As the university transitions out of its emergency response to the pandemic, undergraduate education is assessing how to best support students while addressing issues exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic, said Sarah Church, vice provost for undergraduate education and professor of physics, in a report to the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

In remarks to the senate, Provost Persis Drell said the university is seeing a continued rise in COVID cases among students on campus.

“We suspect the numbers being reported are in fact an undercounting of actual cases because we are now where people are using the rapid antigen tests and don’t always report in to us. However, as of this morning we have 288 students in isolation,” she said. “This is really just a reminder that although requirements for face coverings have eased externally, we strongly encourage masking, regardless of vaccination status, both indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.”

Masking continues to be required in classrooms and on Marguerite buses. Though not required, COVID testing remains available and is strongly recommended when someone is experiencing symptoms, Drell said.

Senators also voted to approve a proposed emergency governance policy and heard a report on the expansion of campus security cameras.

Undergraduate education

Students are facing significant mental health and well-being challenges, Church told the senate.

“Nobody really thrived during the pandemic, but there were definitely groups of students who were more affected than others,” Church said. “This for me really shone even more of a light on the need to understand what students from different kinds of experiences and preparation need coming into college.”

As part of a strategic response, the office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) is focusing on support for the new capstone requirement, continued implementation of the first-year Civic, Liberal, and Global Education (COLLEGE) program, expansion of the Leland Scholars Program, and strengthening its support for First-Gen and/or Low-Income (FLI) students, among other efforts.

Also, VPUE will be joining the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy (C-USP) to study the role of grading in the first year.

Church pointed out that many students valorize overcommitment and jam-packed schedules, with negative consequences for their well-being. Some senators expressed a need to better communicate to students the importance of slowing down and broadening their educational experiences.

Ken Schultz, professor of political science, asked how undergraduates are being impacted by the larger incoming class sizes as a result of the pandemic.

Church said VPUE is monitoring those impacts, which include a lack of bike racks, laundry facilities, and classroom space, as well as a shortage of Introductory Seminars, which are considered to be key experiences for students and are often taught by junior faculty.

“Quite rightly, many departments have been protecting junior faculty who have been very impacted by the pandemic,” Church said. “But one of the consequences of that was that we did not have enough IntroSems in the fall quarter to offer students, and that led to a lot of frustration amongst incoming first-years.”

Security system expansion

This summer, Stanford will expand its video safety and security systems (VSSS) to help promote campus safety and assist in investigations into theft, trespassing and more, according to a report from the Committee on Academic Computing and Information Systems (C-ACIS). The expansion will include camera installations at several student residence buildings and the Wilbur Parking Garage.

There are already approximately 460 cameras in a variety of campus buildings and 350 more in the School of Medicine, said Mark Horowitz, chair of C-ACIS and the Yahoo! Founders Professor in the School of Engineering and professor of computer science and of electrical engineering.

“There’s been a lot of concern right now about auto catalytic converter thefts, auto thefts, and bicycle thefts, but Stanford has not in the past put video cameras in public places,” Horowitz said.

In 2021, the provost requested that the Infrastructure Safety and Security Committee look into a cohesive and strategic plan around cameras as a security resource for the university, said Department of Public Safety Civilian Manager Vince Bergado, which led to the development of standards and strategy documents to strengthen governance for existing and future VSSS standards.

A working group consisting of the Department of Public Safety, University IT, the University Privacy Office, and others created the VSSS standards to guide the systems’ design, use, placement, installation, operation, and maintenance, including how footage will be stored, accessed, and used. In developing these standards, the working group had reached out to C-AIS for key feedback, which included input from students in a computer science class focused on ethics, public policy, and technology, Horowitz said.

“Students provided really important feedback, and that actually really did change how we wrote the standards,” said Chief Information Officer Steve Gallagher.

Cameras will primarily be directed at building entrances and other areas where a security assessment found risk to safety or property. The cameras won’t be installed where there is expectation of privacy, such as in living spaces or residential lounges. As is the case with existing security cameras, the video won’t be routinely monitored in real time and Stanford will not use facial recognition software in operating the system.

There will now also be an annual review process of VSSS standards with a usage report to the Faculty Senate.

“This is all in the effort of making sure that we have a prioritized deployment of VSSS across the campus and improve the safety and security posture while also upholding the standards for privacy that Stanford has already committed to,” Bergado said.

Several senators voiced concerns about the expansion project, including Philip Levis, associate professor of computer science and of electrical engineering, who said, “Once you record things, the cat is out of the bag and very, very open to abuse and misuse.”

Levis questioned the effectiveness of cameras as a crime deterrent and investigation tool. He said since the video footage could be accessed by law enforcement, “I would not want Stanford to be the tool of some actions that we do not approve of.”

Stanford Director of Public Safety Laura Wilson said there has been some success in identifying people who committed crimes but added that the research is mixed regarding whether cameras are a good deterrent.

“It’s a tool, not the absolute solution,” said Wilson, noting that things like environmental design also impact those issues.

Brooks Benard, Graduate Student Council representative, said he had two bikes stolen and knows many people who have had bicycles and packages stolen. While he personally is in favor of the cameras, he said he didn’t know to what end undergraduate and graduate students were involved in the project and felt they should be more actively engaged on the issue.

Bergado said the university is working to communicate the project more broadly to student groups and to better understand and address concerns as the project advances. Also, a point of contact will be added to the VSSS standards page to collect feedback and answer questions.

Emergency governance

Senators voted to approve a proposed emergency governance policy that can be triggered in the case of emergencies and clarifies the procedure for decision-making authority in the case of emergencies that prevent the convening of the senate or Steering Committee.

During the pandemic, there have often been Faculty Senate decisions related to COVID-19 that needed to be made quickly due to rapidly changing circumstances. To do so, the Faculty Senate approved a policy in May 2020 allowing the Senate Steering Committee to decide whether a matter related to COVID-19 needed to come before the full senate or could be handled by the Steering Committee in an administrative session.

The newly approved policy allows the Steering Committee to conduct emergency-related business on behalf of the senate and details how it may be carried out.

Steering Committee

On behalf of the Senate, the Steering Committee approved several recommendations considered in administrative session shortly before the Faculty Senate convened:

  • To eliminate the 15-unit cap for online transfer work for undergraduate transfer credit
  • To modify process verbiage to allow students to seek and obtain department review of transfer credit without needing to first obtain coursework review and approval from the registrar’s office

The committee also approved recommendations for military student accommodations as stated in the Military Accommodations Incomplete Grading and Leave of Absence policies to allow for more flexibility.

In memory

In other matters, senators also heard memorial resolutions for James Meindl and Lawrence V. Ryan.

Meindl, the John M. Fluke Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, died June 7, 2020. He was 87.

Ryan, 96, the Joseph S. Atha Professor in Humanities, Emeritus, died Nov. 23, 2019.