Stanford’s Faculty Senate discusses wide variety of topics: Undergraduate education, state of the faculty, and budget planning and execution for fiscal 2021

At the April 23 Faculty Senate meeting, Harry J. Elam Jr. reflected on his decade serving as vice provost for undergraduate education, and Matt Snipp, vice provost for faculty diversity and engagement, presented the 2019 Report on the Faculty. In addition, Provost Persis Drell provided an update on budget planning, and President Marc Tessier-Lavigne shared the principles of decision-making that the university is following as it navigates the COVID-19 crisis and positions Stanford for a strong recovery.

At its Thursday meeting, the Faculty Senate covered a wide range of topics, including presentations on undergraduate education, the composition of the faculty, and budget planning and execution for fiscal 2021.

Harry J. Elam Jr. presented his final annual report as vice provost for undergraduate education, Fortifying Undergraduate Education, to the senate. Elam, who has served as vice provost for undergraduate education at Stanford for the last decade, was recently named the 16th president of Occidental College, a liberal arts college in Los Angeles.

Matt Snipp, vice provost for faculty diversity and engagement, shared some highlights from the Report on the Faculty Fall 2019: Professorial Gains, Losses, and Composition.

In other matters, Provost Persis Drell gave an update on budget planning and execution, and President Marc Tessier-Lavigne shared the principles of decision-making that the university is following as it navigates the COVID-19 crisis and positions Stanford for a strong recovery. He also honored Stanford President Emeritus Donald Kennedy, who died on April 20 of COVID-19 at an assisted living facility in Redwood City.

Provost discusses budget planning and execution

In comments at the start of the meeting regarding the university’s budget planning, Drell said it was important in a time of unprecedented uncertainty to keep the university’s mission of research and education “front and center.”

“We recognize that our success in delivering our mission depends critically on attracting the very best faculty and students and supporting them,” she said. “This will require continuity in research and education and ensuring access, including robust financial aid, and positioning Stanford for a strong recovery, which will benefit all of us.”

Drell said Stanford will face very difficult decisions in the coming weeks and months, which will be affected by external variables that the university cannot predict and over which it will have no control. She reminded the senate that Stanford had put a hold on budget decision-making for fiscal year 2021 as the COVID-19 crisis began to unfold. However, she said the university will need to decide on a budget for next year within the next three months.

She emphasized that the situation for the next year or more is potentially very difficult.

“We need to anticipate a loss in the value of the endowment that may be significant. We need to anticipate that our graduate population in the fall may be significantly affected because many foreign students who are outside the country may not be able to get visas to come. And, at this point, we don’t know what the fall quarter looks like in terms of being able to offer a traditional undergraduate residential experience. At this point, all we can do it look at budget scenarios for the coming years, because we simply do not have the information we need to give more definitive guidance.”

Drell said it is extremely important to move forward with scenario planning, so that the university will be in the best position possible to make thoughtful decisions, sometime in late June, about budgets for the next fiscal year.

“In the next few days, we will ask units across the university to develop budget plans for a scenario that assumes we take a 15 percent reduction in endowment payout and a 10 percent reduction in general funds,” she said.

“I want to emphasize that this is only a scenario at this time, but given the uncertainties and difficult situation I just outlined, we need to prepare. Probably the best way to say it is that we need to prepare for the worst at the same time that we hope for the best.”

Drell said she anticipates that Stanford will not have final budgets for the units until after the June meeting of the Stanford University Board of Trustees.

“Even then we may be facing significant uncertainty that we will need to figure out how to deal with,” she said. “I want to ask for your support as we go through this very difficult scenario planning, and it is my hope that this preparation will serve us well as we all try to navigate these difficult times.”

Remarks from President Tessier-Lavigne

Tessier-Lavigne shared the principles of decision-making that he and Drell are following in these uncertain times.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne at the virtual meeting of the senate on Thursday. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

“Our mission is to advance knowledge and accelerate solutions for humanity, and educate students for a life of purpose. Our success depends on attracting and enabling the best researchers and students, and support them with the best staff,” he said.

“In setting priorities, we will strive to ensure continuity in our research and teaching; ensure continued access for students, including through robust financial aid; anchor decisions in respect and concern for our community, and an understanding of the broader societal context in which they are made; and position Stanford for a strong recovery in the near term and steward our resources wisely for the long term.”

At the start of the meeting, which was held via teleconferencing, Tessier-Lavigne offered a personal appreciation of Kennedy.

Tessier-Lavigne said he can still visualize his first encounter with Kennedy, which took place in 2000 just as Tessier-Lavigne was moving to join the Stanford faculty, and Kennedy was moving to Washington, D.C., to become editor-in-chief of Science. Tessier-Lavigne recalled that he was impressed by Kennedy’s brilliance and wisdom, and also by his extraordinary warmth and charisma, and how deeply Kennedy engaged him in conversation.

“As I took on the presidency of Stanford and studied Don’s legacy further, I saw how important his contributions had been to Stanford, including his focus on elevating teaching and enriching the student experience, his focus on building the humanities and strengthening all aspect of the academic enterprise, and his passion for public service,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “His legacy looms large and helps guide me as I think about my role today.”

Fortifying the undergraduate experience

In his reflection, Elam said he titled his talk “Fortifying the Undergraduate Experience”, because it describes the goal he sincerely sought to accomplish over the last decade.

Harry Elam, senior vice provost for education, discussed his efforts at fortifying the undergraduate experience at the senate meeting. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Elam said four priorities guided his efforts: enlisting the “whole” student and “optimizing the rare window of time and possibility” in that crucial first year; engaging the faculty as active partners; realizing true equity, diversity and inclusion; and bridging the “destructive techie/fuzzy divide” that underestimates the interests and capabilities of Stanford students.

Elam recalled that during his first year in office, he created the Student Advisory Group, which continues to assist and advise the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education on critical issues and initiatives.

“I convened the group not as a symbolic gesture – which, believe me, and you know our students would have sniffed out immediately – but to have actual input and impact,” he said, noting that the group played a pivotal part in the rollout of Ways of Thinking, Ways of Doing, the university’s unique breadth requirement.

Over the last decade, Elam said he sought to extend and emphasize experiential learning, immersive, hands-on active learning that enables students “to develop as active agents in their own intellectual journey,” through programs like Bing Overseas Studies, Stanford in New York, Undergraduate Research and Independent Projects and Cardinal Service.

“All these activities bring students into close intellectual contact with faculty and constitute what may be called “high-impact practices” that contribute directly to student success,” he said. “Our goal has not been to inundate students with too many choices, by rather, to ensure that every student has at least one and hopefully more high-impact experiences before they declare their major at Stanford.”

Elam also spoke fondly about Frosh 101, a discussion-style course designed to support first-year students transitioning to Stanford’s dynamic campus. In Frosh 101, two upper-class students build community with first-year students as they lead weekly activities and conversations designed to help the newer students.

“For me, Frosh 101 serves as an example of the kind of partnerships I had hoped VPUE could forge: working together, the most dedicated and talented staff and administrators, tapping the brilliant home-grown research of our top scholars, directly applying that creativity and commitment to develop innovative programs in the highest interests of our students. Really, this is something Stanford can do in ways few other institutions can.”

Elam said it was “absolutely imperative” to make educational access and equity a reality, and cited the Leland Scholars Program as a success story for helping students from under-resourced high schools acclimate to Stanford. Yet, four weeks in the summer program cannot make up for four years of under-preparation, he said.

“One of the pieces of unfinished business that concerns me deeply as I leave, but one that I know others – including our provost – will continue to champion, is that we need to do more so that our first-generation and low-income students can thrive from the very beginning,” he said. “Fulfilling this goal is part of the work of IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment), an initiative of Stanford’s Long-Range Vision, and of dedicated faculty and staff across the institution.”

Elam said Stanford students are perennially arguing for change – and necessarily so.

“Many of you know that the ASSU leadership and other students, concerned about the occasional tense dynamics of student interactions on campus, frustrated by the existence of antagonisms across racial, religious and political lines, and troubled by the lack of tolerance for diverse opinions, have more recently called for a reexamination of courses certified to fulfill the Engaging Diversity requirement,” he said. “This reexamination is in fact currently underway.”

Students have also petitioned Stanford to hire more faculty of color, he said.

“Sadly, in all my time at Stanford, the poor percentage of black faculty members at the university has really not changed,” Elam said. “Believe me, I know that change in this area is difficult to achieve, that people of great good will are working on it, and that Matt Snipp, who will talk next about this subject at this meeting, has done a yeoman’s job. But I also know it’s not simply a pipeline problem and that we can do more.”

Elam said the arts have informed his work, his scholarship and life at Stanford, and he has sought to make the arts “inescapable” for students. Among the successes he counts are the residential art program ITALIC, the Arts Intensive, the flowering of student performance groups on campus and the “creative expression” requirement.

“And clearly, the arts are only the more poignant, relevant and needed when we are sheltering-in-place, whether it is Italians singing from their balconies, or people logging into the Stanford clever art sites, Museums from Home or The Show Must Go Online,” he said. “There is little I hope for more at Stanford than that the arts are recognized as integral to the human experience and creativity across all disciplines.”

Despite those gains, Elam said, there remains a cultural tradition of students referring dismissively to students who major in the humanities, arts and social sciences as “fuzzies.”

“I had hoped and still do that we can exorcize this pejorative and artificial hierarchy,” he said. “We know that Stanford can be a place structured so that students can take advantage of all their many sides; where they can practice openness and creative risk taking. I firmly hope that we can help all students understand that majoring in arts or the humanities is not a vow of poverty, but rather a promise of intellectual and economic viability.”

In closing, Elam noted that the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted life for everyone and drastically changed how he imagined delivering his final reflection to the Faculty Senate, which usually meets in a Law School classroom.

“What I have always greatly appreciated about undergraduate education at Stanford is that it has never been static, it never rests on its laurels,” he said. “For me, then, Stanford has always been a place of magical alchemy. I have spent almost half of my life here, and many of those hours I spent in the room in the Law School with other Faculty Senates and, strangely, I am going to miss that. And so, it’s with such knowledge of the past and faith in the future in this uncertain present, that I say thank you for all your commitment to and support of our undergraduates and of me. But then I don’t want to think of this as a goodbye, but as a stepping away. My beloved wife, Michele [the William Robertson Coe Professor in the Humanities in the School of Humanities and Sciences], will still be on the faculty and I will be coming back and forth. She’ll make sure of that.”

While there were no questions for Elam, he was showered with praise by administrators and faculty alike for 10 minutes after he concluded. They described him as an inspiring and wonderful colleague, someone who is generous with his time, wisdom and friendship. One senator on the “techie” side of campus said Elam had articulated the power of the arts and the power of diversity in a way that had inspired faculty members across campus.

One senator said she thought Elam had made more progress bridging the techie-fuzzy divide than he realized. Another senator said he had watched and learned from watching Elam’s leadership over the years, adding that Elam led “with incredible grace.”

2019 Report on the Faculty: Gains, losses, composition

In another report, Matt Snipp, vice provost for faculty diversity and engagement, presented highlights from the Report on the Faculty Fall 2019, which was distributed to Faculty Senate members before the meeting.

Matt Snipp, vice provost for faculty diversity and engagement, presented the 2019 Report on the Faculty at the senate meeting. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

The annual report, which was compiled by the Office of Faculty Development, describes gains, losses and the overall composition of the Stanford faculty.

The report showed that Stanford’s professoriate reached 2,275 in 2019, including 1,582 men and 693 women.

The data revealed a slight increase in the number of female faculty, continuing a trend seen over the past two decades. In 2019, women composed 30 percent of the faculty, compared with 26 percent 10 years ago and 20 percent 20 years ago.

Women are better represented at the assistant professor level (41 percent) than at the full professor level (24 percent).

While most schools and clusters had a female representation close to or higher than the 30 percent university average, gender distributions varied by school.

The humanities and arts cluster within the School of Humanities and Sciences had the highest percentage of women faculty (43 percent), followed by the Graduate School of Education (39 percent) and Stanford Earth (36 percent). Women represent about one-third of the faculty in Stanford Law (34 percent) and the School of Medicine basic science cluster (34 percent) and clinical science cluster (33 percent).

In 2019, the schools and clusters in which female faculty fell below the university average of 30 percent were the natural sciences cluster within the School of Humanities and Sciences (22 percent), the Graduate School of Business (19 percent) and the School of Engineering (19 percent).

Last year, the Stanford professoriate included 592 members of minority groups, including 156 members of underrepresented minorities, 410 members of Asian descent and 26 members of two or more races.

In 2019, the percentage of members of minority groups within the faculty was 26 percent, an increase of 1 percent from 2018. Underrepresented minorities made up 7 percent of the faculty in 2019, unchanged from the previous year.

The percentages of minority faculty from different groups were similar among men and women faculty.

Minority representation varied by school. The Graduate School of Education (19 percent) and Law School (13 percent) had the highest percentages of underrepresented minority faculty members.

Last year, Stanford hired 115 new faculty members, of which 55 (48 percent) were women. Eighty members of the faculty left the professoriate, resulting in a net gain of 35 faculty members in 2019.

During his presentation, Snipp discussed the impact of two programs on hiring: the Faculty Incentive Fund, which added 76 total faculty members, mostly women, between 2009 through 2019; and the Faculty Development Initiative, which is expected to add 24 faculty members between 2008 through 2021. The initiative, which recruits scholars whose research is focused on the study of race and ethnicity, has been more successful hiring underrepresented minorities, he said.

Both programs are still in operation.

In summing up the report, Snipp said:

“We’ve had slow but steady progress in gender diversity. We’ve had almost no progress in racial and ethnic diversity. Stanford’s white male faculty tends to be older than other groups of faculty. Our faculty recruitment programs have been effective, but we need wider university participation to really close the gap.  Finally, we have this looming fiscal crisis in higher education that’s already been alluded to and not just at Stanford; it’s everywhere. This is going to present some challenges, but this is also going to present some opportunities.”

Snipp noted there were many faculty departures following the Faculty Retirement Incentive Program of 2009-10, and Stanford simply rebuilt itself back as it was before.

“We may want to rethink that, or at least think carefully about that,” he said.

In the Q&A that followed the presentation, senators asked questions about making the data widely available, including being distributed to faculty appointment and promotion committees. Senators also asked about the possibility of establishing a faculty retirement plan to serve as an incentive to encourage aging faculty to retire.

Advancing faculty diversity is one of the areas that Tessier-Lavigne and Drell have focused on in Stanford’s Long-Range Vision, specifically in the IDEAL initiative. One of the initiative’s immediate goals for improvement is “increasing the diversity of the faculty, especially faculty from underrepresented backgrounds including racial and ethnic minorities and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

Select pages of the Report on the Faculty Fall 2019: Professorial Gains, Losses and Composition will be posted on the Office of Faculty Development website.

The next Faculty Senate meeting will be held on May 7.