Declaring that the scale of the opportunities and challenges facing the world “demands that we be bold,” President Marc Tessier-Lavigne unveiled “A Vision for Stanford,” a long-range plan designed to guide Stanford for the next decade and beyond, at Thursday’s annual Academic Council meeting.

“We are at a pivotal moment, marked by a breathtaking pace of change,” said Tessier-Lavigne.

The plan is anchored in the university’s mission and values and is composed of a set of forward-looking initiatives designed both to advance human welfare in a rapidly changing world and to strengthen the campus community to fulfill that mission.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne speaks at the lectern

Marc Tessier-Lavigne presenting “A Vision for Stanford” at the meeting of the Academic Council on Thursday. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Two years in the making and engaging thousands of Stanford community members in the process, the plan is structured under three overarching themes:

  • Advancing and Bridging Disciplines
  • Building Pathways to Impact
  • Strengthening Communities on Campus and Beyond

The broad outlines of the long-range vision were announced a year ago. Since then, design and discovery teams from across the campus have worked to translate that vision into actionable plans. The result presented Thursday was a series of 10 specific programmatic activities nested within the three overarching themes.

Details on the overarching themes and activities can be found on the Our Vision website.

Provost Persis Drell; Debra Satz, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences; Jonathan Levin, dean of the Graduate School of Business; and Harry Elam, senior vice provost for education, provided details on the plan.

Provost’s presentation

At the Academic Council, Tessier-Lavigne presented an overview of the plan and Drell provided details on its structure and implementation.

A variety of flexible organizational and governance models will be employed, Drell said, including affiliations or networks of researchers, hubs, flexible short-term entities, longer-term institutes and accelerators, and advisory boards. She emphasized that the plan is integrated into the fabric of Stanford, designed to complement and strengthen the university’s existing schools, departments, centers and institutes.

The 10 programmatic activities that compose the plan will have different scales and scopes and will roll out at different times, Drell said. Some have already launched, while others will be entering a pilot phase.

The work of the discovery and design teams during this academic year informed the final selection and composition of the programmatic initiatives. “Many of the ideas and concepts that arose across the design teams were similar,” Drell said. “There was an opportunity to merge some ideas and bring them together to make them stronger, to broaden benefits to our campus and to amplify our contributions to the world.”

Drell said that the next phase will be to pilot many of the programmatic activities and to identify the appropriate funding strategies, which could include philanthropic efforts, reallocation of existing resources and reabsorption through the schools.

“Stanford’s resources are significant, but they are finite. Our ambitions can sometimes seem unlimited, which is a great thing – it’s a great strength of the institution – but it does mean we have to make decisions strategically,” she said. “We know we need to take care of our community today and we need to invest in a strong foundation for the future.”

Advancing and Bridging Disciplines

In outlining the programmatic activities under the Advancing and Bridging Disciplines theme, Satz reflected on how Stanford’s research strength, broad expertise within disciplines and culture of collaboration position the university to make significant contributions to society.

Debra Satz at the lectern

Debra Satz speaking at the meeting about the Advancing and Bridging Disciplines theme. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

“Advancing knowledge and answering the most pressing problems is not going to be the work of any one sole discipline, but is going to require people collaborating across disciplines and across schools,” Satz said. “Nobody has a lock on the advancement of knowledge and nobody has a lock on the solution to urgent problems. We’re going to need economists, political scientists, philosophers, historians, lawyers, engineers and natural scientists.”

Three areas of inquiry under this theme are designed to apply broad interdisciplinary perspectives in new ways to deepen understanding and advance responsible innovation.

  • Navigating the Changing Human Experience will include a new research hub that will enable the exploration of four themes: the changing body, the changing mind, the changing globe and changing political communities. Other projects connected to this area are a public humanities program, an arts and culture incubator and the Ethics, Society & Technology Hub. In addition, there will be development of proposals for curricular changes seeking to provide a shared intellectual experience for first-year students that reflects on the core values of a liberal education and will create pathways to a broad academic experience.
  • Understanding and Sustaining the Natural World will consist of two distinct efforts. The Natural World Fellows Program will bring postdoctoral fellows to Stanford who will work independent of any individual lab to research questions in natural sciences. Additional resources will provide strategic platforms to advance the frontiers of knowledge in the natural and environmental sciences.
  • Shaping the Digital Future focuses on two areas of inquiry. Data Science will weave data science research and methods into Stanford’s ecosystem by providing tools, skills and understanding for cutting-edge research and education across the campus. Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI), which launched in March, seeks to advance innovation in the field, inform policy development and serve as a hub for the understanding and leveraging of AI’s impact and potential.

Building Pathways to Impact

In his presentation, Levin said the purpose of the Building Pathways to Impact theme was to accelerate the application of knowledge to create transformative solutions that will have a real impact in the world.

Alluding to Satz’s presentation, Levin said the first pillar of the long-range plan is a commitment to build Stanford’s core disciplinary strength and tradition of interdisciplinary engagement. “Building Pathways to Impact – the second pillar – aims to bridge the gap between the discovery and innovation that takes place on the campus and application in the world,” he said.

He outlined the four distinct “pathways” that advance the theme:

  • Innovative Medicines Accelerator will speed the application of innovations in molecular science, computation and engineering into human biology.
  • Social X-Change Accelerator will focus on developing social science solutions to pressing real-world challenges around issues such as global development, inequality and policy regulation of technology.
  • Climate Solutions aims to help ecosystems and society thrive in an era of climate upheaval by accelerating the development of zero-carbon technologies, developing translational research for climate and energy solutions, and delivering innovative and impactful regional climate and energy solutions.
  • Transformative Learning, an interdisciplinary learning ecosystem, strives to achieve fundamental breakthroughs in understanding how people learn and what the best conditions are for learning in order to deliver new knowledge and solutions to support lifelong learning.

Strengthening Communities on Campus and Beyond

Elam, who is also vice president for the arts, presented the projects and programs developed under the Strengthening Communities on Campus and Beyond theme. Activities under this theme are designed to inspire learning, foster collaboration and enhance life on campus, which ultimately will amplify opportunities to contribute to the greater community, he said.

Harry Elam speaks at the lectern

Harry Elam, right, speaking at the meeting about the Strengthening Communities on Campus and Beyond theme. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

“Strengthening Communities on Campus and Beyond includes both near-term and long-term plans,” Elam said. “It envisions an inclusive and collaborative congregation of diverse scholars, students and staff connecting across the campus. It also emphasizes reaching out and engaging other communities – locally, nationally and globally. Ultimately, this initiative will expand opportunities for Stanford to achieve impact in our world.”

  • Advancing Learning Beyond the Classroom is anchored in ResX, which seeks to develop a residential experience for students that fosters a sense of belonging and continuity, supports health and well-being, and advances intellectual and emotional growth. The plan builds on the recommendations of the ResX Task Force. Enhancements to advising for undergraduate and graduate students are also part of this activity.
  • Supporting Our Campus Community consists of continuing projects currently under way to foster an inclusive and inspired community: IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment), the Affordability Task Force, community engagement and the development of a Town Center, professional development and stewardship.
  • Engaging Beyond the Farm consists of an Engagement Hub dedicated to advancing the public good and developing sustained partnerships beyond the campus. The hub will support coordination of academic and non-academic community engagement activities through a new Office of Community Engagement in the Office of External Relations. In addition, plans are being developed for the university’s global engagement.

Collaborative two-year process

In spring 2017, as part of the long-range planning process, 2,808 ideas were submitted by students, faculty, staff, academic staff, postdocs and alumni. The ideas, in turn, resulted in 37 white papers generated by members of four area steering groups. Those white papers were analyzed and used to create the vision and initiatives outlined by Tessier-Lavigne at the 2018 Academic Council meeting. Design and discovery teams were then formed to develop concrete plans for implementation.

Drell acknowledged the many contributions of the Stanford community members who participated in developing the plan.

“This has been an amazing process,” she said. “The level of enthusiasm and engagement has been really quite inspiring, and we are all thrilled by how our community came together and really put their energy and heart and soul into thinking about the future of Stanford and how we can take what is a great institution today and ensure that going forward into the future we continue to be that beacon of enlightenment.”

Report on the 51st Senate

Also at the Academic Council meeting, Stephen Stedman, senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, professor, by courtesy, of political science and chair of the Stanford Faculty Senate, gave a brief report on the senate’s deliberations this year.

“The issues that the senate has grappled with this year are central to our role as researchers, teachers, mentors and community members. I’ve come to the conclusion that the senate works best when it focuses attention on Stanford’s aspirations and whether we are living up to them,” Stedman said.

The senate’s work this year included attention to complex issues such as the role and status of lecturers, the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard, diversity, campus climate, graduate student life, the undergraduate breadth requirements, energy sustainability and Stanford’s global presence.

Among his recommendations for the future, he encouraged the senate’s existing committees to take a broader and stronger role in university governance.

A question-and-answer session followed the presentations. Most of the questions sought clarity about the structure, organization and next steps for some of the programmatic activities.

In response to the question of how Stanford will be in 20 years, Drell said she could “guarantee” that Stanford would be different in 20 years. “One of the things I feel very strongly about that has to be different at Stanford in 20 years is that our faculty must be much more diverse. The outstanding institutions of the future that attract outstanding scholars will figure out how to diversify because, as Harry [Elam] said earlier, the future is diverse.”