In Stanford’s long-range vision, ensuring a culture of diversity, inclusion, equity and access is one of the university’s foremost goals. To discuss some of the ways the academic community is working toward this goal, the Faculty Senate invited four faculty leaders to present case studies on diversity and inclusion practices in the areas of admissions, faculty recruitment and community building.

Presenters at Thursday’s meeting included Thomas Jaramillo, associate professor of chemical engineering and of photon science in the School of Engineering; Thomas Kenny, senior associate dean for student affairs in the School of Engineering; Yvonne Maldonado, senior associate dean of faculty development and diversity in the School of Medicine; and Risa Wechsler, director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, and associate professor of physics and of particle physics and astrophysics in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Building an inclusive culture

“Physics is one of the least diverse, both in gender and in racial and ethnic minorities, of any field academically,” Wechsler said. “And there is a lot of evidence that it’s not just the numbers, it’s the environment within physics.” She specifically identified challenges that women face in the field. Nationally, about 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in physics are awarded to women and less than 2 percent of those women are black, Latina or Native American. She pointed to studies that show the vast majority of women of color in physics feel isolated in their departments and experience microaggressions questioning their competence.

Risa Wechsler talking

Risa Wechsler talking about racial and gender diversity in the Physics Department at the Faculty Senate meeting on Thursday. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

In 2016, the Department of Physics formed the Equity and Inclusion Committee, charged with looking at department diversity and overall climate and making recommendations for change. Some of the committee’s key activities included developing a strategic plan for equity and inclusion; creating education and community engagement programs; and expanding the Leadership Alliance summer research/early identification program, with a focus on providing opportunities for students from underrepresented groups.

The department also focused on changing teaching practices for undergraduate courses, shifting to an active learning model and piloting a learning assistant program, Wechsler said. To help build community, the department supported the formation of student groups such as PUWMAS (Physics Undergraduate Women and Gender Minorities at Stanford) and the Physics Graduate Action Committee.

Wechsler noted that by creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment, the demographics of undergraduate physics majors at Stanford is starting to change. Currently, 29 percent are women; of those, 6 percent are black/Latina. In 2016, those numbers were 20 percent and 0, respectively.

Faculty diversity in Stanford Medicine

Maldonado gave the senate an overview of Stanford Medicine’s practices to support diversity in faculty recruitment. She said that all clinical search committee members are required to participate in an online continuing medical education (CME) course on unconscious bias within medicine. Following completion of the course, search committee members participate in an in-person workshop geared toward addressing unconscious bias in recruitment. Maldonado said the school’s Department of Medicine is also implementing a pilot program in which a group of faculty serve as diversity advisers on departmental faculty searches.

A team of 20 clinical liaisons work with the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity by engaging with their peers to identify needs, share best practices and develop initiatives. Describing this program as a “real goldmine,” Maldonado said the liaisons have been able to work with the community to generate many new ideas and identify operational approaches to implement those ideas.

Measuring progress is important, she said, noting that the School of Medicine annually compiles data on faculty representation to track progress in recruitment and retention of diverse faculty over time. The information is available to Stanford community members with a SUNet ID at

During the discussion that followed, some senate members expressed interest in the unconscious bias course and how it might be tailored to other disciplines and administered more broadly across the university.

School of Engineering admissions

In his presentation, Kenny outlined some of the School of Engineering’s diversity and inclusion efforts in graduate admissions. He said the school has made significant gains in enrolling women and underrepresented minorities in doctoral programs in recent years.

“Roughly speaking, we’ve increased the numbers of female and underrepresented minority students in our PhD program by 50 percent in the last four years,” Kenny said. “And that’s a really big deal. It’s creating a situation where students are now much more likely to see other students like them in classrooms, in research groups.”

Kenny said the school has increased outreach to minority-serving institutions, such as historically black colleges and universities, bolstered its investments in existing diversity and inclusion programs and hired four additional staff members to its Equity and Inclusion Initiatives team. Last year, the school added a computer science track to its Stanford Summer Engineering Academy (SSEA), an intensive four-week residential experience for incoming first-year students who may be from groups that are underrepresented in engineering fields. Other recent school efforts include increased funding for application fee waivers, coaching and student diversity organizations, Kenny said.

“One of the very big levers for us are the student organizations,” Kenny said. “They are eager to help. I’m finding that just by giving them additional resources – by saying ‘yes’ as much as possible to every ask – that we can generate a lot of activity and a lot of events that promote the sense of inclusion in our culture.”

Chemical Engineering faculty search

For faculty searches in the Department of Chemical Engineering, Jaramillo said the two goals are to identify multiple candidates to whom the school would want to make offers and to improve diversity within the department and the broader School of Engineering community.

“One of our observations was that our conventional faculty search processes really were not particularly conducive to meeting these particular goals,” he said. “If we want to modify our search outcomes, we better modify what we are doing.”

In his presentation, Jaramillo outlined some of the ways the department changed the search and interview processes in a recent junior-level chemical engineering faculty search. To increase the pool of candidates, the search committee expanded its outreach, reaching out directly to talented students and postdoctoral scholars, especially to those who would diversify the department. The committee streamlined the on-site interview process and increased the number of top candidates to bring in for interviews. These efforts allowed for a more diverse group of candidates.

Other key elements in rethinking the search process were to create and implement a standard rubric, generate a list of standard questions that relate to the rubric and improve the process to collect and distribute feedback for faculty discussions.

Jaramillo also stressed the importance of the student voice in the process. “The student feedback has been absolutely essential,” he said. “They can get very different information than we can get as faculty.”

Responding to a question about how he got buy-in on this new search process, given that it was radical departure from past practices, Jaramillo said that it helped to position it as an experiment that could be evaluated and adjusted in its next iteration.

Other business

Prior to the diversity and inclusion presentations, there were questions posed to the president and provost on a few issues.

One set of questions focused on the academic publisher Elsevier, specifically around limitations of access and increasingly high subscription costs. The University of California system recently canceled its subscription contract with Elsevier after unsuccessful negotiations for renewal.

Provost Persis Drell explained that Stanford’s main library is in the second year of a five-year contract with Elsevier. “We are all watching the UC situation … very carefully, and we will want to keep faculty engaged as we approach that renewal in three years,” she said.

Following up on a previous senate discussion of the Hoover Institution, some senators posed questions about its role on campus, including in the revised Cardinal Conversations program now being developed.

Drell noted the broad diversity of work produced by Hoover and the ability of members of the academic community to challenge scholarly work where they see fit. Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole noted that a faculty committee is providing assistance in developing the revised Cardinal Conversations program, but that student organizers will determine the format and content of the programming.

In response to a question about Stanford’s support for Palo Alto schools under a proposed new General Use Permit (GUP), President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said the university is pursuing a development agreement with Santa Clara County that will address that issue as well as other local community benefits.

“We want to continue to have productive discussions with them. We want to figure out how to make it a win-win for the community, the Palo Alto schools and Stanford,” he said. “We’re committed to a long-term and productive partnership.” He invited senate members to read more about the issue on the GUP website.

The full minutes of the March 7 meeting, including the discussion that followed the presentations, will be posted on the Faculty Senate website. The next senate meeting is scheduled for April 11.