At its first meeting of the new academic year, the Faculty Senate heard a report on Stanford’s Title IX procedure for addressing sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints, which was recently revised to comply with new federal regulations.

At its first meeting of the new academic year, the Faculty Senate heard a report on Stanford’s Title IX procedures, the university’s staged plan for resuming research activities during the pandemic and a report on the ASSU’s plans for the coming year. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Following the report, the senate approved a proposal to modify procedures outlined in the “Statement on Faculty Discipline” in the Faculty Handbook to bring them into compliance with the new regulations.

The senate also heard an update on the university’s staged plan for resuming research activities during the pandemic and a report on the Associated Students of Stanford University’s plans for the coming year.

In his short remarks, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said he was deeply grateful to Stanford’s faculty members, who have spent countless hours translating their courses into online formats, and who have found new ways to participate in research without all of the facilities normally available to them.

Despite the upheaval of the last six months and the university’s ongoing challenges, Tessier-Lavigne said he was glad that this new year “presents us with an opportunity to return to what we do best – which is teaching and research.”

He also expressed his deep sadness at the recent death of Robert “Bob” Simoni, a professor emeritus of biology who was chair of the department when Tessier-Lavigne arrived there in the early 2000s. Simoni was a joy to work with, Tessier-Lavigne said, and they became good friends.

“To me, Bob stood out as a scientist’s scientist, and a real mensch, marked by his warmth, his generosity of spirit and his integrity,” he said. “I admired his incisive mind and wonderful turn of phrase, his intellectual honesty, and his leadership and devotion to his community.”

Simoni’s obituary appeared in Stanford Report on Wednesday.

Faculty discipline procedures and Title IX

Provost Persis Drell began her presentation on faculty discipline by describing the process that will be used to comply with new federal Title IX regulations that went into effect in August.

She said there were several “non-negotiable changes” Stanford had to make in order to comply with the new regulations, including narrowing the definition of sexual harassment to sexual assault, quid pro quo sexual harassment, and unwelcome conduct that is severe and pervasive. The new Title IX regulation also narrowed the Title IX jurisdiction to the United States.

Drell said Stanford had some flexibility in some aspects of the implementation of the new regulations, including deciding who would preside over the hearing and make the decision on responsibility. Stanford decided to use a retired judge to preside over a hearing, recognizing that an independent arbiter would give credibility to a decision. It is an approach adopted by many of Stanford’s peer institutions. Appeals will also be handled by a retired judge or outside appellate lawyer.

Because the law narrowed the type of misconduct covered under Title IX as well as its jurisdictional reach, Stanford developed an ancillary process to cover sexual misconduct outside of the scope of Title IX. This process is similar to the Title IX process, but does not require a formal complaint and does not require an opportunity for live cross-examination by a party’s advisor. Both processes use hearings. In each process, the Title IX Coordinator will decide whether the alleged misconduct should be handled through the Title IX or the ancillary process.

Drell said that in order to comply with Title IX, Stanford needed to revise the “Statement of Faculty Discipline” in the Stanford Faculty Handbook.

At the end of her presentation, Drell presented the motion to revise the statement to the senate. After a short discussion, the proposal was approved by a nearly unanimous vote with a few abstentions.

Research recovery during the pandemic

At the beginning of her presentation, Kathryn Ann “Kam” Moler, vice provost and dean of research, noted that there are nearly 2,000 people working on campus, including students, postdoctoral scholars, staff and faculty.

“It takes many, many staff members to support researchers,” she said. “Every researcher who’s coming on campus implies parking, transportation, cleaning, people in occupational health, open eateries. We’re still trying to keep everything off campus that we can.”

As dean of research, Moler oversees five shared research facilities and Stanford’s 18 independent labs, institutes and centers, which span the life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, humanities, engineering and medicine.

The information systems such as the Research Recovery Handbook and Health Check, are strong, Moler said. “They’re not always super user friendly in everybody’s view, partly from having been built extremely quickly because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, but they get us the information that we need. Schools and departments are doing a great job managing adherence to safety policies.”

Moler said Stanford’s policies and practices are comparable to peers, but the university also complies with stricter local and state policies.

In an answer to a question about when undergraduate students who live off-campus might be able to return to campus to do research – such as seniors working on honors theses – Moler said the Policy Group is continuing to discuss a draft policy on that issue.

Student concerns and fall priorities

In her presentation, Vianna Vo, president of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), covered three topics: the student experience during the past spring quarter; what the ASSU is focusing on during fall quarter; and what the ASSU and the Faculty Senate can do together to help ensure the well-being of the student community.

Vo presented findings from the spring survey conducted by Institutional Research and Decision Support, which provides management information and analysis in support of decision-making by the Stanford community. Vo highlighted three key points:

  • Half of students (50 percent) reported feeling overwhelmed “often” or “very often” during the prior two weeks. Similarly, half of all students reported depression, sadness, pressure and feeling overwhelmed during the prior two weeks.
  • When asked about general concerns related to online education, the top two concerns cited by students were connections and interactions with their peers.
  • Students consistently ranked difficulties in paying attention as one of their top challenges to learning since the transition online.

“We’re really facing a time of social isolation,” Vo said. “College is a time where you’re supposed to be able to talk to a lot of other people, meet other people, learn about what they want to do and see if it’s anything like what you want to do. But we’re kind of missing out on that right now. That has affected our focus and motivation.”

The ASSU has adopted three goals for fall quarter: Emphasize the importance of well-being and strengthen support structures, foster self-agency and set up a clean line of communication with the ASSU, and engage in critical consciousness and reimagine our role in racial justice.

“The big idea of our goals is to really be change-makers in our own capacities,” she said.

Turning to the classroom, Vo encouraged faculty to “acknowledge the moment” and not be afraid to talk about difficult issues in class, such as the death of a student or injustice in the world.

Vo also encouraged faculty to examine their reading lists and consider the diversity and representation of authors, adding that she has never been assigned to read a book by a Vietnamese author and seldom assigned books by queer authors.

“When you’re looking through your readings, think about who you’re bringing into the classroom,” she said.

The full minutes of the senate meeting, including discussion that followed the presentations, will be available on the Faculty Senate website. The next senate meeting is scheduled for Oct. 8.