Trustees discuss Stanford’s COVID response, long-range planning, Jordan Hall

At their Oct. 4-6 meeting, the Stanford University Board of Trustees discussed the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, heard an update on the Long-Range Vision, and approved a campus committee’s recommendation to remove David Starr Jordan’s name from campus spaces and to relocate the statue of Louis Agassiz outside Jordan Hall.

At their Oct. 4-6 meeting, the Stanford University Board of Trustees received updates on a variety of topics related to the pandemic, including teaching activities this quarter, research recovery and the university’s efforts to support the health and safety of the community.

Trustees also discussed Stanford’s Long-Range Vision, which is focused on leveraging the university’s existing strengths to accelerate its contributions to the world. The board discussed the need for philanthropic support to help Stanford achieve some of the objectives that faculty, students and staff have laid out through the vision.

In addition, the Board of Trustees and President Marc Tessier-Lavigne approved a campus committee’s recommendation to remove David Starr Jordan’s name from campus spaces and to take steps to make his multifaceted history better known. Trustees also agreed to relocate a statue of Louis Agassiz that now stands outside Jordan Hall.

While renaming of campus feature falls under the president’s authority, Tessier-Lavigne brought the committee’s recommendation to the Board of Trustees for its approval, given David Starr Jordan’s historical significance as Stanford’s first president.

Raikes said that Debra Satz, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, will institute a process to consider a new name for Jordan Hall.

Read the full story about the campus committee’s recommendations.

Stanford’s COVID-19 response

In the briefing that followed the board meeting, board Chair Jeffrey Raikes praised the work everyone in the Stanford community is doing to sustain and advance the university’s mission of education and research – working extraordinarily hard under challenging circumstances.

“That was evident in everything we heard during the trustees’ meeting this week, as well as the discussions we had during the summer,” Raikes said.

“The work of the university has never been more important. Our students, faculty, staff and postdocs are doing impressive work to support each other – to advance their individual work and to propel the mission of the university as a whole. And that includes not just the work that we do as a research university to respond to opportunities that help the world end the pandemic, but also the work being done across the board in medicine, science and humanities. It’s been very gratifying to see that level of energy.”

Jeffrey S. Raikes

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

Raikes said Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell gave trustees an update that provided an overview of the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In their presentations, they talked about instructional activities during fall quarter, residential programs, research recovery, the university’s COVID-19 surveillance testing program and the many other efforts Stanford is taking to support the health and safety of the entire community.

In addition, trustees heard Shirley Everett, senior associate vice provost for Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE), discuss the unit’s work supporting students living in university housing this quarter, including the undergraduate and graduate students living in the new Escondido Village Graduate Residences. She also discussed the measures R&DE is taking to ensure the health and safety of employees who are serving students every day.

Raikes said trustees also heard an update on financial aid, including adjustments the Financial Aid Office has made to undergraduate aid packages to account for changed circumstances many families face due to the pandemic.

Raikes said there was a great deal of discussion around the educational experiences of students, and the experiences of faculty and instructors who are working to support them.

“Our faculty and support staff have been learning and adapting based on the feedback that students have been providing about their online experiences,” he said.

Raikes said Sarah Church, vice provost for undergraduate education and the person who has been overseeing the university’s academic continuity during the pandemic, outlined some of the efforts Stanford has taken to support faculty and instructors.

One of the efforts Church cited was the updated Stanford Teaching Commons, a website that provides curated guides on designing online classes; articles on such topics as accessibility, asynchronous activity, and inclusion and equity; and links to resources and services that support online education across campus.

Raikes said trustees learned about the many efforts underway to continue improving the online experience and to make remote learning as effective as possible during this period.

He noted that the university will apply what it has learned about remote teaching to benefit current students and to leverage that knowledge in the future when students return to campus.

“Ensuring that students continue to make academic progress is paramount for the university,” he said. “Our faculty – and our students – deserve tremendous thanks for the efforts that they are making. And I would just add that it’s not only people’s efforts that we appreciate, but their patience with change during an extraordinary time.”

Raikes noted that Stanford is responding to changing circumstances in real time during the pandemic, adding that sometimes those efforts will be imperfect.

“But the goal is to work together as a community to support one another, to support public health and to support our continued progress in education and research.”

Stanford’s Long-Range Vision

Raikes said trustees discussed Stanford’s Long-Range Vision with Tessier-Lavigne and other university leaders at length during the meeting.

“The board is very confident about Stanford’s ability to lead in the world that emerges from this pandemic,” Raikes said. “That’s due to our people. And that’s due to the strength and urgency of the long-range vision that has been created for the university.

“Our Long-Range Vision, our strategic vision, includes excellent foundational research, it includes educational opportunities for students, and it includes efforts to truly accelerate our contributions in areas like sustainability, social challenges, learning, human health, and diversity and inclusion.”

Raikes said trustees also spent time at the meeting talking about the philanthropic support that might be needed to help achieve the objectives that faculty, students and staff laid out through the vision. He said trustees will continue conversations with members of the Stanford community and its supporters in this area.

“But bottom line is the many crises of 2020 in our world have only strengthened our view that the world needs the contributions of universities like Stanford,” he said. “The needs are urgent. Our vision is strong. And we intend to build the resources to make the vision a reality.”

Composition of the Board of Trustees

Turning to the composition of the Board of Trustees, Raikes noted that effective Oct. 1, a majority of the trustees are women for the first time in Stanford history. Women now represent 52 percent of the board.

He said 55 percent of trustees live outside the Bay Area.

Raikes, who earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering–economic systems at Stanford in 1980, also shared statistics on the percentage of trustees who are fellow alumni, noting that 39 percent earned undergraduate degrees, 32 percent earned graduate degrees and 26 percent earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees at the university.

He said Asian, Black and Latinx members now represent 35 percent of the board, which currently has 31 members, including four new members who were elected in July.

“We certainly have more to do to ensure that our board reflects the diversity that is so integral and important to Stanford, and we continue to work on that,” he said. “We are making progress on that front.”

Raikes said trustees, who meet only a few times during the year, are in touch with university leadership on an ongoing basis, especially in the midst of a pandemic.

He said he was continually impressed by the board’s hard-working members, all of whom are volunteers, adding that they are all deeply committed to serving Stanford and are doing all they can to provide counsel in many constructive and important ways.