Dear members of our Stanford community,

I want to start by extending a warm welcome to winter quarter, which starts today. I hope that you were all able to take some time to rest and recharge over the winter holidays, and I hope that you’re looking forward with anticipation to reconnecting with one another and with your work and studies over the coming weeks.

As Persis and I communicated to students on Saturday, with great regret we had to change our plans to have the frosh and sophomore classes return to campus for the winter quarter, which was planned for two weeks from now. As we explained, the decision was triggered by the continuing surge in COVID-19 cases, which is now predicted to significantly lengthen the stringent public health restrictions we are under, which in turn are expected to seriously constrain the on-campus undergraduate experience for the better part of the quarter. We are deeply sorry to make this change of plans, but we believe it is in the best interest of students and our whole community.

Graduate and professional students, and undergraduates with special circumstances, whom we welcomed back to campus last week, are of course welcome to remain in campus residence. Although all of us in Santa Clara County will feel the necessary constraints on our campus experiences, we are committed to supporting our residential students in full.

In this message I’d like to touch briefly on the near-term impacts and response to COVID, the longer-term focus of the university, and the state of our democracy.

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic to its conclusion

As we begin this new year, we have reason to hope that, with vaccine distribution underway, we will begin to put the pandemic behind us in 2021. But while there’s promise of a new dawn on the horizon, we remain in a dark and difficult time. We all need to continue to protect ourselves and one another by practicing physical distancing, wearing masks, using Health Check daily for those on campus, and adhering to the other public health measures put in place to protect our community. This includes those in our community who have already been vaccinated.

I know the continued restrictions are demanding. For many months, we have made sacrifices, relying on one another to protect the most vulnerable among us. It’s been a tough journey, but your efforts successfully kept infection rates low in our community throughout the fall quarter. I know that everyone in our community is striving to do the best they can, and I ask you to extend grace and patience to one another as we work together to stay the course.

Some have asked whether Stanford University will play a role in distributing vaccines to our community, as we do with the flu shot. The answer is still not clear. We are in close communication with Santa Clara County public health officials, who are planning vaccine distribution for the broader community based on state guidelines, and we stand ready to assist as needed. We will be sure to share additional information as it becomes available.

Looking to the future

As we continue to navigate the pandemic in the coming weeks and months, we are also resolutely looking to the future. Over the coming year, we’ll continue working to support our core school and unit priorities, advance our Long-Range Vision, and make progress on our IDEAL initiatives.

As we focus on these goals over the next year, we’ll be establishing a strong foundation for the years ahead. Though this has been a time of great challenge, the crisis has also provided added momentum in multiple areas. It has given us the opportunity to demonstrate vividly how scholarship, innovation, education, and patient care – foundational activities of the university – are critical to creating a better world. It has provided the opportunity to further elevate the university’s public mission as we have engaged vigorously with our local and regional communities in the pandemic response. The forced move to online teaching, health care delivery and work is providing experience that will help us build a more adaptive and far-reaching online Stanford. And the many brutal and heartbreaking killings and acts of injustice that we witnessed around the country in the last year have given added urgency to our efforts to advance racial justice at Stanford and beyond. Let us all work to ensure that out of such tragedy, greater good emerges.

Upholding our democratic values

On that note, I’d like to end with some thoughts about the appalling events last week in our nation’s capital, and implications for all of us at Stanford.

As I said in my message that day, the violent mob attack on the Capitol Building was shocking and deeply troubling for all who respect our country’s democratic traditions and the peaceful transfer of power. It is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of our democracy, and the need for each of us, as citizens, to rededicate ourselves to upholding and defending our democratic values, norms and institutions.

A dedication to those ideals has, in fact, been a hallmark of a Stanford education since the university’s inception. It is generally well known that the statement of Stanford’s mission, laid out in the Founding Grant, starts with a commitment to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence in behalf of humanity and civilization …” Less well known, perhaps, is that the statement explains that this promotion also involves, in words so apt to the current moment, “… teaching the blessings of liberty regulated by law, and inculcating love and reverence for the great principles of government …” True to the spirit of our founders, it behooves us to educate our students for a life of purpose and of civic responsibility, and to support our community members in their roles as active citizens – all while seeking to achieve these objectives with greater attention to inclusion and equity than articulated by our founders in their day.

I’m proud of the many ways in which our students, faculty and staff are engaged, whether in the service work enabled by the Haas Center, the student-led, non-partisan activities of Stanford in Government and the StanfordVotes campaign, or many other activities. I’m especially heartened that the Faculty Senate voted enthusiastically last summer to create a course focused on citizenship, as part of the new first-year requirement, which is being piloted this year. I hope we will seize this moment to reflect on how we can further advance this essential focus.

As well, one of the bedrock functions of the university is to provide an environment that supports the open and reasoned discussion of issues of the day. The violence in Washington highlights a line that cannot be crossed, and, to me, underscores yet again the vital importance for our own community of continuing to enable and to support constructive disagreement and a fact-based approach to debate, within a culture of mutual respect.

In closing, I want to thank you, as always, for your partnership, your perseverance and your support for each other as we navigate this difficult time. I’m deeply appreciative of this community, and I am thankful for everything you continue to do to keep one another safe while advancing Stanford’s mission in the world.

Best wishes,

Marc Tessier-Lavigne