At its Dec. 4-5 meeting, the Stanford Board of Trustees discussed land use issues, heard a presentation on digital humanities and honored departing trustee Vaughn Williams.

A highlight of the two-day gathering was a visit to the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where trustees received an overview of the center’s activities and learned about its recent initiatives.

The board also discussed congressional tax reform proposals and their potential effects on Stanford and on members of the academic community. In addition, trustees had an opportunity to meet with members of the Faculty Senate at an informal dinner.

Land-use issues

Leaders from Land, Buildings & Real Estate updated the trustees on the status of the university’s application for an updated General Use Permit, which would allow the university to expand on-campus housing and academic facilities to accommodate academic needs and opportunities to the year 2035.

Trustees Gail B. Harris and Dipanjan "DJ" Deb discuss admissions matters at the fall meeting of the Board of Trustees.

Stanford trustees Gail Harris and Dipanjan “DJ” Deb, seen here at the October Board of Trustees meeting, participated in a wide range of discussions during the Dec. 4-5 meeting. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The draft environmental impact report for the application is currently in a public input phase, said board Chair Jeffrey S. Raikes. In early 2018, Santa Clara County will prepare a final environmental impact report, which will be followed by hearings with the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

Raikes said that the application gives attention to issues of importance to the university and its neighbors in surrounding communities, including transportation, affordable housing and sustainability.

He said that Stanford is committed to continuing to address traffic challenges in the region, including meeting its “no net new commute trips” goal through expanded alternative transportation programs. To help mitigate the area’s housing challenges, the proposal would allow Stanford to build 3,150 net new on-campus housing units/beds out to 2035, and the university would contribute an estimated $56 million toward affordable housing in the region beyond the campus over the duration of the permit.

The General Use Permit is very important for giving Stanford the ability to plan for the future, Raikes said. “This is an ongoing process, and we are listening very carefully to the comments we receive,” he said.

The board also heard an update on the university’s energy initiatives, Raikes said, including the impact of solar resources from campus rooftops and an off-campus solar farm.

“We’re now getting 53 percent of our campus electricity from solar,” Raikes said. “The total is even higher when you include all renewable sources that are part of our energy mix.”

He noted that design and technology improvements in new buildings, combined with retrofits to existing buildings, have decreased energy use by 13 percent and generated cost savings of $11 million per year.

Stanford’s facilities also have received many awards for building design, historical renovations and sustainability, said Raikes. Some of those include:

  • Stanford achieved a Platinum rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education;
  • The Sapp Center for Science Teaching and Learning received a Preservation Design Award from the California Preservation Foundation;
  • The American Institute of Architects extended awards for outstanding design and execution to Bing Concert Hall, the Windhover contemplation center and the Central Energy Facility.

Federal tax proposals

Raikes reported that the board is actively following the issues around the major tax proposals currently before Congress. Trustees expressed concern about proposals that would undermine education and research, as well as those that would negatively affect members of Stanford’s academic community, in particular, graduate students.

“We’ve been doing all we can to help make the case that education and research are very critical parts of the economic success of our country – important for supporting health and culture and for providing opportunities for our young people,” said Raikes.

A range of advocacy activities in the Stanford community are underway to explain the negative impacts of proposals such as treating the tuition associated with graduate assistantships as taxable income and taxing university endowments that support critical programs including student financial aid.

Trustees visit behavioral sciences center

The trustees visited the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), which offers year-long fellowships in the social sciences and humanities to scholars from Stanford and from around the world. The center also facilitates collaborations with industry, government and other academic institutions to create social science approaches to contemporary problems.

Hosted by center Director Margaret Levi, trustees received an overview of the center’s activities and many contributions over its 63-year history. There have been 2,700 fellows since 1954, and more than 200 Stanford faculty have been hired following their residency year at CASBS. Scholars who have spent time at CASBS are tremendously accomplished – they include 26 Nobel laureates, 24 Pulitzer Prize winners and 51 MacArthur fellows, Raikes noted.

Recent initiatives at CASBS include multi-year projects such as “The Future of Work and Workers,” which explores the sources and implications of the ways work is changing globally, and “Moral Economies,” which explores the idea that every economic framework has a moral as well as political economy.

“Our visit was a reminder of yet another jewel at Stanford – one that has produced some outstanding contributions to society,” Raikes said.

Digital humanities and data science

The board also heard a presentation by history and classics Professor Caroline Winterer, director of the Stanford Humanities Center, and English Professor Elaine Treharne, director of the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, on some of the exciting work taking place at Stanford in the digital humanities.

Applying the power of digital tools and methods to the humanities is transforming scholarship in this area, and Stanford is a leader in the field, said Raikes.

Jeffrey S. Raikes

Jeffrey S. Raikes, chair of the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University (Image credit: Aaron Kehoe)

As part of her presentation, Winterer showed trustees a letter by Benjamin Franklin from the Stanford Libraries’ collection and explained how, by using digital technology, she was able to determine his extensive connections around the world.

“Her project gave us an understanding of why Franklin was the most famous American of the 18th century – he had the most sophisticated social network, long before the age of social media,” said Raikes.

In addition, Jure Leskovec, associate professor of computer science, gave the trustees a presentation on data science at Stanford. Raikes said the trustees were struck by the interdisciplinary nature of data science work, as Leskovec provided examples of projects in human health, criminal justice, food supply and other fields.

“There is some incredibly innovative work going on at Stanford to apply data science to solving pressing challenges in society. It’s truly the engine of progress in the 21st century,” said Raikes.

Trustees honor Vaughn Williams

The trustees recognized departing trustee Vaughn Williams for his extraordinary service to the university. Williams, who joined the board in 2008, has led the trustees’ Committee on Audit, Compliance and Risk for the past six years.

Raikes said that Williams’ service to the university extended well beyond the board, including serving on the New York Committee for Stanford Arts, the Stanford Arts Advisory Council, the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital board and the Dean’s Advisory Council of Stanford Law School. Raikes also praised Williams for his significant efforts to improve Stanford’s engagement with students and alumni of color.

“Vaughn is highly respected by everyone on the board and contributes wisdom, calm, grace and a measured approach,” Raikes said. “Anything Vaughn took on he did exceptionally well.”

Dinner with Faculty Senate

The trustees also enjoyed an informal dinner with members of the Faculty Senate. Raikes described it as a great opportunity for participants to get to know one another and to share thoughts on Stanford today and in the years to come. He noted that the senate provides important faculty oversight of the academic mission of the university.

“I’ve talked to a lot of other institutions, and one of the things that’s very highly regarded is the way in which the [Stanford] Faculty Senate leads the academic governance of the university,” Raikes said.