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Stanford Report, October 9, 2002

Greely takes helm at Faculty Senate, ready to tackle tough issues


Some professors might roll their eyes when asked to take on a time-consuming administrative task like chairing a committee. Law Professor Henry "Hank" Greely, elected last spring as chair of the 35th Senate -- at 55 members, the first among academic governance committees -- looks forward to the job. In his third term as an elected senate member, and especially after serving as vice chair last year under John Rickford, Greely knows what he's in for.

Law professor Hank Greely chairs his first meeting of the Faculty Senate Thursday. As usual, the senate has a full agenda, with issues such as possible revisions to the granting of Advanced Placement credit and implications of the USA Patriot Act likely to stir debate. Photo: L.A. Cicero

Greely freely admits that "really tough issues" come up only rarely before the senate, whose bread and butter is academic policy. Its actual mandate is limited. That said, he intends to make the best use of the forum to stimulate discussion on subjects of concern.

"I want to try to get us to focus on things, even if the senate does not have the power to decide them, to at least get them under discussion. We can usefully look at what the university should do, what the larger education world should do."

Greely, 50, has been on the law faculty, where he is the C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor, since 1985 and is also co-chair of the Stanford Program in Genomics, Ethics and Society. He is a nationally recognized expert on the convergence of legal, ethical and scientific issues, notably concerning biotech, genetics and other areas where science is frequently far ahead of the law. As such he is no stranger to controversy, having weighed in on the debate over such contentious issues as cloning and stem cell research.

He ticks off one potential surprising topic that will make its way onto the senate agenda this year: the effect of elite colleges' admission requirements on high school students. As a parent of a ninth-grader, "I'm shocked how hard high school is these days for ambitious kids [aiming] to get into college," Greely says. The minimum requirements, not to mention the competition, to secure a place at a top school "are making [students'] lives much busier, much more difficult than high school was for my generation."

Greely acknowledges this isn't something the senate has much direct power over at Stanford, let alone at other colleges across the country. "But having a public discussion of that might be useful -- getting Stanford and other elite institutions to give some more thought to how their actions affect high school life."

Other topics slated for discussion include changes in the policy over granting credit for Advanced Placement (AP) courses and the impact of the USA Patriot Act, passed by Congress in October 2001, on the university.

AP credits fall within the senate's bailiwick of academic policy, as they pertain to graduation requirements. But Greely would like to expand the debate. Stanford currently allows 45 units of AP credit toward graduation, but there is movement to cut that back.

"I would hope that part of the discussion would also talk about what is sensible for a university like Stanford to do about AP, not just in its core graduation requirement, but what other ways we should look at it, such as in admissions. To what extent are we shaping high school curricula?" he asked.

The new Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policies, chaired by Ewart Thomas, psychology, is to report its recommendations to the full senate this fall, together with the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid, which is also looking at the AP credit issue.

Meanwhile, Dean of Research Charles Kruger is slated to address the senate Nov. 7 on the impact of the Patriot Act, a broad-brush piece of national security legislation passed after the Sept. 11 attacks that touches on everything from research to monitoring foreign student visas. The bill "has a big impact on the university," Greely points out. "A postdoc at Harvard or MIT got arrested for having anthrax in his freezer. That could be any researcher anywhere; it's pretty upsetting to worry about your postdocs getting arrested." He lists other potential concerns: doing a biological inventory, the impact on foreign students.

Also on Greely's docket: a look at faculty retirement since mandatory retirement was ended, including a study of how the stock market slump might affect the timing of faculty who imminently planned to retire. He also plans to examine the status of women on the faculty, as well as how to promote diversity of the faculty in other ways than gender. Again, he adds, "the senate doesn't control hiring, but it can usefully serve as a place for discussion."

And last but not least, Thursday's meeting includes a presentation from Linda Herkenhoff of Human Resources on the touchy matter of hefty increases in health insurance premiums for next year. Greely said a page-one story in the Aug. 21 issue of Stanford Report "certainly got my attention. We want to hear what changes are proposed, and why."

These are just some of the things Greely has on his mind for the senate. "I spent a lot of time over the summer having lunch with various deans and provosts to come up with a list of issues. Of course, if we get to even one-third of them, that will be doing well," he says.