President and provost answer questions from the community

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Persis Drell and Elizabeth Zacharias, vice president for human resources, gave short presentations and answered questions on a variety of issues during a noontime conversation.

During a Thursday campus gathering, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell answered questions posed by members of the Stanford community on a wide variety of issues, including the coronavirus, global engagement, affordability and a Town Center.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell answered questions on a variety of issues during a noontime conversation with the Stanford community. (Image credit: Farrin Abbott)

They were joined by Elizabeth Zacharias, vice president for human resources, who fielded questions about workplace issues, including telecommuting and working remotely.

At the beginning of his address, Tessier-Lavigne said the “best part” of the Long-Range Vision is underway, as Stanford begins implementing specific plans that emerged from the two-year, campus-wide process.

He said initiatives are in many different stages, noting that the Faculty Senate is currently discussing proposed changes to the undergraduate curriculum – and is expected to reach conclusions on the proposals this spring.

Tessier-Lavigne also mentioned plans to enhance support for the entire campus community through initiatives focused on affordability and campus engagement, including the planned revitalization of the White Memorial Plaza area.

At the end of his presentation, Tessier-Lavigne said the university also continues to be vigilant about expressions of intolerance or hatred of others “that unfortunately continue to occur in our country and sometimes even show up on our campus.” He said the university had just removed graffiti – including a symbol that appeared to be anti-Semitic – from a bench at the end of Palm Drive near El Camino Real. The Stanford Department of Public Safety is investigating, he said.

“I want to be clear, any crude symbol that can be taken as, or assumed to be an expression of anti-Semitism is not welcome on our campus,” he said. “We stand against anti-Semitism and all expressions of hatred towards others. We know that other members of our community have experienced acts of intolerance as well. I want to be clear that every member of our community has a place here, and no crude drawing, whatever its intention, can change that.”

At the start of her presentation, Drell encouraged everyone to attend the Community Conversations on Mental Health and Well-being, which will take place Feb. 3-4. The event, which is free is open to students, faculty, postdoctoral scholars and staff.

“I really hope you’ll look at the agenda and pick some sessions to attend on this very important set of issues,” Drell said.

Turning to the issue of sexual violence and sexual harassment on campus, Drell noted that three recent reports had painted a “deeply disturbing picture” of the situation, which was the main topic of conversation at a recent Faculty Senate meeting.

While the university offers prevention, education and adjudication programs, and has initiated an external review to get input on further ways to enhance its programs, Drell emphasized that cultural change – engagement by every member of the Stanford community – is necessary to address the problem of sexual violence and sexual harassment.

“When you read the reports I mentioned, when you take the training, when you hear from colleagues or students, when you see interactions between others that are troubling, please consider the role that you can play, individually, in helping us create the culture at Stanford we all want to have,” she said.

Regarding the 2020-21 budget process, Drell said a key budget priority is to begin funding the forthcoming recommendations of the university’s Affordability Task Force.

“Investing in our people has to be a priority for this university,” she said. “We know this from the long-range planning process, which identified the wide range of affordability concerns pressing upon many segments of our community.”

The senior leadership of Stanford is currently evaluating the recommendations of the Affordability Task Force, which submitted its report in late 2019.

In a question directed at Elizabeth Zacharias, vice president for human resources, an audience member asked about telecommuting and working from remote offices:

“Now that we know this technology works and enables us to work productively from anywhere, will the university encourage managers to offer more workplace flexibility, e.g. telecommuting and alternative worksites,” the audience member asked. “The practice is inconsistent across the university.”

Elizabeth Zacharias, vice president for human resources, fielded questions about workplace issues, including telecommuting and working remotely. (Image credit: Farrin Abbott)

Zacharias said it was a question that University HR wrestles with.

“We’re aware of the need to provide not just better tools in terms of technology, but better tool kits for their managers and team members to be able to work effectively when they’re distributed in different offices,” she said.

In answer to a question about the coronavirus, Tessier-Lavigne said Stanford is very concerned about the situation and how it would affect the community. A group of people meets every day to monitor the latest developments, and the campus stands prepared to implement measures to protect the community if necessary.

Responding to a question about campus development, Tessier-Lavigne said the university still has a few hundred thousand square feet of construction permitted under the prior General Use Permit issued by Santa Clara County. He said there is space available in Redwood City and that the university can “repurpose” square footage on campus by tearing down obsolete or obsolescent buildings and replace them, as long as their square footage doesn’t increase.

Tessier-Lavigne said Stanford is currently conducting a census of all the space on campus, an opportunity to make sure the university is using the space the best it can.

In other questions, one audience member asked what Stanford is doing to ensure global engagement and another asked how Stanford is addressing concerns about foreign influence, especially in emerging areas of priority, such as AI.

In response, Tessier-Lavigne said Stanford will continue to balance the openness that is vital to the university’s mission of education and research – by welcoming international students, faculty and staff – with the need to take appropriate cautions to protect its intellectual property.

“We are not going to shrink from either of those challenges,” he said.