“Enormous gratitude and appreciation” were the words Board of Trustees Chair Jeff Raikes used to recognize the efforts of the Stanford community as it continues to grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Raikes shared the trustees’ appreciation for those “delivering patient care, continuing research and education, supporting our students [and] keeping our administrative operations going” at the end of the board’s remote meetings Dec. 6–8.

Jeff Raikes portrait

Jeff Raikes is chair of the Stanford Board of Trustees. (Image credit: Aaron Kehoe)

Raikes reported that the board – in addition to hearing pandemic updates – discussed the construction of new facilities, the university’s engagement with the external world and Long-Range Vision progress.

The COVID-19 updates covered such topics as the university’s extensive testing programs, the innovations around online instruction, the research aimed at combating the virus and the plans for welcoming first-year students and sophomores back to campus during winter quarter. He said the university has taken advantage of learnings at other colleges and universities that have also confronted COVID-19 challenges to adopt best practices among higher education institutions.

When vaccines will become available and whether they are mandated at Stanford is not yet clear, Raikes said. He added that the board has “complete confidence” in the university’s ability to store and administer vaccines when they become available.

“I know that providing for the health and safety of students and the community is – and will continue to be – the driving factor in the leadership’s decision-making as we navigate what are constantly changing circumstances around the pandemic,” he said.

Raikes added, “Again, the board is grateful for the incredible amount of work being done by everyone in the university, the leadership that is being shown by our administration and the commitment of everyone at Stanford to continue supporting one another’s health.”

New interdisciplinary hub

The board took action on a new building – the Bridge Complex for the Digital Future – planned for the corner of Jane Stanford Way and Lomita Mall, where Herrin Hall, former home to the Department of Biology, is currently being demolished.

Raikes said the board provided concept and site approval for the new academic building. At future meetings, the board will be asked to consider design approval and then construction approval. The tentative completion date for the project is fall 2023.

The building will be an interdisciplinary hub for computation and data research, providing space for programs in Statistics, Computer Science, Symbolic Systems and related fields.

The building will be designed to provide space that supports the growing and emerging research and educational activities in computation and data science. It will include classrooms, offices, undergraduate study space and interdisciplinary research areas. Its location, near the Oval, represents the intersection of many disciplines at Stanford – engineering, the arts and the sciences, Raikes said.

External relations

Raikes expressed support for recent efforts to reorganize externally facing functions into a new Office of External Relations, headed by Martin Shell, vice president and chief external relations officer. Raikes noted that the goal of the reorganization is to develop “truly purposeful engagement” with the region, nation and world.

The board focused on local and regional relations and heard a presentation from Megan Swezey Fogarty, associate vice president for community engagement, who outlined the more than 70 engagement hubs throughout the university.

“There is a great deal of community engagement occurring across the university,” he said. “There are literally hundreds of thousands of people in the surrounding communities who we connect with.”

Raikes said the goal of external relations is to more proactively reach out to neighboring communities more frequently. He called Stanford’s neighbors “eager for collaboration.”

Raikes said Fogarty described early program progress, including:

  • Creation of the new stanford.edu website
  • A collaborative effort with Continuing Studies to provide members of the external community with an introduction to Stanford and its history
  • Identification of expertise for local leaders. He cited as an example the Bill Lane Center for the American West research on policing issues for six nearby cities.

“This is an important effort for Stanford to acknowledge its interconnectedness with our surrounding communities – to deepen relationships – and to collaborate with others to address common issues,” Raikes said.

Also reporting on federal government activities to the board was Ryan Adesnik, vice president for government affairs. Raikes noted that the board learned that, as a result of recent elections, there are now six Stanford alumni in the U.S. Senate and 10 in the U.S. House of Representatives. In addition, Raikes’ Class of 1980 classmate Xavier Becerra was nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to become Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Long-Range Vision

The board also continued its discussion of the university’s Long-Range Vision, which members began addressing at their meeting Oct. 4–6. At the October meeting, the board discussed the need for philanthropic support to help Stanford achieve objectives that faculty, students and staff have laid out through the vision.

The Long-Range Vision is focused on leveraging the university’s strengths to accelerate its contributions to the world. The October meeting focused on the broad, overarching themes of the Vision, including Knowledge for Humanity, Solutions for the World, and Education for a Life of Purpose, with IDEAL – Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access – intertwined through all three.

At this week’s meeting, Raikes said board members discussed with participating faculty members specific initiatives, including:

  • Transforming Learning
  • Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence
  • Data Science
  • Innovative Medicines Accelerator
  • Social Impact Labs

He cited as an example a presentation by Emmanuel Candès, the Barnum-Simons Chair in Math and Statistics, on the Data Science initiative. Raikes said Candès stressed the need for data science at Stanford to be “horizontal,” meaning infused throughout the entire university.

The discussions, he said, made clear that fundamental research continues to be the foundation of the university. As the Long-Range Vision establishes new directions for research and education, support for core priorities in the seven schools – including faculty needs in basic research – will remain a key focus.

Raikes said the discussions also revealed support for Stanford acting as a “purposeful” university, making a difference in the world through knowledge created, and advancing diversity and inclusion in the university.

“Finally, what I and many of my colleagues on the board find exciting and energizing is that many of the initiatives under the Long-Range Vision build on existing core strengths of Stanford and apply those strengths in new ways,” he said.

Raikes noted that, over the past 20 years, the university has built what he called “incredible interdisciplinary strengths in research and education” through collaboration.

He said, “Now, these initiatives that our faculty are developing seek to expand on those interdisciplinary strengths by collaborating with partners outside the walls of the university, to maximize their ability to have a positive impact in the world. And they also come with an emphasis on acceleration – recognizing the speed at which the world is moving, the speed at which problems in the world are evolving and thus the speed with which new ideas and solutions are needed.”

Virtual tour

Raikes said the members Board of Trustees also took a virtual tour of the new Biomedical Innovations Building, which was recently dedicated. The new building is designed to bring together researchers from across many disciplines in the School of Medicine to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.

“As we look ahead, I firmly believe that Stanford is going to be not just a leader but the most important leader in the biomedical revolution, just as it was a leader in the emergence of the personal computer in the last century,” he said.