Faculty Senate votes to table recommendations aimed at addressing personal attacks designed to silence free speech
During its last meeting of the 2021 fall quarter Thursday, the Faculty Senate heard a report and recommendations from the Planning and Policy Board Subcommittee on Campus Climate as well as an update on the new school focused on climate and sustainability.
The Faculty Senate voted Thursday to table a vote on endorsing recommendations from the Planning and Policy Board (PPB) Subcommittee on Campus Climate and bring the matter back for discussion before the end of the academic year.
The recommendations focused on addressing personal attacks over disagreements around ideas, which the subcommittee said in its report are “demeaning and damaging to free speech.”
“We are deeply concerned that as national politics have become increasingly polarized and militant, so too has the climate on our campus,” the report reads. “We fear this will only worsen as we approach the 2022 midterm elections, and the 2024 presidential election. Since the Civil War, our country has never been as radically split, and our belief is that issues of race and diversity lie at the heart of this deepening discord, both nationally and at Stanford.”
The issue, involving concerns of free speech and academic freedom, drew lengthy and passionate discussion from senators during their last meeting of the fall quarter, before the vote to table the issue.
Also at the meeting, the senators heard an update on the new school focused on climate and sustainability, and Provost Persis Drell during her report to the senate talked about the results of the campus-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion survey released this week.
While disagreement and criticism are a sign of a “robust campus climate,” when “disagreement lapses into harassment, threats and violence designed to silence or drive other students from the University, it has left the domain of free speech and become a form of assault,” the PPB Subcommittee report reads. “And when anyone of any persuasion engages in this kind of behavior, they are violating Stanford’s core principles.”
In a presentation on the PPB Subcommittee’s report, which culminates two years of work, Subcommittee Chair David Palumbo-Liu said: “These kinds of attacks are meant to use up our energy. They are meant to shackle administrators, make scholars afraid of saying anything because anything can be distorted and put on the web with devastating effects.” Palumbo-Liu is the Louis Hewlett Nixon Professor and a professor of comparative literature and, by courtesy, of English.
The PPB Subcommittee’s report included four recommendations that it asked the Faculty Senate to endorse:
- That Stanford should establish an anti-doxxing policy making it a Fundamental Standard and Honor Code violation to feed information to an outside organization or person affiliated with it, including media outlets, with intent to harm, harass or defame any Stanford student, faculty member or staff member.
- Stanford should interpret the Fundamental Standard in such a way that any malicious attack on anyone will be sanctioned, especially if the perpetrator has enlisted others in the attack.
- Stanford should engage members of the committee and other campus groups working on these issues to draft measures consistent with Stanford’s values and compliant with the law. The Stanford administration was asked to give a progress report to the Faculty Senate by the end of this academic year and a final report within a year.
- The recommendations also called “on the Stanford administration to make clear, strong, and unambiguous statements against the kind of acts we have presented to you, and to actively protect all those who are targeted by such actions.”
Some in attendance, such as Hoover Institution Director Condoleezza Rice, said they didn’t feel like conservative students or faculty members could see themselves in the report.
However, Palumbo-Liu underscored that it was not a conservative or liberal issue, but rather about a pattern of behavior.
“Why not use this as an aspirational document to say let’s bring in all interested parties and reach a consensus of non-harm?” he said.
The report noted that this same form of conflict also occurred at Stanford in the late 1980s when the university first chose to diversify its curriculum and made strides in addressing sexual violence. Today, some are still carrying out personal attacks in response to social and cultural change, the report reads, but are now using well-developed networks and media, making them more dangerous.
Stanford’s commitment to diversity must include protecting and supporting a person from all forms of harassment, attack and malice throughout their time at Stanford, the report said.
Debra Satz, the Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, said she agreed on the importance of protecting members of campus but expressed concern that the recommendations are vague, including what counts as “malicious” and what it means to “actively protect all those who are targeted.”
Subcommittee member Richard Ford, the George E. Osborne Professor in Law at the Law School, responded that drafting precise rules wasn’t the subcommittee’s charge, adding that terms like “malicious” and “harm” are often used in legal statutes.
Senators who supported tabling the motion emphasized that it would come back to the senate for consideration after further work was done on it. David Miller, the W.M. Keck Foundation Professor in Electrical Engineering, said he was very much in favor of tabling, noting “it’s not because I don’t want this to happen. I want us to get it right and I think if we get it wrong, it will be more harmful” and may have adverse repercussions.
“This is really a tough time and learning to be able to have this conversation seems to me an extremely important situation and way to model for our community,” said senate Chair Ruth O’Hara, the Lowell W. and Josephine Q. Berry Professor, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and senior associate dean for research at the School of Medicine. “There are disagreements here and I totally believe we can reach consensus here. … I do hope we can engage the committee that did so much hard work in the dialogue going forward.”
The Faculty Senate also heard from Kathryn “Kam” Moler, vice provost and dean of research, and Stephan Graham, the Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth), about progress toward creating the new school focused on climate and sustainability, which will launch September 2022.
When it launches, the new school will join together Stanford Earth, the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Precourt Institute for Energy, the facilities of Hopkins Marine Station and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (joint with the School of Engineering) and will expand those to include faculty from across the university and new hires that will bring new scholarship in emerging disciplines.
Moler and Graham, who are leading efforts to develop the school, said two teams of faculty are working toward creating a school based on the blueprint that was announced in July 2021. That blueprint includes departments organized into transitional divisions, an accelerator and three institutes, including the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Precourt Institute for Energy and a new Sustainable Societies Institute.
The two teams working to develop the school are the Workstream Leads and the Leaders of Areas of Scholarship, Engagement and Research (LASERs).
The Workstream Leads are developing programs to integrate diversity, equity and inclusion into the fabric of the new school; creating educational programs for undergraduate, graduate and professional students; proposing roles and responsibilities for faculty in the new school; integrating institutes and initiatives into the new school structure; and designing an accelerator to drive policy and technology solutions.
The LASERs are building the areas of scholarship that will be part of the new school. This committee is made up of members of the new departments and institute directors.
The education workstream is being led by Nicole Ardoin, associate professor in the Graduate School of Education, and Mark Horowitz, the Yahoo! Founders Professor in the School of Engineering and professor of electrical engineering and of computer science; they are working with faculty to develop new courses for undergraduate and graduate students as well as professional development and K-12 programs.
They expect many of those courses will be running when the school launches. These will be part of degree programs that expand on existing popular interdisciplinary degrees in Stanford Earth and create new opportunities for students to immerse themselves in climate and sustainability.
Undergraduate students in the new school will participate in off-campus opportunities, a practicum with community partners, a capstone project and opportunities for hands-on research. All graduate students will participate in a boot camp program in addition to opportunities for research, mentorship, teaching and seminars.
“The current generation of Stanford students are really hungry for degrees and other programs that will prepare them for becoming practitioners in sustainability in their professional lives,” Moler said.
Moler and Graham also updated the senate on progress toward developing 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.
This accelerator is part of Stanford’s vision of reducing the time from knowledge acquisition to application and ensuring that all faculty with an interest in impact have a path for success. It will include physical space, opportunities for training, funding and access to partners with the knowledge and skills to scale solutions. The school is beginning a search for a director to lead the accelerator.
Earlier in the meeting, Judy Goldstein, the Janet M. Peck Professor in International Communication, professor of political science and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, questioned President Marc Tessier-Lavigne about a recent statement he made along with Dean Satz and the pressure to “endorse scholarship that is subject to a national or international negative campaign.”
“How do you maintain the line, if there is a line, between providing necessary protections for the rights of all our faculty to do the work they choose and you, as the corporate representative of all of us, advocating the scholarship that is being politicized?” she asked.
Tessier-Lavigne said it’s not the place of the university as an institution to agree or disagree with the scholarship of an individual faculty member since it could have a “chilling effect” on discourse.
“At the same time, because of our commitment to academic freedom and diversity of views, that’s precisely why we condemn efforts to silence individuals and in the context of that statement, that includes social media mechanisms that are aimed at silencing,” he said. “That’s antithetical to our values and we strongly affirm the right of our scholars to pursue their academic work and to safely express their views and that is why we felt it was important to speak out on the most recent case.”
Provost Persis Drell also discussed results of the first-ever, campus-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion survey issued this week during her report to the senate.
Some of the findings are very troubling, particularly how widespread discrimination and harassment is on campus, she said, although the results are not a surprise to many members of the university’s underrepresented communities.
The single most important matter is to acknowledge that there is a problem with culture at Stanford, Drell said, and it touches every school and administrative unit.
“I firmly believe that each of us has very serious work to do to contribute to make the culture better here at Stanford,” she said. “It is my hope that this data either reinforces your current understanding of this problem or convinces you at least that we have one, and even if you don’t acknowledge we have a problem, this survey does represent the experiences of people on our campus and we have a responsibility to address it.”
She asked the senate to look at the survey website, and to review the process being put in place “for developing the goals necessary to bridge from the culture we have today to the culture we aspire to have in the future.”
She noted that Patrick Dunkley, vice provost for institutional equity, access and community, and Brian Cook, director of assessment and program evaluation in Institutional Research and Decision Support, will attend the next Faculty Senate meeting in January to go over the survey results in depth.
In other action, the Faculty Senate heard memorial resolutions for Albert Cohen, Bert George Hickman Jr. and Edward Lazear.
Cohen, the William H. Bonsall Professor of Music, Emeritus, and longtime former chair of Stanford’s Department of Music, died Dec. 31, 2019, at 90.
Hickman, professor emeritus of economics, known for his work as an empirical macroeconomist and as an economic forecaster, died Nov. 23, 2019, at 95.
Lazear was the Davies Family Professor of Economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Morris Arnold and Nona Jean Cox Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He died Nov. 23, 2020, at 72.
The Thursday meeting was the last one of the 2021 fall quarter. The full minutes of the senate meeting will be available on the Faculty Senate website.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly identified Condoleezza Rice as a senator. She attends the Faculty Senate in an ex officio capacity as the director of the Hoover Institution.