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New Faculty Senate chair stresses importance of faculty voice at Stanford

The 54th Faculty Senate chair addressed civil discourse, and the senate voted to extend legislation allowing its Steering Committee to convene to make decisions on behalf of the full senate in administrative session during the COVID-19 crisis and heard from the Associated Students of Stanford University during its first meeting of the academic year on Oct. 7.

While civil discourse has been challenged in the COVID era, the voice of the faculty will be critical in rebuilding community amid the return to campus, said Faculty Senate Chair Ruth O’Hara during its first meeting of the academic year Thursday.

The Faculty Senate held its first meeting of the 2021-22 academic year via Zoom on Thursday. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

“We want to hear from our faculty regarding what they believe to be the most important issues facing our institution in this complex time and anticipate having excellent discussions on a wide range of topics, from COVID-19 policies to the meaning of academic freedom,” said O’Hara, senior associate dean for research in the School of Medicine, director of Spectrum, and the Lowell W. and Josephine Q. Berry Professor and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

She reminded senators that welcome back events being offered are a “wonderful opportunity to have enhanced discourse across diverse perspectives.”

O’Hara also read a statement from Provost Persis Drell, who was unable to attend the meeting, regarding the recently announced university compliance with the federal vaccine mandate. Like many members of the university community, Drell and President Marc Tessier-Lavigne attended a memorial service for George Shultz on Thursday afternoon.

On Wednesday, the university announced how Stanford will comply with President Biden’s executive order requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for employees of federal contractors.

All Stanford faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars will be required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and upload proof of their vaccination status on Health Check by Dec. 8, unless they have a medical or religious accommodation. Previously, Stanford had an additional allowance for those choosing not to be vaccinated for any reason, but this accommodation is no longer allowed under the new federal mandate. Those who do not comply with this new vaccination mandate will no longer be able to perform work for the university.


At the senate meeting, Associated Students of Stanford University President Christian Giadolor presented the vision of the organization, which represents nearly 16,000 students and allocates more than $2 million annually to voluntary student organizations for community events. It also offers Carta, which helps students make data-driven decisions to craft their educational paths, as well as a legal counseling office.

ASSU President Christian Giadolor presented the vision of the Associated Students organization, which represents nearly 16,000 students and allocates more than $2 million annually to voluntary student organizations. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

The ASSU recently held its first legislative and executive meetings of the quarter and will be establishing a financial manager search committee, he said.

“As the executive of ASSU, it’s truly an honor to be able to serve alongside such diverse and talented students who demonstrate the power and beauty of representative and inclusive governance,” Giadolor said.

In discussing opportunities for synergy, Giadolor said students are often deeply passionate about making an impact and “sometimes we do that by losing sight of who you all are, which is faculty … a part of the Stanford community just as much as we are as students,” he said. “So, we are really committed to the opportunity to collaborate, whether that is on mentorship, leadership development or service opportunities.”

Ongoing initiatives include telling the history of underrepresented and marginalized communities at Stanford; ensuring student voices are heard regarding COVID-19 policies; and measuring and increasing inclusion and belongings in classrooms, among others.

“Public service is not easy, so to be successful, we have to work together, promote a collaborative environment, find ways to operationalize and systematize our processes, set and respect boundaries, and perhaps most importantly prioritize self-care,” Giadolor said.

After the presentation, Susan McConnell, professor of biology and Susan B. Ford Professor, said she and other faculty members have seen a noticeable increase in student activism over the last decade at Stanford, “which many of us think is fantastic, but one of the things that seems to have gone hand-in-hand with that is an increasing sense of distrust between students, student groups and sort of Stanford as an institution, or the administration more broadly.”

She added that she would like to brainstorm with the ASSU and other members of the Faculty Senate on how to create a relationship between the two governing bodies to have productive conversation and dialogue.

Giadolor acknowledged the difficult dynamic and said he would “love to continue these  conversations offline on how to support student activists and make sure they feel validated and heard — especially because much of the work that they are doing is centering the most marginalized and underrepresented of voices in our world — but also trying to do that in the midst of understanding how our institutions navigate the world and the different forces that we as leaders are undergoing.”

Coming later

Vice Chair Mark Horowitz, the Yahoo! Founders Professor in the School of Engineering and professor of electrical engineering and of computer science, provided a report from the Faculty Senate’s Steering Committee on what can be expected for discussion later this quarter. Topics include:

  • An update on the COVID-19 pandemic by Lloyd Minor, dean of the School of Medicine
  • A presentation on the global engagement review program
  • A report from the Planning and Policy Board on campus climate
  • A vote on changes to Stanford’s conflict of interest policy due to changes in federal rules

The Steering Committee has also been discussing how to hold the senate meetings and have agreed that it would like to transition back to in-person meetings sometime this quarter. Details will be announced once they are finalized.

Legislation extension

The Faculty Senate also voted to approve a second extension of legislation allowing its Steering Committee to convene in administrative session to make decisions on behalf of the full senate for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, when there have often been decisions that must be made quickly in response to rapidly changing circumstances.

The Faculty Senate initially passed the new policy on May 28, 2020, and it was first extended Jan. 28, 2021. It also allows senators to request meetings of the full senate on agenda items scheduled to be considered in administrative session.