Q&A with Jerry Yang, chair of the Stanford University Board of Trustees
Jerry Yang, chair of the Board of Trustees, shares his thoughts on Stanford’s upcoming leadership transition and reflects on the university’s recent accomplishments.
Jerry Yang, who has served as chair of Stanford’s Board of Trustees since 2021, earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford in 1990. He co-founded the search engine and web services provider Yahoo! and is currently the founding partner of the venture fund AME Cloud Ventures.
Yang and his wife, Akiko Yamazaki, also a Stanford graduate, are long-time Stanford supporters who have been involved in a wide range of initiatives across the university.
In this Q&A with Stanford Report, Yang talks about the university’s leadership transition, the selection of Richard Saller as Stanford’s interim president, and the accomplishments of the Stanford community under the previous administration.
We are in a time of change at Stanford. What can the university community expect in the coming weeks?
First, I want to say that I’ve been fortunate to interact with many aspects of the Stanford community in my role as board chair. What impresses me the most about our community is the pride for Stanford, and the strive for excellence in everything Stanford does. This is a community made up of brilliant, curious, and dedicated people advancing research, teaching, and operations across the university. In the past when faced with times of change, Stanford has always emerged stronger. I know I speak for my fellow trustees when I say we have tremendous faith in this community to emerge better prepared for the future.
As for immediate steps: Richard Saller will begin as interim president on Sept. 1, and he will remain in that role until the next president of the university is in place. In the fall quarter, the board will appoint a search committee to begin the process of identifying and selecting the university’s next president.
Why was Richard Saller chosen to serve as Stanford’s interim president?
Richard is a preeminent academic, an established leader in higher education, and a long-time member of the Stanford community. He knows our university well and has a strong commitment to service in higher education. I am grateful to him for his willingness to shepherd the university through this transition.
Richard has held several leadership roles across higher education. From 2002 to 2006, he served as provost of the University of Chicago. As provost, he oversaw the expansion of the university’s humanities and social sciences library and the construction of new residences, maintained high standards for faculty recruitment, and supported the development of a new university art center. His experience in leadership at another complex and preeminent institution similar to Stanford gives me great confidence in his ability to lead here.
Richard then came to Stanford, where he served as dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences from 2007 to 2018. In that role, he recruited and retained world-class faculty, bolstered enrollment in humanities courses, increased endowed chairs and graduate fellowships, and focused on providing researchers with the resources they need to make significant contributions to their fields. He also oversaw the construction of major new arts and sciences facilities.
Most recently, since 2021, Richard has served as chair of the Classics Department at Stanford. And since last September, he also has led the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute, a program that helps accomplished leaders in mid-life reinvent their lives and careers with social impact in mind.
As Richard takes on the role of interim president, he will rely on our other university leaders, who will continue to provide stability and support to our community in the months ahead. He just announced that Jenny Martinez will serve as our next provost, and I’m very much looking forward to working with her, as well as with Richard, in this next phase. From the deans of our seven schools, to the academic and administrative leaders who manage teams across the university, to individual contributors who propel our mission forward, our university is filled with skilled leaders who have a keen understanding of the university’s mission, expertise in their own areas, and a commitment to continuing to drive the university forward. I am truly grateful to all of them for their ongoing service to the university.
When will the search for the new president get underway? What can you tell us about that process?
The board will assemble a search committee in the fall quarter. We are committed to keeping the community informed throughout the search process, and we will be able to share more information with the community at that time.
Choosing the university’s president is one of the most important tasks that falls to the Board of Trustees, and we take it very seriously. As I’ve heard from members of our community already, there is keen interest in the search process. This community’s feedback on the presidential search is welcome and very valuable to the trustees. We will provide more information about how you can offer input as the search gets underway.
As we prepare for the upcoming transition, let’s reflect for a moment on the last seven years. What do you see as some of the most important accomplishments of this administration?
I want to take a moment and reflect on the leadership of Marc and Persis. As I look back at the last several years at Stanford, Marc and Persis have transformed this university with forward-looking initiatives, all the while managing through the historic pandemic.
The long-range planning process, which culminated in the announcement of the Long-Range Vision, gathered 2,800 ideas from the university community, with the overarching goal of setting the university on a course to make meaningful contributions for the 21st century. Over the last few years, Marc and Persis, along with leaders across the university, have been executing on this vision.
One major accomplishment came last year when the university opened its first new school in 75 years, the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. Another was the launch of accelerators in four crucial areas – health, learning, social issues, and sustainability – with the goal of speeding the application of knowledge so that discoveries made at Stanford can become solutions to problems our world faces. We’ve also invested significant resources in developing shared research platforms, an approach that democratizes resources and enables fluid interdisciplinary teams.
On the student curriculum side, another major accomplishment was the launch of the COLLEGE program, a shared first-year experience focused on civic responsibility. Now entering its third year, the program provides students with a forum to think deeply about active citizenship and to learn how to engage in reasoned discussion across areas of disagreement.
We’ve also made strides to improve access and affordability for Stanford students across the socioeconomic spectrum. We recently adjusted undergraduate financial aid thresholds once again, so that this fall, families with incomes of less than $100,000 will be eligible for free tuition, room, and board, and families making up to $150,000 will pay no tuition. Many families with higher incomes also qualify for some level of scholarship support. These changes have made a Stanford education more attainable to a broader array of deserving students.
Under the IDEAL initiative, led by Persis, we’ve placed intentional focus on how our community can live up to its values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Just a few of the milestones we’ve reached include the creation of the IDEAL Provostial Fellows program, the launch of a uniquely large faculty cluster hire to amplify Stanford’s scholarship in race and ethnicity, and the establishment of a Community Board on Public Safety, to help ensure that the university’s public safety policies and practices are consistent with our values.
Stanford is able to accomplish all this, even with a couple of pandemic years thrown in. During COVID-19, the Stanford community reimagined university operations from the ground up, found creative ways to enhance remote teaching and broaden access to Stanford resources, and safely restarted on-campus research operations as early as possible – at the same time as our researchers and health care workers were contributing to the global response to COVID-19. In addition to providing support for our community during the pandemic, the administration also launched a number of broader initiatives to address the complex affordability challenges facing our region.
I’m very grateful for Marc and Persis’ leadership, and I am proud of our community’s engagement and partnership in making it all happen. Even as we now look ahead, we should all be very proud of these accomplishments. I am optimistic about Stanford’s future, and I look forward to our next chapter.