Faculty Senate postpones vote on changes to conflicts of interest, commitment policies
Senators opted to table votes related to replacing two current policies on conflict of interest and conflict of commitment with a single new policy Thursday. They also heard a presentation from the Emeriti/ae Council, as well as updates on the university’s COVID response and academic freedom discussions.
In a divided vote and after a lengthy discussion, the Faculty Senate postponed, or tabled, items related to replacing two policies on conflict of interest and conflict of commitment with a single policy, among other recommended changes from the Committee on Research to the university’s Research Policy Handbook (RPH), on Thursday.
Noting an uptick in student and employee COVID cases following spring break, Provost Persis Drell also told senators that the university will continue to require masking in classrooms, pending further assessment. However, as previously announced, required surveillance testing through Color for vaccinated and boosted students will be suspended after this week, although it will continue for faculty, staff and postdocs who are not fully vaccinated, and for students who are not fully vaccinated and boosted. Drell cautioned that protocols are subject to change as the university continues to monitor changing campus conditions through wastewater sampling.
Senators also heard an update on a prior discussion on academic freedom as well as a presentation from the Emeriti/ae Council.
Conflicts of interest, commitment
The Committee on Research (C-Res) had recommended to senators that two current policies about Conflict of Interests (COI) and Conflict of Commitments (COC) – one for faculty (RPH 4.1) and another for academic staff and other teaching staff (RPH 4.4 ) – be removed and replaced with a newly proposed policy that applies to all individuals.
“The primary goal of all this is to protect our faculty, staff and students. It’s not to catch you out. It’s not to set things up so that someone else can catch you out,” David Studdert, acting vice provost for research, senior associate vice provost for data resources and professor of health policy, told the senators. “It’s to make sure that we help you, in the least burdensome way, to play by the rules, preserve the integrity of the work and set things up in such a way that we can all get on with what we’re here to do, which is high quality, impactful research.”
The policy changes were motivated by concerns about a lack of clarity around policies that determine which activities require prior approval, as well as by changes in federal research sponsor rules regarding disclosure, explained Cindy Kiel, associate vice provost for research policy and integrity. Furthermore, a longstanding expectation for faculty to identify and report conflicts on behalf of their staff and postdocs was “suboptimal” and “out of step with best practice,” Kiel told the senate.
Other recommendations that were up for consideration included amendments to the revised 4.1, such as clarifying that faculty must receive prior approval for consulting activities that substantially overlap with Stanford responsibilities. Changes were also recommended to the Consulting and other Outside Professional Activities by Members of the Academic Council and University Medical Line Faculty RPH 4.3, such as limiting consulting days for postdoctoral scholars to 13 days per quarter.
“People are doing activities congruent with your work as a professor,” said Kathryn “Kam” Moler, transition dean of Stanford’s new school focused on sustainability. “But I want to emphasize … that we’re asking for disclosure of the outside activities so that other people can look at them and figure out whether there’s an issue that needs to be addressed or not. And that the amount of work that you put into these disclosures, as painful as that bureaucracy is, is not nearly as painful as what happens when something goes wrong because someone made their own decision about it.”
Andrew Fire, the George D. Smith Professor of Molecular and Genetic Medicine, moved to table the discussion to allow for more time to review and later discuss the complex policy matters. His motion prompted agreement from several other senators.
In advocating for more time to digest the recommended changes, Michael Boskin, professor of economics and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and the Hoover Institution, noted that senators can serve as a conduit to explain policies to colleagues, and thus it behooves them to understand the matters clearly.
In March, the Faculty Senate heard a presentation on academic freedom in the U.S. before breaking into small groups to discuss the responsibilities associated with academic freedom, how to have conversations with students and how to handle external factors that dissuade people from saying what they think.
In sharing the discussion outcomes, Senate Vice Chair Mark Horowitz, the Yahoo! Founders Professorship in the School of Engineering, said common themes emerged: students and faculty don’t feel they can always speak openly in a range of academic settings, particularly on topics such as religion and politics; there’s concern that ideas outside the mainstream can be shut down too readily; and a general feeling that technology-mediated communications that became prominent during the pandemic have exasperated these issues. They also agreed on the importance of setting up a framework to lead effective, diverse discussions in academic settings.
Students stressed that it’s critical for professors to set the tone for civil discourse and model best practices for balancing academic freedom and responsibility while also providing students with space, time and guidance on effective communication with those who have different perspectives.
On June 9, the Faculty Senate will continue its conversation on the IDEAL Initiative with a presentation on ways to more effectively promote and embrace diverse perspectives in academic settings, as well as diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging more broadly, in Stanford’s community.
The needs of the university and its emeriti should be better aligned to accommodate the realities of the 21st century and the longevity of today’s faculty and emeriti, said Iris F. Litt, chair of the Emeriti/ae Council and the Marron and Mary Elizabeth Kendrick Professor of Pediatrics, Emerita.
“People who come to Stanford now as assistant professors have a life expectancy of close to late 80s, and that’s just the males. There are now also females with slightly better trajectory for longevity,” Litt said. “And we’ve seen from the surveys of our own emeriti that they continue to be healthy for most of that time.”
The current structure of the professoriate is anachronistic – formalized in the Stanford Faculty Handbook in 1904 – when life expectancy for males was in the mid-40s, said Litt, who is also director of research at the Distinguished Careers Institute and co-director of the Stanford Center on Longevity.
Despite being retired, Stanford emeriti have the expertise, intellect and time to mentor, teach and carry out research, which would benefit the university, said Litt.
Peer institutions have approaches and models to do so, which could benefit Stanford in developing its own, she said, in asking the professoriate to consider the matter.
“These are the people who made Stanford great, and I think that Stanford can do something much better than any of the other universities that are working on it and deal with this in a really constructive way,” Litt said.
Some senators expressed support for a review of the full lifecycle of the professoriate that includes junior faculty and emeriti. Provost Drell noted that such a review could be included in a strategic planning process that is beginning now.
In other action, the Faculty Senate heard memorial resolutions for Raymond Clayton, Sanjiv Gambhir and Van Austin Harvey.
Clayton, professor of biochemistry in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, died Oct. 26, 2020, at age 95.
Gambhir, 57, chair of radiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor in Cancer Research, died July 18, 2020. Gambhir was also director of the Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford, the Canary Center at Stanford for Early Cancer Detection and the Precision Health and Integrated Diagnostics Center.
Harvey, the George Edwin Burnell Professor of Religious Studies, Emeritus, died July 11, 2021. He was 95.
The full minutes of the meeting will be available on the Faculty Senate website.