policy tools needed for the transition toward a decarbonized and climate-resilient global economy.

“The board is working to investigate the issues that have been brought forward, and will be in dialogue with both the proponents and other experts,” Raikes said. “That work will continue in the new year.”