Jeff Raikes, chair of the Board of Trustees, addressing the Faculty Senate on Thursday. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Seeking to “demystify” the role of Stanford’s Board of Trustees, Chair Jeff Raikes appeared before the Faculty Senate on Thursday to discuss the board’s responsibilities and its current areas of focus.

At its final meeting of the academic year, the senate also heard a report on the Emeriti Council from outgoing Chair David Abernethy.

And in a longstanding Stanford tradition, the senate bade farewell to its outgoing chair, Elizabeth Hadly, professor of biology, with a humorous interactive presentation inspired by the popular NPR game show, “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”

Report from the board chair

Following his election as chair in January 2017, Raikes embarked on a “listening tour,” meeting to date with more than 70 members of the Stanford community, including student government representatives, members of the senior cabinet, deans of the seven schools, leaders from peer universities and previous Stanford presidents and board chairs.

Raikes said that in these meetings he often received questions about the role of the trustees and heard suggestions on how he could help demystify the board’s work.

As part of an effort to bring more transparency to governance at Stanford, Raikes gave senate members an overview of the board’s current composition and its broad responsibilities, which include ensuring that the university is well managed, has adequate resources to sustain its mission and continues to maintain its reputation and the public trust.

In speaking about the composition of the board, Raikes said the goal is to achieve balance in background and experience, as well as to strive for representation that mirrors the Stanford community.

Reflecting on the most important qualities the board looks for in a trustee, he said, “Will this person make Stanford a priority with their time and effort? Will they add to the culture of the board? Will they bring needed wisdom and expertise? Do they have the capacity and desire to continually learn about Stanford?”

Observing that the board has “no other agenda than the university’s agenda,” Raikes briefly touched on some current priorities, including the university’s long-range vision, student health and well-being, Stanford Medicine and the biomedical revolution, the university’s investment management, affordability issues affecting the campus community, Stanford’s application to Santa Clara County for an updated General Use Permit, and sustaining public support for higher education – all issues he called integral to the university’s future.

In his remarks, Raikes stressed the important role that the board has in the long-term health of the university.

“The fundamental role of the trustees is the fiduciary responsibility for sustaining the university and its academic mission in perpetuity,” he said.

Raikes fielded questions from senate members on a number of issues, including the long-term viability of traditional residential universities given the rise of online education, how to shape pedagogy to reflect the changing demographics of undergraduate students, and how the board and the faculty might make a better case for the value of higher education.

Recalling his own positive interactions with Stanford faculty as an undergraduate, Raikes closed his remarks by recognizing the pivotal role of the faculty in Stanford’s success.

“We [the trustees] understand that Stanford has the respect that it does because of the outstanding work of the faculty in research, education and mentoring,” he said.

Emeriti Council

The university has approximately 1,000 emeriti members, including 800 who live locally, said Abernethy, professor emeritus of political science and chair of Stanford’s Emeriti Council, in his annual report to the Faculty Senate.

To keep members engaged and to promote a sense of community, the council sponsors the “Autobiographical Reflections” speaker series. This year, William Chace, English; Channing Robertson, chemical engineering; and Ewart Thomas, psychology, shared their personal and professional reflections. The Emeriti Council also co-sponsors a speaker series with the Stanford Center on Longevity.

Abernethy said there is a great interest among emeriti members to explore opportunities to mentor undergraduate students and counsel them on life choices. An initiative begun this year with Residential Education to offer informal counseling by emeriti faculty to undergraduate students will be continued next year.

Abernethy is stepping down as chair of the council after serving in the role since 2006. Iris Litt, professor emerita of pediatrics, will serve as chair for 2018­-19. She said the Emeriti Council will conduct a survey next fall to learn more about its membership and activities and “to harness the wisdom and creativity of this group.”

The full minutes of the June 14 meeting, including the questions and answers that followed the presentations, will be available soon on the Faculty Senate website.