Remarks by Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the Academic Council
Following is the prepared text of remarks by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne for the annual meeting of the Academic Council on May 25, 2023.
I want to begin by saying how much I have appreciated our faculty’s partnership throughout this academic year.
We have accomplished a huge amount together – from advancing our mission of teaching and research, to continuing to implement our Long-Range Vision for the future of the university, to returning to greater normalcy post-pandemic.
At the same time, Stanford has also navigated a number of challenges over the past year.
But we have worked together to meet those issues head-on. We have relied on the expertise and partnership of our faculty, and we have adjusted course, where needed.
And throughout the last 12 months, our faculty has continued the important work of advancing knowledge, educating students, and contributing to solving the world’s great problems.
That work continues to be recognized, inside and outside of Stanford.
We’ve celebrated countless faculty honors this year, including the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Professor Carolyn Bertozzi.
We’ve had faculty members elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the American Philosophical Society; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, Engineering, and Inventors – just to name a few.
I wish I could go on, but a full tally of the many distinguished awards our faculty have received would take up the better part of this meeting.
Our faculty does extraordinary work. And the university is dedicated to continuing to support that work.
Over the last two years, we have invested an additional $100 million in research support beyond what has been previously budgeted.
This has made possible the enhancement of shared research platforms – a priority that came out of the Long-Range Vision – including modernizing equipment for the physical and life sciences, upgrading computer infrastructure, and doubling the capacity of the Stanford Research Computing Facility, which benefits faculty across the university.
It has also enabled increased central support for the research assistant tuition offset, from 40% to 55%, helping faculty with their funding of graduate students.
With the help of deans, chairs, and other faculty leaders, we continue to evaluate additional ways of enhancing support for faculty across all disciplines – from the arts and humanities, to the social sciences, the natural sciences and engineering, and the professional schools.
In addition to investing in research through the university’s budget, we continue to work toward the public launch of our campaign, in support of the goals of our Long-Range Vision.
For the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve been in what’s often termed the quiet phase, generating significant philanthropic gifts that will anchor our campaign as we move into the multi-year public phase.
Through this initial phase, we’ve secured significant lead gifts to support all seven of our schools, and virtually every one of our Vision initiatives.
In fact, I am pleased to report that, in just the past two-and-a-half years of the “quiet phase,” we have surpassed the total raised during the entire seven-year Stanford Challenge, the university’s last major campaign.
This is a remarkable milestone to have achieved in just two and a half years.
It’s a testament to the important work that you, our faculty, are doing to advance fundamental discovery, apply knowledge to find novel solutions, and educate the next generation of leaders.
Your work inspires our friends and alumni to provide support.
I’m humbled by their generosity, and I’m also deeply grateful for the efforts of our colleagues in the Office of Development, who have helped to make this level of philanthropy possible.
Through the campaign, we have also secured significant support for undergraduate scholarships.
This, in turn, has supported our efforts to broaden access to financial aid.
This fall, families with incomes of less than $100,000 will be eligible for free tuition, room, and board, making a Stanford education more attainable to a broader group of deserving students.
We’re also working to improve the student experience once they arrive at Stanford.
We have heard significant feedback from our students about social life on campus. In response, we’ve introduced new initiatives to strengthen student life.
These include loosening the constraints involved in changing neighborhoods, taking steps to bolster social life by providing more event space, and simplifying and streamlining university processes for student-led events, including parties.
The Faculty Senate and our other representative bodies also recently voted to approve changes to the student judicial charter to allow for a more nuanced, less one-size-fits-all approach to student disciplinary action, with a focus on educational rather than disciplinary interventions for minor infractions.
And, in recent actions regarding the Honor Code, I welcome the decision by the Undergraduate Senate on Tuesday to join the Faculty Senate, the Graduate Student Council, and the Board of Judicial Affairs in approving the recommendation by the Committee of 12 to modify the text of the Honor Code and to conduct a multi-year study into exam proctoring.
So, here and now, as president, I am formally adding the fifth vote needed to make that recommendation official university policy. It is now official.
You can read more about our student life initiatives in today’s Stanford Report. I look forward to continued engagement with our students and their representatives, to set our community on a great course for the long-term.
I am so proud of everything that this community has accomplished over the last year, and of the groundwork we’ve laid for continued advances and improvements in research, in student life, and beyond.
Progress in four key areas
With the remainder of my time, I would like to highlight four areas where we have undertaken initiatives to address particular challenges in the world, as well as in our own community.
I’m excited to share the progress we are making in each of these critical areas.
The first is the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.
It’s hard to believe that we announced the new school just one year ago – the day before last year’s Academic Council meeting, in fact.
Since opening its doors in September, the school has rolled out ambitious programs to advance its goals in both research and education.
It has consolidated its structure of nine academic departments, three interdisciplinary institutes, and a Sustainability Accelerator.
The Accelerator has already funded 30 teams of scientists who are tackling a range of issues – from wildfire and water management in California, to safeguarding marine biodiversity.
The school recently also announced its first “flagship destination,” identifying greenhouse gas removal as an area of urgent focus.
And it is ramping up educational programs to meet student demand: including developing a new Oceans PhD program and launching the SUSTAIN 101 course series, designed to introduce undergraduates across the university to sustainability concepts.
It’s inspiring to see all of the work that Dean Majumdar and his terrific team have done in such a short time, and I look forward to seeing what they accomplish in year two.
Second, our new first-year undergraduate curriculum, the Civic, Liberal, and Global Education program – or COLLEGE – has expanded its reach and impact across our community.
COLLEGE is now a mandatory two-quarter experience for all first-year students. It also has brought the concepts of active citizenship beyond the classroom – partnering with TAPS to stage Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and introducing the COLLEGE Faculty Fellows program, which connects COLLEGE faculty members with campus neighborhoods.
I believe passionately in the focus that COLLEGE instructors are bringing to educate the next generation for lives of active citizenship and to offer them the tools they need to engage productively with one another, on campus and beyond – to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.
I’m so proud of where the course is today, and I’m deeply grateful to the course organizers and the dozens of faculty members who have taught sections of the course over the last year.
Third, I’d like to highlight important work done under our IDEAL initiative this academic year.
We’ve made significant progress toward creating a new department of African and African American Studies.
The department is tentatively expected to open in January 2024, pending Board approval. Ato Quayson, professor of interdisciplinary studies and current chair of the English Department, will serve as its inaugural chair.
We’ve also advanced plans to launch a new Institute on Race. The institute will be led by co-directors Tomás Jiménez, professor of sociology, and Brian Lowery, professor of organizational behavior, who have both been deeply involved in its creation.
I’m grateful to Provost Drell for spearheading all of these efforts under IDEAL over the last several years.
While Persis is stepping down as provost, IDEAL remains foundational to our vision for the future. Patrick Dunkley, who has been executive director of IDEAL since 2021, will continue to lead this work.
And fourth, throughout this year, there has been an intense focus on principles of Academic Freedom – both internally, as well as externally, in the broader world.
Academic Freedom and the free expression of ideas are the lifeblood of the university. When on a few occasions this year some actions were in conflict with those principles, it has been important for us to reaffirm them vigorously.
I have been inspired by the way our community has responded.
Important dialogue has been taking place on our campus – including individual conversations among faculty members and robust discussions on the floor of the Faculty Senate.
These conversations have helped chart our way forward.
At the law school, Dean Martinez previously announced specific actions, which include mandatory education for law students on the topic of freedom of speech and norms of the legal profession.
In my message to the community at the start of this quarter, I mentioned that we were planning additional near-term initiatives at a university level. I would like to share three of these initiatives today.
First, we are working to introduce concepts related to academic freedom and the free expression of ideas to prospective undergraduates during the admissions process.
This year, Admit Weekend included a panel, moderated by the provost, on the importance of open and vigorous discussion in and beyond the classroom.
The Dean of Admissions will also review admissions materials to ensure that concepts of civil discourse and academic freedom are incorporated in them.
Second, the vice provosts of student affairs and undergraduate education are working to ensure that the importance of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas is introduced to all frosh.
This includes incorporating these principles at new student orientation and continuing to engage frosh in small group conversations about them as part of the COLLEGE program.
Third, in consultation with faculty, we will be developing training for staff on academic freedom and free speech on campus. The training will focus on staff who support student speaker events and other student activities, as well as staff who are themselves involved in developing and leading training sessions.
I believe these initiatives will help further bolster the norms of academic freedom here at Stanford. And we are continuing to evaluate additional initiatives to supplement them.
In all this, we will be working in close partnership with the faculty and their representatives, including with the Ad Hoc Committee on University Speech established this year by the Faculty Senate.
I look forward to working together to create the inclusive and vibrant campus culture we strive for.
Before I close, I want to take a moment to acknowledge Persis’s recent announcement that she will be stepping down as provost this fall.
Over her last six years as provost, Persis has worked tirelessly to advance academic excellence at Stanford.
I’m grateful for her deep partnership as we developed and advanced the university’s Long-Range Vision, for her support for the IDEAL initiative, and for her calm and steady leadership during the pandemic.
As I have said, I have found it enormously fulfilling to have had the opportunity to work so closely together.
I also want to thank Debra Satz, Dean of H&S, who has agreed to lead the advisory committee that will launch the search for a new provost.
I am so grateful for all Persis has done for Stanford, and I am glad she will remain an active member of our faculty.
Please join me in expressing our appreciation for Persis.
In closing, I want to thank you all, once again, for your partnership this academic year.
Together, we have had a string of major accomplishments and made great progress in advancing all aspects of the university’s mission.
There have also been challenges, as there have been on many other occasions over the course of the University’s history.
In the past, when we faced issues head on, we always emerged stronger, wiser, and poised to deploy Stanford’s strengths for the benefit of humanity.
I’m confident that, together, we will successfully navigate today’s challenges, as well, and ensure that our university remains on course for a vibrant, inspiring, and purposeful future.
Thank you very much.
With that, it is my pleasure to hand it over to our panel to discuss the State of AI.
I want to offer my thanks to Dan Schwartz, Dean of the Graduate School of Education, who pulled together this exciting panel.
Fei-Fei Li, co-director of the Stanford Institute for Human Centered-AI, will introduce the discussion.