Faculty Senate hears budget update, approves new unit-limit policy

At the Oct. 22 senate meeting, Provost Persis Drell provided an update on the university’s finances and the senate voted on a proposal to add exemptions and exceptions to a policy setting a 100-unit limit for undergraduate majors.

In an update on the university’s budget, Provost Persis Drell told the Faculty Senate on Thursday that the conservative approach Stanford took to creating its 2020-21 Budget Plan – developed amid great uncertainty in the early months of the pandemic – has positioned the university for a strong recovery.

Provost Persis Drell provided an update on the university’s finances during the Oct. 22 Faculty Senate meeting. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Also at the Oct. 22 meeting, the senate unanimously approved a proposal to add exemptions and exceptions to Stanford’s policy setting a 100-unit limit on undergraduate majors, which was established last spring.

Stanford budget update

Drell began her presentation with a brief review of an unprecedented budgeting cycle.

“I cannot stress enough how difficult this has been because of the uncertainty we are dealing with – I think we are all dealing with that,” Drell said, noting that in addition to questions around finances are the unknowns around the timeline for COVID-19 recovery.

“Here we are eight months and we still have much uncertainty ahead of us,” she said. “Another source of uncertainty has been the economy and the damage done to the economy by the pandemic.”

Drell recalled that the pandemic upended the normal budgeting process, requiring revisions to the initial proposal based on a new set of assumptions.

The university presented the 2020-21 Budget Plan to the Board of Trustees in June, which they approved.

Under the revised plan, Stanford assumed there would be a significant decrease in the market value of the endowment, due to the volatility of the stock market caused by the pandemic, Drell said.

The university also assumed that 4,400 undergraduate students would be living on campus during the four-quarter academic year.

Then things changed.

For the fall, Stanford decided not to bring two undergraduate classes back to campus, due to health and safety concerns, a decision that resulted in a shortfall of $120 million in projected revenue from room and board.

Also, instead of falling, the stock market recovered and the value of Stanford’s endowment rose – read today’s announcement here.

In her presentation, Drell also highlighted elements of the budget approved by the Board in June, including increased financial aid for undergraduate students this year, anticipating that the pandemic would cause greater need among Stanford families.

“Then I will remind you that by March there had been a year or more of planning on recommendations to help our broader community deal with the high cost of living in the Bay Area,” Drell said.

The budget includes $29 million to implement recommendations of the Affordability Task Force, including a program that will enable all doctoral students to receive 12 months of funding for up to five years.

It  also includes funding for other task force recommendations, such as increasing paid family sick leave and expanding the Child Care Subsidy Grant Program.

Drell said this year’s budget also provides funding for the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEAL) initiative, which was created as part of Stanford’s Long-Range Vision.

Looking forward, Drell said Stanford has four priorities:

  • Supporting the Stanford community through a phased return
  • Continuing to address remaining Affordability Task Force recommendations
  • Advancing IDEAL and other Long-Range Vision initiatives
  • Preparing for continued market volatility

Undergraduate majors

In a unanimous vote, the Faculty Senate approved a proposal to add exemptions to the unit cap approved in spring.

Stanford’s new unit-limit policy traces its origins to a review process that began in 2019 under the Future of the Major Design Team, which was part of Stanford’s Long-Range Vision.

The idea was to ensure that all undergraduate majors are open to all students, regardless of their pre-collegiate preparation, and to give students the time to explore the wide range of academic disciplines and opportunities available at Stanford.

The policy, which was approved in May, established a new range of 60 to 100 units for undergraduate majors, with limited exceptions for accreditation requirements in engineering fields. (The previous unit range was 55 to 135 units.)

In July, the senate’s Steering Committee approved a request by the Schools of Engineering, Humanities and Sciences, and Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences for a one-year delay implementing the new policy. The revised unit cap approved Thursday is now scheduled to be enacted for a trial period of six years beginning with the Class of 2026.

Under the legislation approved Thursday:

  • Any major that is accredited by an external accreditation organization, such as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, is exempted from complying with the policy if the 100-unit limit is too low to meet the organization’s standards or expectations.
  • Any department that offers such an exempted accredited major must also offer a unit-compliant major for students who do not wish to pursue the accredited major.
  • Any department or program may seek an exception from the 100-unit limit under a review and approval process outlined in the amended policy.

Hoover Institution

At the beginning of the meeting, two faculty members raised concerns about actions by a senior fellow and a former member of the Board of Overseers of the Hoover Institution in relation to the pandemic.

In response, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said the statement on academic freedom adopted by the Faculty Senate says that expression of the widest range of viewpoints should be encouraged, free from institutional orthodoxy and from internal or external coercion. Faculty must make clear that their views are their own and don’t reflect those of the university, he said.

Drell also noted that over the past decade, the Hoover Institution has become much more integrated with the university, with many of the senior fellows also members of the faculty.

In his remarks at the start of the meeting, Tessier-Lavigne noted that Stanford joined with other organizations this week in a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security rules that would make drastic changes to the H-1B visa program.

The full minutes of the senate meeting, including the discussion that followed the presentations, will be available on the Faculty Senate website.

The next senate meeting will be held Thursday, Nov. 5.