Faculty members participating in the first Faculty Senate meeting of the quarter Thursday expressed support for increased collaborations and interactions with the Hoover Institution and encouraged administrators there to enhance its presence on campus.

Hoover Institution Director Condoleezza Rice gave a presentation during Thursday’s Faculty Senate meeting that covered the institution’s purpose and vision, infrastructure, funding, appointment process and research priorities. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

The Faculty Senate also approved measures designed to reduce the influence of wealth in undergraduate admissions and increase the socioeconomic diversity of the undergraduate class. In addition to that admission-related action, the senate approved changes to the charge of the Committee on Undergraduate Admission and Financial Aid (C-UAFA) to make clearer the faculty’s oversight of preferences given to applicants in special consideration categories.

Focus on Hoover

Support for increased interaction with Hoover came in response to a presentation by Condoleezza Rice, the Tad and Dianne Taube Director of the Hoover Institution. Among those responding to Rice was Debra Satz, the Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, who issued an invitation.

“I actually think that the mere physical presence of diversity is not sufficient,” she said. “We know we’ve got to interact more. We ought to be having these conversations more across differences and modeling how you have respectful conversations on hard questions where people disagree. There is an opportunity here to engage; the door is open. I think that would be a great thing for all of us.”

In her presentation, Rice covered the institution’s purpose and vision, infrastructure, funding, appointment process and research priorities. She also directly addressed campus criticism that the Hoover Institution is a partisan think tank that primarily supports conservative administrations and policy positions. Rice shared statistics that show Hoover fellows contribute financially to both political parties on an equal basis. In contrast, she said the university as a whole leans Democratic.

Rice encouraged senators to move beyond consideration of partisanship when evaluating Hoover and, instead, to acknowledge that the institution, as she put it, “has a view” that is reflected in its mission statement. The mission statement references, for instance, limited government, private enterprise, peace and the American way.

Set of values

Rice called the Hoover’s mission statement a “set of values” that are neither Republican nor Democrat. She compared those values to the gender equity objective that characterizes the mission of Stanford’s Clayman Institute or the focus on sustainability at the planned new school on climate change.

The existence of the values, she said, does not dominate or dictate the approach Hoover fellows take in their research and teaching, as some have suggested.

“That’s not the Hoover Institution that I know,” she said. “Even if one wants to say that there are conservative values here – personal freedom, representative government, private enterprise – they are not far out there. And I would hope that it would be seen as part of a broad, diverse ideological field for the university as a whole.”

Rice, who is a former Stanford provost, said that the innovation and breakthroughs Stanford is known for cannot happen without open inquiry and a willingness to challenge orthodoxy.

“I am especially concerned that, in the university, we keep a broad as possible gaze on alternative views, on the possibility of the falsification of our ideas and on a commitment to open inquiry,” she said, adding that such an approach becomes crucial in the education of students.

“With our students, we must be absolutely certain that we do not encourage them to live in an echo chamber,” she said. “Our students instead need a testing ground for their ideas.”

Rice also noted that solving many of the world’s challenges means engaging in what she called the “messiness of human behavior.” Solving those challenges, she asserted, means being open to alternative viewpoints.

“I want Hoover to be a partner in doing that,” she said. “If we contribute as Hoover to the overall mission of the university, I think Stanford and Hoover have a bright future together.”

First of two presentations

Rice’s presentation marked the first of two Faculty Senate meetings that will focus on the Hoover Institution.

Rice’s presentation came in the wake of Faculty Senate discussions in October in which differences of opinion about the best approaches to fighting COVID-19 raised concerns about how policies regarding academic freedom at the university should be applied and about Stanford’s relationship to the Hoover Institution.

In November, the Faculty Senate voted to condemn the COVID-19–related actions of Hoover senior fellow and then-presidential adviser Scott Atlas. The discussion of Atlas’ actions spurred further discussions of academic freedom and freedom of speech at Stanford.

This is not the first time in the university’s history that the Hoover Institution, founded in 1919 by Stanford alumnus and former President Herbert Hoover, has been subject to debate. Rice said her research suggests there have been about 14 faculty resolutions involving the institution and at least six committees charged with studying it in some way.

The Faculty Senate announced plans to discuss the issue of Stanford’s relationship to Hoover in response to a letter initiated last fall by David Palumbo-Liu, the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor and professor of comparative literature. The letter, signed by more than 100 faculty members, expressed concerns about COVID-19 statements made by Hoover Institution fellows, including Atlas, suggesting a connection between the statements and what the signers described as the institution’s narrow focus and predetermined point of view.

Hoover primer

In her presentation, Rice shared what she described as an “operational guide” that she has been developing with Hoover fellows. It commits to “producing the highest-quality research and disseminating those ideas so that we can contribute to solving problems of governance in free societies, addressing challenges to the values, security and prosperity of free peoples, and overcoming barriers to the advancement of freedom, liberty and peace worldwide.”

Although the Hoover Institution has its own Board of Overseers, Rice as the institute’s director reports to the president of the university. Hoover’s Board of Overseers includes as ex-officio members the president of the university and the chair of the Board of Trustees.

The institution, she said, receives less than 2 percent of its operating budget from Stanford, primarily directed to building support. Its funding, instead, comes from expendable gifts from individuals and foundations and from endowment income.

Rice shared statistics reflecting the academic credentials of those scholars appointed senior fellows at Hoover. She said 66 percent of Hoover senior fellows hold tenure in Stanford departments, while 14 percent were tenured at peer institutions before joining the university.

The institution needs to focus on enhancing its diversity, Rice said, with only 11 percent of women and 11 percent of underrepresented minorities among its senior fellows.

She also outlined the rigor of the four-step process used to appoint Hoover senior fellows. Although senior fellows constitute the core governance of Hoover, they are not the only institute fellows. Rice also cited, for instance, research fellows with term appointments linked to particular projects, Hoover Fellows who are generally postdoctoral scholars and visiting fellows who often have recently left government positions.

Rice also outlined Hoover’s research priorities, including Challenges in Advanced Capitalist Societies, America and the World, Embracing History, State and Local Governance, Public Opinion, China and Technology, and Governance.

Deemphasizing wealth

In other action, the Faculty Senate approved two proposals from the Planning and Policy Board that affect undergraduate admission.

The first proposal is designed to reduce the influence of wealth in undergraduate admission and to increase the socioeconomic diversity of the undergraduate class. It urges university leadership to devote resources to improving data collection by modifying Stanford’s application to require applicants to list those who advised or read their application, and to describe their relationship with those people. The senate also wants to establish an improved data system to evaluate the effect of admissions on philanthropic support to the university and to initiate surveys to track the distribution of income and wealth levels for parents and undergraduates.

In addition, the senate has called for improved communication that will enhance Stanford’s efforts to publicly describe and demystify the admission process and to reduce disparities among those who can or cannot afford, for instance, private counseling.

Finally, the approved proposals outlined charges to two ad hoc committees, the first of which will provide recommendations to C-UAFA and the Faculty Senate about ways to speed review of applications and reduce the influence of consultants in packaging of application materials. The second committee will study alternative funding models for undergraduate students.

The senate also approved updates to the C-UAFA charge that emphasizes the faculty’s role in the admission of students under particular categories, requires a description of the extent of preference given to applicants in each special consideration category and makes some of the member appointments overlapping to ensure continuity.

President’s report: Executive actions, international exchange

In his report, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne outlined recent executive actions by President Joe Biden that mark “encouraging progress” on issues affecting Stanford and other colleges and universities.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne outlined recent executive actions by President Joe Biden during Thursday’s Faculty Senate meeting. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Among those actions was the rescission of the travel ban on certain countries with majority Muslim populations, which Stanford opposed because of the university’s commitment to the international exchange of people and ideas. Stanford had joined court briefings that challenged the travel ban.

Biden also issued an order seeking to bolster the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has protected from deportation children who were brought to the country illegally and has made them eligible for work permits.

Tessier-Lavigne also applauded Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, which he noted is among the foundations of Stanford’s efforts to advance sustainability and address climate change.

Tessier-Lavigne also expressed unequivocal support for Chinese and Chinese American colleagues in the wake of the arrest of MIT scholar Gang Chen. Chen was arrested and charged on Jan. 14 with failing to disclose contacts, appointments and awards from entities in the People’s Republic of China to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Tessier-Lavigne acknowledged the need for universities to attend to issues involving possible misappropriation of intellectual property and failures to disclose potential conflicts of interest.

But, at the same time, he said it is essential that such concerns are “handled in a way that enables us to continue to attract bright students and scholars to Stanford from all over the world, including China, that enables our scholars to collaborate in appropriate ways with scholars from abroad and that does not penalize individuals for actions that are a normal part of scholarly exchange.”

He added, “Students and scholars come to this country, and to Stanford, to learn and to collaborate. We are firm in our commitment to welcoming them, and to sharing ideas and scholarship across borders. In particular, I want to make clear that we unequivocally support our Chinese and Chinese-American colleagues — they’re an important part of our Stanford family.”

Provost’s report: COVID restrictions, vaccine rollout

Provost Persis Drell reported that close to 7,000 students have entered into housing contracts with the university, including 5,149 graduate students and 1,685 undergraduates. Among them are 185 resident assistants and 598 student-athletes. So far, 1,375 undergraduates have checked into student housing.

Provost Persis Drell discussed restrictions to students due to COVID-19, and whether universities will have a role in vaccination distribution in the later phases of the program. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Those living on campus still face restrictions related to the pandemic, despite the recent lifting of the state’s stay-at-home order. Stanford is now in the purple – or highest risk – category for COVID-19 restrictions at both the main campus in Santa Clara County and Stanford Redwood City in San Mateo County. What that means is that indoor classes and indoor events and gatherings are still not permitted. The only exceptions are gatherings that occur among registered student households.

Drell said administrators “very, very much hope” to bring back juniors and seniors for spring quarter. She said the university will provide an update the week of March 1 for the quarter that begins March 29.

The provost said the university experienced an increase in positive COVID-19 tests among students when they first arrived earlier this month. Since then, the numbers have diminished, thanks to the university’s testing and contact tracing program. However, the provost acknowledged that student compliance with testing has become a challenge.

At this point, all eligible health care workers at Stanford Medicine have been invited to get vaccinated. In Santa Clara County and at Stanford Health Care, people 65 and older are being invited to schedule vaccination appointments. Vaccinations rely on primary health care providers, meaning that Stanford does not currently have plans to serve as a vaccination site, as it does for flu shots. However, the university continues to await word about whether universities will have a role in vaccination distribution in the later phases of the program.

Other action

In other action, the Faculty Senate received a report of autumn degree conferrals and voted to extend COVID-19 administrative session legislation, which allows the Senate Steering Committee, for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, to decide whether a matter must come before the full senate or if issues can be handled in an administrative session.

In response to a question from ASSU Senator Alexis Mack regarding student concerns about the volume of work in the final week of the quarter in some undergraduate courses, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Sarah Church said the university’s recommendation to instructors is to plan for “reasonable workload” for students in Week 10. Church said she planned to communicate further with instructors about the issue.

Memorial resolutions were also read for microbiologist Stanley Falkow, the Robert W. and Vivian K. Cahill Professor, Emeritus, in the School of Medicine, and Lucius Barker, the William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science, Emeritus.