Academic structure announced for new school focused on climate and sustainability
The new school will include transitional academic divisions, university-wide cross-cutting themes organized into institutes and an accelerator focused on solutions. Stanford is now launching the search for a dean to lead the new school.
When Stanford’s new school focused on climate and sustainability begins operating in fall 2022, it will include a set of transitional academic divisions that will evolve into multiple departments as the school grows; cross-cutting themes organized within institutes to draw on the expertise of the entire university; and an accelerator to drive new technology and policy solutions.
Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne selected this blueprint after he and Provost Persis Drell reviewed, and slightly modified, options provided in a report (SUNetID required) from the faculty Blueprint Advisory Committee (BAC) that has been meeting since last fall to develop options and recommendations for the structure of the new school.
“Stanford is taking the historic step of creating the university’s first new school in 70 years in response to the scale and urgency of threats facing our planet,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “With our faculty aligned in these new divisions, and with cross-cutting themes and an accelerator integrating expertise from the entire university to drive solutions, we will marshal our resources to serve humanity’s top priority, which is to create a future in which all humans and natural systems can thrive together in concert and in perpetuity.”
Tessier-Lavigne also supported the BAC’s recommendation that the new school bring together and expand on the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth), the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Precourt Institute for Energy, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (joint with the School of Engineering) and the facilities at Hopkins Marine Station. Those units will be augmented over time by new hires and by numerous faculty who join the new school from other schools and departments.
Drell will now launch the search for a dean to lead the new school. A faculty committee has already begun meeting to prioritize qualities needed to lead a school that can catalyze new directions in sustainability research, engage students from across the university in sustainability education and impact urgent challenges facing the planet.
Until the new dean is hired, Tessier-Lavigne and Drell have asked Kathryn “Kam” Moler, vice provost and dean of research, to lead the next phase of creating the school, and she has asked Stephan Graham, dean of the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences, to assist her. Moler and Graham have been coordinating the faculty-led efforts to design the school since Tessier-Lavigne announced it in May 2020.
In the past year, Moler and Graham assembled the faculty Blueprint Advisory Committee composed of faculty from all seven schools, five policy institutes and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to guide options for the school structure. They also consulted extensively with faculty, including several town halls, surveys and a Deliberative Polling event, and they received guidance from an external task force headed by Stanford alumna Akiko Yamazaki, who has been deeply engaged with other sustainability efforts at Stanford.
In addition to faculty input, a 9-member student group conducted meetings, town halls and a student Deliberative Polling event, and produced a report detailing their vision for the school. Staff in the merging units also participated in multiple town halls and focus groups addressing how a new staffing structure can amplify the school’s impact. Moler and Graham have been working with a consulting team to create a transition plan for aligning staff within the expanding structure.
Transitional divisions and departments
In the faculty deliberative polling event and in surveys, faculty strongly favored a set of departments that included climate, energy, oceans and engineering for sustainability and multiple departments focused on natural and human elements of sustainability. Faculty felt those departments would create the evolution needed to bring about the university-wide transformation in research, education and impact that motivated the decision to create a new school.
As a first step in building toward that future state, the school will begin operating with proposed departments clustered into four transitional divisions. Many of these groupings build on the foundations of existing units that are coming together into the new school, and will be expanded on through faculty from across Stanford who join the school and new hires in energy, climate and areas of the humanities and social sciences. The faculty in each division will specify the eventual departments through surveys, meetings and town halls during coming months.
The school will include cross-cutting themes housed within the Woods and Precourt Institutes and within a new Sustainable Societies initiative that will include possible themes such as Environmental Justice, Sustainable Urban Development and Environmental Communications. The institutes and their themes will be administered within the school, but their faculty affiliates and student communities will span the university and intersect with external policymakers, thought leaders and industry partners.
“The new school will be a home for a university-wide emphasis on sustainability research,” said Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and professor of biology and of Earth system science. “The sustainability of the planet affects all of us, and will require people from all backgrounds working together to create solutions.”
The Woods and Precourt Institutes have been independent institutes overseen by the Dean of Research. Within the new school, these institutes and the new Sustainable Societies initiative will house themes whose solutions require an integrated approach – areas like sustainable energy infrastructure, climate adaptation and environmental justice. They will fund interdisciplinary scholarship, accelerate hiring of key faculty and staff, support cross-cutting curricula to engage undergraduate and graduate students and other activities that draw the entire university into sustainability research and education.
“Both Woods and Precourt have been extraordinarily successful at launching new research teams in energy and the environment, and their impact can be felt through new policies their work has inspired, and technologies that improve our lives,” said Kam Moler, vice provost and dean of research. “Within the new school they will be critical for the university-wide mission for the school and their impact can be even greater. They will be able to inspire faculty hires in areas critical for the themes, and can contribute to curricula that train students in interdisciplinary approaches to sustainability.”
The new school will also contain a Sustainability Accelerator that will draw expertise from across the university and outside partners to co-create and scale policy and technology solutions for sustainability challenges. Many of the teams the Accelerator supports will have launched through grants from Woods, Precourt or other Stanford entities.
“The accelerator bridges the gap between academia and external partners,” said Yi Cui, director of the Precourt Institute for Energy and professor of materials science and engineering. “It will amplify the impact of energy technology and policy solutions launched through the Precourt Institute programs and help us to be even more successful.”
The accelerator will also hire staff with expertise in working with external partners, and who can assist faculty teams whose ideas have the potential for impact. Although the accelerator will be housed within the new school, it will support research teams from across the university.
Next steps for Moler, Graham and others involved in specifying the new school design include finalizing the transitional divisions, academic departments and thematic initiatives that make up the school, and conducting a naming process for the school. They will also launch an effort to hire a director for the Sustainability Accelerator.
Graham and Moler will also help initiate cluster hires in climate change and sustainability, including areas such as environmental justice, climate science and policy. In addition, they will name a faculty committee to begin designing curricula for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as for the professional programs.
The school is expected to formally accept students and begin working in the new divisions in the 2022-23 academic year.