Patricia Gumport, vice provost for graduate education, addresses the Faculty Senate on April 12, 2018

Patricia Gumport addressing the Faculty Senate about graduate education on Thursday. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The Faculty Senate voted Thursday to allow individual Stanford schools to decide whether they will require scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for graduate admission, replacing a university-wide requirement with school-by-school discretion.

The senate also adopted two policy changes aimed at strengthening academic advising for graduate students. One change requires each academic department to articulate its advising expectations for both faculty and students; the other refines who can serve as the principal dissertation adviser for a doctoral student.

The actions came in a meeting devoted almost entirely to graduate students and graduate education. Vice Provost for Graduate Education Patricia J. Gumport provided her annual report to the senate, focusing especially on issues and opportunities in the areas of enrollment, diversity and academic advising for Stanford’s 9,400 graduate students.

“Graduate education is robust and thriving in so many of our disciplines,” Gumport said. At the same time, “students are telling us that many facets of student life are proving to be very challenging, especially affordability of housing, child care and health care,” she said, and the university is seeking to work collaboratively with students on solutions.

Policy changes

The three changes to Stanford’s Graduate Academic Policies and Procedures were recommended by the Academic Council’s Committee on Graduate Studies.

Current university policy requires all graduate applicants, except those applying to certain professional programs, to take the GRE General Test. The newly revised policy decentralizes the decision on whether to require GRE scores. Deans will be able to either establish a blanket policy for their respective schools or allow individual departments and programs within their schools to decide whether to require the GRE General Test.

David Goldhaber-Gordon addresses the Faculty Senate on April 12, 2018

David Goldhaber-Gordon, chair of the Committee on Graduate Studies, explains changes to Stanford’s graduate academic policies. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

David Goldhaber-Gordon, professor of physics and chair of the Committee on Graduate Studies, said the change was recommended by the School of Medicine with support from the deans of Engineering and Humanities & Sciences.

In some academic disciplines, he said, other universities and institutions offering fellowships are discontinuing the GRE requirement. Keeping a university-wide requirement at Stanford, he said, could dissuade some talented students from applying to Stanford if academic programs elsewhere are not requiring the test.

“Not all data may be useful for all disciplines” in the graduate admission process, Goldhaber-Gordon said. Schools, departments and programs “are better positioned to determine the role of the GREs in evaluating their applicants,” he said.

The other two changes adopted by the senate relate to academic advising for graduate students. The first requires each department or program to develop explicit advising expectations for both faculty and students. Faculty could augment the minimum advising expectations as long as they remained consistent with departmental policies.

Goldhaber-Gordon said the change was prompted by a year-long review of advising practices. He said the change emphasizes the importance of strong academic advising while acknowledging departmental and disciplinary differences in advising norms.

“Advising is, along with teaching and research, one of the most impactful things we do here,” Goldhaber-Gordon said. “We hope this will spur conversations among faculty, and between faculty and students, about how the advising relationship works.”

The second change makes clear that a doctoral student’s principal dissertation adviser should be an active member of the Academic Council. A faculty member leaving Stanford could no longer remain a principal adviser for Stanford students but could, instead, serve as a co-adviser with a current Stanford faculty member serving in the principal role. Emeriti faculty recalled to active duty also could serve as principal dissertation advisers. Requests for exceptions in other cases would be considered.

Report on graduate education

Graduate student advising also was a big part of Gumport’s annual report to the senate Thursday. Gumport said advising has been a perennial issue, recently reinforced by input to the long-range planning process as well as four years of survey data from exiting Stanford PhD students in which 40 percent said “availability of faculty” was an obstacle to their academic progress and 27 percent said the same of “advising.”

In addition to the policy changes considered Thursday, she said, the recent Committee on Graduate Studies review of advising initiatives is providing new insights into what graduate students need from faculty advisers – including clear expectations, good communication and other promising practices being used by academic departments around the campus and at peer universities.

More broadly, Gumport used her presentation to focus on systemic issues in graduate education, including enrollment growth and diversity.

Stanford is getting more graduate applications than ever, yield rates are increasing and total graduate enrollments have risen 23 percent over the last 15 years, Gumport said. That growth, occurring through decentralized departmental admission processes, also brings institution-wide costs for centralized resources such as student housing, she noted.

In addition, while numbers of underrepresented minority students have increased, their proportion of the graduate student population has not increased dramatically. Stanford has numerous programs and initiatives to attract and retain graduate students who bring diversity in many forms, but still, “we have a lot of work to do here,” Gumport said.

An additional growing concern is the affordability challenges facing many students.

“Our students’ daily experiences are impacting their education and academic progress as well as their well-being,” Gumport said. “We take seriously all that they are telling us, and we are working together.”

Gumport highlighted several efforts to tackle such issues this academic year, including collaborative efforts by graduate students and the university around federal tax reform legislation; completion of a report offering recommendations to address challenges facing graduate student families; and a survey undertaken by the Graduate Student Council to assess the well-being of graduate students. Numerous issues revolving around affordability are also being considered through the university’s long-range planning process.

Comments of Provost Drell

Also at the senate meeting, Provost Persis Drell reported that she is in the process of establishing a committee to advise her on the future of the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, from which John Mitchell recently stepped down as vice provost. The committee will be chaired by Patricia Burchat, professor of physics, and Tom Kenny, professor of mechanical engineering and senior associate dean for student affairs in the School of Engineering.

Drell also responded to a faculty question about a recent academic conference at the Hoover Institution that came under criticism for a lack of diversity among its speakers. She said she reached out to both the organizer and to Hoover leadership after hearing concerns about the conference.

“An overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male panel of speakers at a conference is certainly a cause for questioning,” Drell said. “Our policies don’t set quotas in this regard, but certainly we believe, and I feel this quite passionately, that diverse perspectives add greatly to scholarship, as we have discussed many times.”

She added that the conference organizer has expressed remorse both publicly and privately that a better job was not done in cultivating a broad representation of speakers. “It is clear to me it was a learning experience, and I hope ultimately that it will be beneficial. I believe Stanford and the Hoover Institution have much to offer each other,” Drell said.

The full minutes of the April 12 meeting, including the discussion that followed the presentations, will be posted on the Faculty Senate website. The next senate meeting is scheduled for April 26.