Plans for a proposed institute at Stanford on the study of race, ethnicity and society are moving forward as a committee has been charged with developing implementation recommendations, Provost Persis Drell told the Faculty Senate Thursday.

The Faculty Senate met via Zoom on Oct. 21. Speakers at the meeting included, clockwise from top left, Provost Persis Drell; Lloyd Minor, dean of the School of Medicine; Stacey Bent, vice provost for graduate education and postdoctoral affairs; and President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

A Framework Task Force strongly recommended the new institute in a formal report over the summer. An implementation committee has been named, Drell said, and it will be co-chaired by Brian Lowery, the Walter Kenneth Kilpatrick Professor of Organizational Behavior and senior associate dean for academic affairs in the Graduate School of Business, and Tomás Jiménez, professor of sociology in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Through IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment) and racial justice initiatives, Stanford is working to increase institutional support for research, education and policy solutions that address U.S. racial disparities.

In October last year, Drell announced the formation of the Framework Task Force, which includes faculty from throughout the university, to come up with a framework for Stanford to organize the study of race and the impacts of race.

And in February, Drell and Humanities & Sciences Dean Debra Satz accepted the task force’s recommendation for departmentalization of African and African American Studies and the suggestion to create a subcommittee to develop department details.

Over the summer, the Framework Task Force delivered its final report recommending the new institute, which the provost responded to in a formal letter.

The second Faculty Senate meeting of the academic year also touched on where the university and community stands on COVID containment, speech and academic freedom at Stanford, and notable challenges and opportunities facing the graduate and postdoctoral community.

Additionally, Drell discussed initiation of a search for the dean of the new school focused on climate and sustainability. She is chairing the committee, which will include the following faculty members:

  • Jack Baker, professor of civil and environmental engineering
  • Karen Casciotti, Victoria and Roger Sant Director, Earth Systems Program; professor of Earth system science and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment
  • Scott Fendorf, Terry Huffington Professor and senior associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, and senior fellow at Woods
  • Judith Goldstein, Janet M. Peck Professor in International Communication, professor of political science and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research
  • Rosemary Knight, George L. Harrington Professor in the School of Earth Sciences and professor of geophysics, and senior fellow at Woods
  • Fiorenza Micheli, co-director, Hopkins Marine Station; David and Lucile Packard Professor in Marine Science and professor of biology, and senior fellow at Woods
  • William Mitch, professor of civil and environmental engineering
  • Jonathan Payne, Dorrell William Kirby Professor, professor of geological sciences and senior associate dean for faculty affairs in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences
  • Jim Plummer, John M. Fluke Professor in Electrical Engineering, School of Engineering
  • Tim Stearns, Frank Lee and Carol Hall Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and professor of biology and of genetics; senior associate vice provost of research
  • Hamdi Tchelepi, professor of energy resources engineering
  • Stephen Dobbs, doctoral candidate in geological sciences
  • Adam Nayak, undergraduate student
  • Stephanie Kalfayan, vice provost for academic affairs

Drell also announced this year’s eight faculty members who have been named or reappointed as Stanford Bass University Fellows in Undergraduate Education in recognition of their exceptional contributions to undergraduate education. This year, there are three reappointments and five new appointments.

Speech and academic freedom

During the senate meeting, Julie Parsonnet, the George DeForest Barnett Professor in Medicine and professor of epidemiology and population health, addressed President Marc Tessier-Lavigne regarding a letter sent by more than 100 faculty, asking him to “speak up for public health in the United States and to distance the university from dangerous misinformation that is coming from some of its faculty.”

Tessier-Lavigne responded that Stanford has “taken a very strong public stand on how best to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” through the university’s own vaccination, testing and masking protocols.

He cited the university’s statement on academic freedom, adopted by the senate, stating that it is essential to the university’s research and education missions.

“That is not a statement that permits or encourages the administration to denounce or disavow members of our faculty for the views they may hold,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “It is a statement that encourages the university to support an environment in which faculty members can express their views, even if unpopular, and engage in robust debate.”

He added that the provost and he have offered to meet with Parsonnet and others and remain open to doing so.

COVID containment

Lloyd Minor, dean of the School of Medicine, provided an update on Stanford’s response to COVID-19, noting that California has the lowest case rate in the U.S. and further, Bay Area counties have among the lowest case rates statewide.

“It’s a reflection of the high vaccination rate in our area and also a reflection of the behavior of our community in taking the measures that we know prevent the spread of the virus and help to keep all of us safe,” Minor said.

Despite a summer surge in the area, the number of hospitalizations has been far fewer than during previous spikes in cases, Minor said. Also, in nearly every case of hospitalization, the patients had underlying medical conditions that made them more susceptible to the virus.

The surrounding counties and the university itself have very high vaccination rates, Minor said. Since vaccine mandates have been put in place, less than 0.3 percent of Stanford Medicine employees have been placed on unpaid leave after not furnishing evidence of vaccination, he said.

On boosters, Minor said he believes those will soon become more widely available for certain demographics and it’s unlikely there would be a shortage for anyone who wants one.

Graduate studies

Stacey Bent, vice provost for graduate education and postdoctoral affairs and the Jagdeep and Roshni Singh Professor in the School of Engineering, provided highlights of the state of graduate and postdoctoral education at Stanford, alerted senators to ongoing priorities and announced two new fellowship opportunities in support of the university’s Long-Range Vision and IDEAL initiatives.

In detailing demographics, Bent noted there have been significant increases in the percentage of underrepresented groups in the graduate and postdoctoral populations.

When questioned about what she attributes to achieving these percentage gains, Bent credited recruitment work by faculty and admissions committees as well as fewer requirements for the GRE on applications, which may have allowed for a more diverse applicant pool. However, she cautioned that numbers remain relatively small and her office is committed to supporting local efforts through the IDEAL Graduate Recruitment Initiative.

Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars have lived, studied and conducted research on campus throughout the pandemic and like many, have been significantly impacted by academic disruptions and uncertainty related to job loss, child care and more, Bent said.

“Fortunately, the research on campus … was able to resume relatively quickly and safely and that has allowed many graduate students and postdocs to continue with their research and job search plans promptly,” she said.

Graduate degree conferral was not significantly impacted in the 2020-21 academic year, but impact from the pandemic may be felt over the next few years, she said. As such, the provost has already committed significant COVID-delay funding for doctoral students over the past year and next year. There have also been several strategies such as additional teaching assistantships and fellowships to help students to finish their degrees.

In discussing housing and health care affordability, Bent said it continues to be a major challenge.

Bent highlighted the Escondido Village Graduate Residences that opened in August 2020 as Stanford’s largest-ever housing development, housing 2,400 students. About 70 percent of enrolled graduate students are now in Stanford-subsidized housing. This year, more than 97 percent of the graduate housing applicants were able to be placed, with about 500 people off campus.

Bent credited some gains to Affordability Task Force recommendations:

  • Expansion of need-based financial support programs for graduates and postdocs this year, such as family grants for graduate students and postdocs with dependent children and an emergency aid program for unexpected expenses
  • Expansion of programs to be flexible in what expenses they could support, and in some cases, the maximum grant size was increased
  • A nearly $6 million annual gap funding program that provides a 12-month funding commitment over five years to help reduce uncertainty for doctoral students and faculty who work with them

In addition, the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education (VPGE) disbursed $40 million in competitive university-wide fellowships to 714 doctoral students in 2020-21, Bent said.

Of note, there’s an increasing cost of graduate education at the university, Bent said.

The minimum rate for teaching and research assistants has increased 44 percent over eight years, she explained. This in turn makes it increasingly difficult for faculty with research assistants and impacts budgets and schools.


Bent also discussed signature programs of VPGE and the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs supporting diversity recruitment goals of the IDEAL Initiative, such as the Diversifying Academia, Recruiting Excellence, or DARE Doctoral Fellowship, and Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education, or EDGE Doctoral Fellowship.

These now include two new fellowship programs: PRISM and RAISE.

The Postdoctoral Recruitment Initiative in Sciences and Medicine, or PRISM, Fellowship supports postdoc diversity by providing travel funds and programming for prospective postdocs to support their faculty interviews, Bent said. PRISM has received a generous donation to build on the success of the pilot program by providing for half of the fellows’ first-year support, 10 fellows a year and two-year seed funding. It also allows for support of faculty who are committed to providing an inclusive training environment and may not have funding immediately available.

Research, Action and Impact for Strategic Engagement, or RAISE, Doctoral Fellowship Program awards three-year fellowships to doctoral students motivated to make positive contributions to the world through research and scholarship. It includes a path for research to action through experiential learning, partnership building, skill development and issue-focused cohorts. The inclusive funding model for RAISE includes a three-year, 25 percent fellowship with flexible pathways to integrate doctoral requirements.

“It’s really important that we focus on improving their experience and training here and prepare them to have this positive impact on the world,” Bent said.

More details on the new fellowships are expected to be released soon.

In other actions, the Faculty Senate heard a memorial resolution honoring Jared Tinklenberg, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral science and founder of the Stanford/Veterans Affairs Alzheimer’s Disease Center. He died Nov. 18 at the age of 80.