Provost announces task force on study of race; senators hear report on school of sustainability at Faculty Senate meeting

At Thursday’s meeting of the Faculty Senate, Provost Persis Drell announced a task force charged with recommending a new framework for the study of race and the impacts of race on society at Stanford. The senate heard a report on a school focused on climate and sustainability, and the announcement of the 2020-21 Bass University Fellows. The senate also approved a proposal urging instructors to support civic engagement on Election Day.

At the Oct. 8 meeting of the Faculty Senate, Provost Persis Drell announced the formation of a university task force charged with recommending a new framework for the study of race and the impacts of race on society at Stanford, with a report due on May 1, 2021.

The Faculty Senate and Provost Persis Drell announced Thursday a task force charged with recommending a new framework for the study of race and the impacts of race on society at Stanford. The senate also approved a proposal urging instructors to support civic engagement on Election Day. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

The senate also heard a report on a school focused on sustainability and climate change presented by Kathryn “Kam” Moler, vice provost and dean of research, and Stephan Graham, dean of the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences.

In addition, Sarah Church, vice provost for undergraduate education, announced that eight faculty members have been named or reappointed Bass University Fellows for five-year terms starting in the 2020-21 academic year in recognition of their exceptional contributions to undergraduate education. See full story here.

The senate also approved a proposal from the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) urging instructors to support civic engagement on Election Day through such measures as canceling classes, recording lectures for later viewing and adjusting assignments to the extent possible.

Provost announces task force

During the meeting, Drell announced the formation, jointly with Debra Satz, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, of the Framework Task Force to Recommend New Infrastructure for the Study of Race and the Impact of Race on Society at Stanford.

“American society has fallen short of its promise of equal consideration and standing for all of its citizens,” Drell said at the beginning of her presentation. “Unsettling racial and ethnic disparities persist. We believe that Stanford has a dual responsibility. First, to produce knowledge and understanding that addresses the persistence of racial inequality, and secondly to educate our students for participation in a diverse and multicultural world.”

Through the IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment) initiative, and the racial justice initiatives announced this summer, Stanford hopes to increase both institutional support and the number of scholars focused on racial disparities in America.

She said Stanford has many programs and institutes devoted to the study of race and society, including the Program in African and African American Studies, the Center for African Studies, the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.

“But as we look to the future, it’s very important to ask if Stanford currently has the institutional organization to really optimize our strengths, especially in this time of growing national concern about racial justice and inequality,” she said.

“Are we as an institution organized so that these resources have both a generative influence on each other and maximum effect on research that feeds into public policy, new scholarship and teaching – and indeed contributes to our country’s civic life?”

Drell said the new task force will explore what infrastructure would accomplish those goals, and what infrastructure would support Stanford achieving leadership in those arenas.

The task force is charged with exploring how Stanford might better coordinate and support its current strengths in the study of race and the impact of race on society, and build on them to create a bigger research footprint, a stronger teaching program and a more robust community outreach. The task force will address the following:

  • Consider what university structures would best facilitate the research, teaching and outreach ambitions. Articulate specific university goals in this area, and develop the university organization and structures best suited to achieving those goals.
  • Create a list of possible structures, with the benefits and trade-offs of each. Look at what others have done; what has worked well and what has not – at Stanford and at other universities.
  • In laying out the various organizational options, consider how multiple units involved in a larger structure would relate to one another, and how those units would relate to existing departments in the School of Humanities and Sciences, as well as other schools and institutes across campus.
  • Consider what structures could be established today without significant resources, and describe possible ways to build or expand upon the new structure with increased resources, with the ultimate goal of inspiring philanthropists.
  • Consider the advantages and possible drawbacks of transforming the Program in African and African American Studies and how that would fit into the overall framework that the task force is proposing.

Drell asked the task force to consult broadly and deeply, soliciting input from all stakeholders, especially the many student groups who have expressed deep interest in this topic. The 18-member task force will be chaired by Claude Steele, the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences, Emeritus, and Matthew Snipp, vice provost for faculty diversity and engagement and the Burnet C. and Mildred Finley Wohlford Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

The announcement of the new faculty task force, including the membership of the group, is posted on the provost’s website here, along with a link to the charge document.

Climate and sustainability

In their presentation, Moler and Graham updated the senators on the proposed school focused on climate and sustainability that was announced last May, with the two of them charged with leading the project.

“One of the things that Steve Graham and I are really hoping to get from your input today is what needs to be part of the open-ended, inclusive, facilitated design process for the school,” Moler said. “It’s important to the design process for all those affected to have ample opportunity to participate,” she added.

In describing the rationale for choosing a school rather than a college for an institution focused on sustainability and climate, Moler there are certain kinds of academic superpowers given to schools and certain kinds given to institutes. She said a community engaged in sustainability research and education needs both.

She said institutes foster interdisciplinary intellectual communities and engage internal and external stakeholders, while a school admits students, hires and promotes faculty, builds and owns curricula and grants degrees.

Moler said the School of Medicine was a particularly good example of an institution that combines the superpowers of institutes and of a school.

“The School of Medicine is also a really good example because it’s focused on human health, just like you could argue that the sustainability school would be focused on planetary health or the health of the human planetary system. But it doesn’t just do applied work, it also does quite a bit of the basic foundational work that creates the knowledge that creates truly transformational applications and solutions.”

Graham said a school focused on climate and sustainability is “truly a bold step” for Stanford, but noted that the school doesn’t need to be created from scratch.

“When we think about the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences (SE3) in relation to the school we’re starting to build, it makes sense to take advantage of a foundation that has already been laid,” he said.

“SE3 has some incredible attributes which we want to keep with the practice and study of sustainability permeating everything it does,” Graham said. “But as presently constituted, SE3 alone is insufficient to realize Stanford’s vision for sustainability.”

Graham and Moler are now focused on the task of building that new structure on the foundation that already exists. Using a construction analogy, they talked about identifying elements they want to preserve, deciding what needs to be added and debating the best floor plan that allows the free flow of ideas between all the intellectual rooms. He said they also want to make sure that there are many points of entry for our neighbors in other schools.

“Together, we have the opportunity to create a school for the 21st century that is expansive and transformative as the challenges it seeks to understand and to address,” Graham said.

Moler said the school focused on climate and sustainability has been proposed to include departments, degree programs, cross-cutting challenge areas, a residential educational neighborhood, an academic district and external partnerships.

She said the Blueprint Advisory Committee – which she created with Graham – will specify options for the initial configuration of the elements with sufficient detail – and advice on pros and cons – for decision-makers to act. They anticipate opportunities for community input after the initial report from the advisory committee.

“We plan to catalyze a rapid change to embrace traditional and emerging disciplines to maximize Stanford’s scholarship and impact on planetary sustainability,” she said. “We want to optimize and attract more resources to campus to increase our impact and deepen our scholarship. We want to make things better for everyone.”

For more information on Moler and Graham’s plans and activities, read the Stanford Report story here.

ASSU proposal approved

Following a presentation by two Stanford students, the senate approved an ASSU proposal urging instructors “to support civic engagement and reflection” on Election Day through a variety of measures, such as canceling classes on Election Day; recording lectures given on Election Day for later viewing; and, to the extent possible, adjusting assignments so as to accommodate this civic engagement.

The proposal approved by the senate also instructs senate committees to work with the University Registrar to make a recommendation to the Faculty Senate to make the dates of all national elections academic holidays.

The proposal was presented by Jonathan Lipman, a member of the Undergraduate Senate of the ASSU, and Sean Casey, co-director of Stanford Votes, a nonpartisan, university-wide, student-run organization dedicated to increasing voter turnout among Stanford students.

In their presentation, Lipman and Casey said reducing the demands on student time on Election Day would facilitate voting; increase civic awareness, deliberation, reflection, engagement and activities; and signal the value Stanford places on civic participation.

Also at the meeting, Tessier-Lavigne drew the senate’s attention to news announced Oct. 7: Stanford will rename campus features named after David Starr Jordan and take actions to provide the public with a more complete view of his complex history, which includes not only his seminal leadership as the university’s founding president but also his parallel leadership in promoting eugenics. Read the Stanford Report story here.

The minutes of the senate meeting, including the Q&A that followed presentations, will be available on the Faculty Senate website. The next senate meeting will be held Oct. 22.