President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell are inviting members of the Stanford community to become involved in a university-wide, long-range planning process to chart the future for Stanford in the decades to come.

Today, they formally launched a process designed to engage the university community to help create a shared vision based on three objectives:

  • To educate students to think broadly, deeply and critically as engaged world citizens and leaders
  • To extend the frontiers of knowledge and stimulate creativity
  • To amplify the university’s contributions to our country, humanity and an increasingly complex and interdependent world.
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell discussed the aims of the long-range planning process at the Feb. 27 town hall meeting for the Stanford community. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Details can be found at the website, “The Purposeful University.”

The president and provost invite members of the campus community to an explanatory town hall scheduled for noon on Friday, April 21, in Cubberley Auditorium.

Time is right

Faculty and academic leadership are anticipated to play the lead planning role in partnership with students and staff and in consultation with trustees, alumni and other stakeholders. The president and provost hope all members of the community will contribute their efforts to help ensure that Stanford remains a pioneering and world-leading institution in both education and research, that it continues to be greater than the sum of its parts and that it multiplies its beneficial impact on the world.

“In my first six months on campus, listening to hundreds of our students, faculty and staff members, I recognize the collective wisdom of our community and the benefit of diverse perspectives in charting Stanford’s future,” Tessier-Lavigne said.

Drell cited lessons learned from school-wide planning efforts undertaken across Stanford in recent years. “We found that we benefited tremendously from an inclusive approach that generated innovative ideas that might not have been raised had it not been for the input of many great minds,” Drell said.

The “time is right” for a new engagement process, Tessier-Lavigne said at a recent town hall for members of the university community. The president noted that the last university planning exercise occurred more than a decade ago.

The new process also draws on experience gained from the university’s planning exercise in the early 2000s, which resulted, for instance, in enhanced funding for graduate and undergraduate students, a new science and engineering quadrangle, the Bing Concert Hall and Anderson Collection at Stanford University, two new hospitals, expansion and enhancement of interdisciplinary centers and graduate fellowships, new dorms and gyms and an increased number of endowed faculty positions.

“The last university-wide planning exercise had a profound impact on the trajectory of the university over the past decade, underscoring the importance of having our community come together to chart the university’s course,” added Drell.

The provost and president explained that the planning process is designed to create a vision for Stanford’s future looking out 10 to 15 years, and beyond. Although not focused specifically on planning a capital campaign, the vision will later help lead to a campaign to support the innovative ideas that are adopted.

The leaders also stressed that the new process will not be top down, but rather will build on ideas garnered from throughout the campus and among faculty, staff and students alike. They anticipate that ideas generated during the planning process will focus both on identifying new challenges and on strengthening the university’s foundations.

Tessier-Lavigne said his nearly six months as president revealed that the Stanford culture is one committed to continual improvement. The planning process is designed, he said, to “take the institution to even greater heights.”

Areas of focus

The goal of the planning, they said, is to “generate ideas to advance frontiers, strengthen foundations, stimulate synergies and anticipate change.” The president and provost are creating this vision organized around four areas identified by the community:

  • Education
  • Research
  • Our Community
  • Engagement Beyond Our University

Phase one of the process, which will extend through June, calls for submission of ideas and proposals through the main website. Phase two, which will run from June through October, involves proposal analysis by “area steering groups” overseeing the four areas. Phase three, which extends from October through February 2018, involves the synthesis of ideas by the president, provost and executive cabinet.

Leaders of the area steering groups, each of which will feature faculty, students, postdoctoral fellows, staff and academic staff members, are:

  • Education: Stacey Bent, professor of engineering, senior associate dean for faculty & academic affairs, and senior fellow at the Precourt Institute; and Bryan Brown, associate dean for student affairs and associate professor of education.
  • Research: Robert MacCoun, professor of law and senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute; and Kathryn Moler, senior associate dean for the natural sciences and professor of applied physics and of physics.
  • Our Community: Ramesh Johari, associate professor of management science and engineering; and Susan McConnell, professor of biology.
  • Engagement Beyond Our University: Juliet Brodie, associate dean for clinical education and professor (teaching) of law; and Joseph Woo, professor and chair of cardiothoracic surgery.

Purposeful University

The phrase “The Purposeful University,” which was also the title of Tessier-Lavigne’s inauguration address, is inspired by the sentiments of a speech Jane Stanford wrote, but never delivered, in 1891 during events celebrating the founding of the university she created with her husband, Leland, in memory of their son, Leland Stanford Jr.

Mrs. Stanford wrote that she hoped students would “live such lives that it will be said of you that you are true to the best you know. I hope your lives will be truly earnest, not in the sense of going forth to acquire great wealth and great names; but to be conscientious workers, to be helpful to others, to send cheer and goodwill to those who need lifting up …” Those words appear on the new website.

During the president’s inauguration ceremony, Mrs. Stanford’s speech was read by Eavan Boland, professor of English.

In his inauguration speech, Tessier-Lavigne shared his definition of a purposeful university: “I mean a university that promotes and celebrates excellence not as an end in itself, but as a means to magnify its benefit to society; a university that, relentlessly, educates students to be global citizens and leaders, fosters unlimited creativity, and discovers and applies knowledge for the benefit of humanity.”

He ended his speech by asking the university community to join him in developing a bold vision of Stanford’s future and to “commit to being a purposeful university, a courageous university, a university of unlimited potential.”

Members of the Long-Range Planning (LPR) team are available to provide advice and resources to help members of the community submit ideas or design proposals. Members of the community with questions are encouraged to contact Marita de Guzman, LRP project manager at