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Stanford Campus Conversation looks ahead to 2021-22 academic year

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell shared highlights of the plans for the new academic year, including activities to rebuild the community and updates on major campus initiatives, during a Campus Conversation on Oct. 13.

Plans for the new school focused on climate and sustainability, progress advancing Stanford’s IDEAL initiative and reimagining the campus experience were among the highlights of the upcoming academic year that university leadership shared on Wednesday.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell share highlights of the plans for the new academic year during a Campus Conversation on Oct. 13. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

In the first Campus Conversation of the 2021-22 academic year, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne joined Provost Persis Drell to share these plans, including community rebuilding efforts and updates on major campus initiatives, and answer questions submitted by the campus community.

Tessier-Lavigne first paused to celebrate Monday’s news that Stanford Professor Guido Imbens won the Nobel Memorial Prize in economic sciences for his work in econometrics and statistics.

“As we come back together, I think this is just such an excellent reminder of the talent and the creativity within our own community, and that gives me so much hope for the future,” he said.

Priorities this year include advancing Stanford’s Long-Range Vision, renewing community and working to advance higher education at a national and regional level, Tessier-Lavigne said.

A defining issue

One particularly exciting aspect of the Long-Range Vision includes plans for the new school focused on climate and sustainability, which will build on Stanford’s years of sustainability research across multiple areas of scholarship, Tessier-Lavigne said.

“Climate change is perhaps the defining issue of the 21st century, and we want to put Stanford’s resources to work to help ensure the sustainability of our planet and human life,” he said.

The heart of the school will be a sustainability accelerator aimed at leveraging knowledge to create policy and technology solutions.

Ahead of the school’s fall 2022 launch, Stanford recently announced the new school’s academic departments and thematic initiatives and began the search for the new school’s dean and for a director of the sustainability accelerator, and is in the process of naming the school.

Strengthening and diversifying

Part of the renewal and rebuilding process involves ensuring a “strong and inclusive Stanford community” that reflects the creativity and perseverance displayed last year, Tessier-Lavigne said.

That includes supporting staff in new work arrangements and experimenting with a more flexible work model that meets both the needs of employees and university operations.

During a question-and-answer period, Vice President for Human Resources Elizabeth Zacharias answered questions about compensation adjustments for remote work outside the region; available support for employees with disabilities; possible options, such as regional hubs, for those who commute long distances; and more.

The renewal and rebuilding process also means making progress on advancing inclusion, diversity, equity and racial justice, both on campus and in broader society, Tessier-Lavigne said. Stanford’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment (IDEAL) Initiative seeks to do this through efforts such as diversifying scholarship and faculty.

“We know that having a faculty with diverse perspectives, points of view and backgrounds is critical for producing the teaching and scholarship that Stanford needs,” Drell said.

Stanford’s first cohort of IDEAL Provostial Fellows were welcomed this fall and include “some of the country’s most promising young scholars conducting research on race and ethnicity,” Drell said. Recruitment has started for next year’s cohort.

In the faculty cluster hires on the impacts of race in the U.S., six of these 10 searches are completed, and four offers are pending.

Stanford is also focused on ensuring these faculty members find a welcoming and supportive community, she added. In May, Stanford launched its first-ever Diversity, Equity and Inclusion survey focused on the individual experiences of Stanford community members. The responses will inform the actions Stanford takes to reach its goal of a more inclusive and equitable university.

In the question-and-answer period, Drell said there is also work being done to increase diversity in non-academic positions, which has included a review of how to improve staff hiring processes. Staff also will soon have DEI training, building off the summer pilot IDEAL Learning Journey program.

Advocacy and support

Of issues facing high education nationally, Tessier-Lavigne said those include supporting immigration and visa policies that attract “the best and brightest international students here to Stanford” while continuing to advocate for a legislative solution for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) recipients and undocumented youth.

Stanford is also focused on advocating for sufficient federal investment in research to ensure ongoing innovation in fields like health, economic well-being, national security and more, he said.

Regionally, Stanford will continue to engage with our local community to help support the health and well-being of the community.

On campus

With students back together on campus, Stanford has reimagined the residential experience, Drell said.

ResX was launched this fall, assigning each undergraduate student to a neighborhood home base, “to help develop strong foundations for healthy and vibrant student communities that prioritize belonging, well-being, equity and inclusion, as well as academic and intellectual enrichment,” Drell said.

Drell acknowledged that while initial rollout of ResX generally went well, the new system was implemented in the context of a pandemic with an unusually large incoming class, so there are bound to be some kinks to be ironed out.

Incoming frosh also took part in Stanford’s new Civic, Liberal and Global Education first-year curriculum, otherwise known as COLLEGE, designed to be a forum where students can challenge, deepen and reflect on their own understanding of citizenship.

“COLLEGE courses will provide a place where students can learn, as Marc often puts it, to disagree without being disagreeable,” Drell said.

She also thanked faculty for their graciousness in dealing with the challenges of in-person teaching, such as classroom space shortage, mask mandates and new curricula.

As campus returns, Stanford is also considering new ways to use the space to bring the community together. The Town Center Project will resume planning the revitalization of the White Plaza area to serve as a social and intellectual focal point for the community, Tessier-Lavigne said. This also includes taking more advantage of outdoor spaces for gatherings and making the area around Tresidder Memorial Union more of a community hub.

During the question-and-answer period, Drell noted there is a shortage of classrooms due to ongoing or planned renovations and some buildings going unused because of ventilation needs. This has been compounded by a significant increase in students.

Some classes are being held online in the near term, Drell said, and some renovations will be completed by winter quarter. In the longer term, there are plans to increase classroom inventory, she said.

Though much is changing, one thing that will continue from the pandemic is holding virtual Campus Conversations a couple times a quarter, Tessier-Lavigne said, as holding the remote sessions has allowed the university to reach more people across Stanford work sites.

A full recording of the Campus Conversation will be available within the next few days.