In an address to the Stanford community following a weekend of turmoil across the nation and around the world in the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell said the incident was a reminder of the continuing presence of racial violence and injustice in the country.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell address the university’s commitment to equity and inclusion during a livestream conversation with the Stanford community. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

“Just as we are struggling through a global pandemic – one that we know has affected communities of color disproportionately – our country, and particularly our Black community are now experiencing the pain and anguish from another killing that points to the profound continuing challenge of racial justice in our country,” Tessier-Lavigne said.

“We stand in support, and in solidarity, with our Black community, and with our other communities who each day confront the realities of inequality, discrimination and racism. As a community here at Stanford, we must, all of us, recommit ourselves to standing against racism and hatred, and for equity and inclusion.”

Tessier-Lavigne also extended the university’s support to the members of the university’s Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities that have felt targeted in recent months – in some cases due to the national discourse around coronavirus or immigration, and in some case due to incidents on the Stanford campus targeting them directly.

“This is not acceptable in our country, or in our community,” he said. “We value, and affirm the belonging, of everyone in our Stanford community. We reject acts of prejudice against those of Asian ancestry. We continue to value the presence of students and scholars in our community from all over the world, whatever your nationality or immigration status.”

President and provost praise Stanford community

During the conversation, Tessier-Lavigne expressed his gratitude to the Stanford community for persevering through the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

“I’m so grateful for the agility and determination with which you have handled the upheaval,” he said. “I am continually inspired by your commitment to Stanford, and by your support for one another.”

Drell praised Stanford staff employees for meeting the tremendous challenges posed by the pandemic.

“Amid all the stress and anxiety and difficulties of this ongoing crisis, I continue to see examples of your care and concern for your fellow community members, and it is wonderful to witness,” she said. “The degree of difficulty has been great, and you continue to meet the challenge with perseverance and creativity and grace.”

The president and provost urged all members of the Stanford community to call on-campus resources available for support, and to reach out to colleagues who may need help.

“Please, if you’re able, please reach out to your colleagues, to support them,” Drell said. This is a time when we need to do more, not less, to reach out to one another in solidarity, and in our shared humanity.”

She also noted specific steps the university is taking to help the Stanford community through these difficult times.

Among them:

  • Outreach from Susie Brubaker-Cole, vice provost for student affairs to students about actions that can be taken to advance racial justice at Stanford and in the broader society.
  • Communication with spring quarter instructors encouraging them to be flexible and extend understanding to students finding this moment difficult.
  • Continuing efforts to increase faculty and staff diversity, strengthen our contributions to social problem solving, and supporting marginalized communities on campus.

“We must, and will, continue this important work, and I am certain that important new work will come out of what we are experiencing now,” Drell said.

Tessier-Lavigne and Drell also answered questions posed by the virtual Stanford audience.

Grappling with the fiscal challenges of the pandemic

Turning to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Stanford, Tessier-Lavigne said the financial disruptions to the university’s income streams and expenses are significant and will affect Stanford for some time to come.

“Beginning in the new fiscal year, we will need to realign our spending to match our anticipated financial constraints moving forward,” he said. “As part of that, we expect there to be reductions in some of the programs that our units are able to offer. In turn, we also expect those program reductions will make some workforce reductions unavoidable when we enter the new fiscal year in September.”

Tessier-Lavigne touched on many of the same themes in a May 27 letter to the Stanford community.

A phased and gradual recovery

Provost Drell reiterated a message she has often shared in previous weeks: Stanford will pursue a phased and gradual recovery, following the public health guidance of local and state officials.

“It means that for many of you who can work from home we’ll ask that you continue to work from home for some time to come,” she said. “Physical distancing will be critical to keeping our community health as we resume operations. We need to build that into all of our operations, and we need to increase our in-person population very slowly so that we do not lose the gains from the shelter-in-place period.”

President and provost answer questions from a virtual audience

In the Q&A that followed, Tessier-Lavigne and Drell answered questions on a variety of issues: the safety measures that will be implemented to protect people as the campus gradually reopens; the recent proclamation that aims to restrict the entry of certain graduate students from China to the United States; and the endowment, which provides 20 percent of operating revenue to the university.

They were also asked about the status of decision-making for autumn quarter and whether there will be sports events on campus in the fall.

Regarding autumn quarter, Drell said the university is doing a lot of hard work on the issue and expects to have more information soon that will narrow the range of possibilities.

However, she reminded the audience that Stanford works in concert with the county and cannot predict what the future holds.

“We may have plans for the next year that if there is a resurgence of cases in Santa Clara County we may end up not being able to execute on those plans,” she said.

In answer to a question about measures Stanford will implement to keep people working in university buildings safe, Tessier-Lavigne described plans to organize traffic flow in buildings – people will walk up one side of a staircase and descend on the other side; to ensure everyone will have the proper supplies, including disinfectants and cleaning supplies; to require people to wear masks, and to enter their status in the university’s health care app before receiving permission to visit campus.

In answer to another question about sports events, Tessier-Lavigne said there are obvious challenges to holding sports events, not just holding the events but having spectators present. He said Stanford remains engaged in conversation about sports events with the NCAA and the Pac-12, but he said it would be hard to say what the timeframe might be for certain kinds of activities. He said the NCAA and the Pac-12 recently began allowing athletes to do voluntary workouts using university facilities.

Drell responded to a statement from a member the Stanford Black community who said they had never felt welcomed or safe on campus, felt safer in Oakland than in Palo Alto, Stanford or Menlo Park, and that after the tragedy in Minneapolis, will not feel safe at all.

Drell said it was an important statement to acknowledge and one that everyone needed to hear. She described the statement as a “call for us to do the hard work of advancing justice.”

“I recognize and I acknowledge what this individual says and I respect it,” she said. “I think it’s important for all of us in our community to appreciate that this is the lived experience of some of our colleagues. I know that I personally have more to learn. I think many of us do to fully understand that lived experience.”

Drell emphasized that Stanford, as a community and as an institution, has to continue to work to address the causes of injustice, of inequity and of racial violence.

“We have to address these with our intellectual pursuits,” she said. “We have to address them in our teaching, and we have to it with our personal lives and the ways we personally behave. These aren’t just societal issues, they’re local issues too. They are issues on our campus. They are issues in our community.”