Faculty Senate bids farewell to its outgoing chair

Karen Cook

Karen Cook

It's a time-honored tradition to bid farewell to the outgoing chair of the Faculty Senate with a tongue-in cheek tribute, so when Professor Harvey Cohen rose from his seat, turned to sociology Professor Karen Cook and said, "Madam Chair, I rise to a point of personal privilege, whatever that means," the statement drew appreciative laughter from the audience.

"I know that medical record privacy is covered by certain regulations," continued Cohen, who is the vice chair of the senate and a pediatrics professor in the School of Medicine.

"However, since we are not in the medical center, I have nullified all HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] regulations to present to this august body important medical information about our fearless leader. Here is Karen Cook's latest medical center visit."

In a recitation interrupted often by laughter from the audience, Cohen said:

Chief Complaint: This is the first Stanford University Academic Faculty Senate Chairmanship for this incredibly accomplished and delightful Stanford superstar, who comes to the clinic with the chief complaints of "which budget crisis are we dealing with now" and "why there are no Faculty Senate members going to graduation in bathing suits."

History of Present Illness: The patient was in her usual state of academic health and directing the very successful sociology program with a specialization in "Whom do you trust?" until last spring, when a retired nephrologist implored her to run for the chair of the Academic Senate. She agreed to do this—although no mental status examination was done at the time.

Despite a difficult and ugly campaign against a highly disreputable opponent [a humorous reference to the fact that Cohen and Cook, who are friends, both ran for chair], she was victorious, much to the benefit of Stanford University. She brought her formidable intellect, dynamic drive, and most importantly, her sense of the absurd, to this role. Her major skill, developed in her prior life as a cognizant dean (and I thought deans were never cognizant—silly me) and chair, was being able to herd cats, and end all meetings by 5:00.

She was cruising in this role, leading a discussion on whether we should increase the number of undergraduates, in response to a Washington pathogen named [Iowa Republican Sen. Charles] Grassley and his attempt to infect university endowments. Then suddenly, without warning, there was a report by the provost of a "slight" problem with our endowment. It began with a "slight" bleed in September, followed by an autumn hemorrhage leading to a winter state of shock.

What had Karen done to cause this?

As a sociologist, she felt she should have been less "trusting" and anticipated the evils of society. To complicate matters, there was a nasty battle on Academic Senate faculty disappearance from graduation ceremonies, and the appropriate use of bathing suits at graduation. The combination of these events resulted in Karen's decision to seek medical intervention.

After a thorough mental status examination, it was decided that Karen Cook is incredibly healthy, not so wealthy and very wise, but that Stanford University was suffering from two grave illnesses—poverty and apathy.

To cure the university, we as senators must help Karen by soliciting all our friends and families to support our poverty-stricken university, and by donning our bathing suits and academic regalia—Do you hear that, Philippe? [addressing history Professor Philippe Buc]—by joining Karen and me at the Stanford graduation.

My prognosis is that Stanford will survive and thrive, but that most of us will look terrible in our bathing suits. My recommendation for Dr. Cook is that she keep smiling, never change, and have lunch with me often.

Karen, to remind you of all of us, I would like to present you this engraved gavel, so that you can always get us to behave. Thanks so much.

Cook, who had joined in the laughter, graciously accepted the gavel, and thanked Cohen for filling in for her as chair when she was away from campus during the year.

She thanked faculty members who had served on or chaired Academic Council committees—and committee staffers—during the 2008-2009 academic year.

She recognized Academic Secretary Rex Jamison, "our nephrologist," describing him as a great behind-the-scenes leader. She thanked Charita Clay and Priscilla Johnson, who both work in the Academic Secretary's Office, and court reporter Laura Brewer.

Cook singled out Assistant Academic Secretary Trish Del Pozzo for special praise, noting that she was celebrating a milestone at Stanford—her 25th year in the post.

"If we could just take a moment to thank all of these people, and, in particular, Trish, by applauding," Cook said, a request that was quickly answered with clapping by the audience.

The Faculty Senate also heard a presentation by law Professor Deborah Rhode on responses to a 2008 survey that measured faculty satisfaction, perceptions of the work climate on campus and the primary causes of stress among faculty. David Abernethy, professor emeritus of political science, also presented a report about the various activities of the Emeriti Council, including the themes its speakers—professors emeriti—addressed during its quarterly lecture series. Minutes of the meeting are available at http://facultysenate.stanford.edu.