Ken Schultz knows politics and conflict well.

Ken Schultz (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Since the 90s, the political science professor has conducted research examining how international conflicts start, and how they get resolved, with a particular focus on the domestic political influences on foreign policy choices.

That expertise will come in handy in his new role as chair of Stanford’s Faculty Senate, where he hopes to bridge differences to have productive discussions and support policy changes.

“There is something fun and challenging in learning about people’s different perspectives and trying to think about what we do agree on, and when there are disagreements, to try to really understand what the core of the disagreement is to see if it can be resolved,” Schultz said.

The Faculty Senate chair is elected by the incoming senate for a one-year term. As chair, Schultz runs the Faculty Senate and its Steering Committee meetings. He will also provide a report at the annual meeting of the Academic Council meeting and sits on the President’s Executive Council.

Since becoming chair, “I’ve enjoyed touching base with different people and getting a sense of what their concerns are, and then thinking about how the senate can productively address those issues,” Schultz said. “The role of chair involves bringing people together and facilitating the senate’s collective decision making.”

Judy Goldstein, the Janet M. Peck Professor of International Communications, a professor of political science, and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, said Schultz is good at listening to diverse viewpoints and is a fair-minded person.

“Given the diverse opinions of the faculty, he will be good at adjudicating amongst them and devising compromise,” said Goldstein, who served as senate chair in the 2020-21 academic year.

Goldstein knew Schultz long before they became colleagues – when Schultz came to Stanford for his PhD nearly 30 years ago, Goldstein taught the first class he took in international relations.

“Ken is the type of person who always seeks, and often finds, a cooperative outcome in even the most conflictual of situations,” Goldstein said.

Swapping particles for humans

Schultz was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in Houston after his family moved there when he was 11. His father Stanley Schultz was a physiologist who spent much of his career at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, where his research contributed to the development of oral rehydration therapy, the main therapy for treating cholera.

His father’s occupation was “crucial to setting me on the path to being an academic,” Schultz said.

Schultz attended Harvard where he initially thought he would be a physics major. Yet as Schultz began working for the student newspaper, he became more interested in politics and the interactions of people than the interactions of particles, he said.

So, he switched majors to Russian and Soviet Studies, given that it was the mid-80s when the Cold War was the thing to study in international politics.

Schultz then headed to Stanford for graduate school and began focusing on larger questions of conflict and cooperation, and how countries solve international disputes.

“When I got here, the world was changing,” Schultz said. “It felt like a very exciting topic with real questions about what the new world would look like, what would be some of the sources of stability or instability. Sometimes it’s a little sad to look back on now because it was a time of optimism, which I feel like we’ve kind of lost.”

Schultz received his PhD from Stanford in 1996 and went on to teach at Princeton and UCLA, before being hired as a tenured faculty member at Stanford in 2004.

Schultz is the author of Democracy and Coercive Diplomacy and co-author of World Politics: Interests, Interactions, and Institutions – a leading introductory textbook – as well as numerous peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles. In 2003, he received the Karl Deutsch Award, given by the International Studies Association, and in 2011, he received the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, awarded by the School of Humanities and Sciences.

He’s currently writing a book about why territorial conquest declined dramatically after World War II. “It’s a very big change in the patterns of international conflict, which I don’t think we fully understand … is it a permanent change? Or is it a temporary change? Is something like the Russian invasion of Ukraine an anomaly, or does this portend a more dangerous future?”

From disagreement to agreement

Schultz served a term on the Faculty Senate from 2010 to 2012, and when he was elected again to the Faculty Senate, he was happy to become involved again.

“In a university, you spend a lot of your time siloed in your department or program and talking to people who work on the same kinds of things that you do in your discipline,” he said. “And the senate has been a real opportunity to interact with people across this university, to learn about what they do, to learn about their concerns, challenges, and priorities. You’re just going to get a better view of the institution that you belong to.”

Mirroring society, the Faculty Senate has tackled important and contentious issues as of late, such as academic freedom and the campus climate. Schultz hopes that continues.

“I think we need to be careful in approaching them, but we shouldn’t shy away from these issues,” he said.

Even as the university returns to most of its pre-pandemic operations, challenges that were brought to the fore or exacerbated by the pandemic will come before the senate this year.

“The faculty are on the front lines and dealing with some of the challenges that arise,” he said. “Student mental health, academic accommodations, the honor code, and judicial procedures – these are all issues that fall within the concern of faculty.”

Schultz praised last year’s chair, Ruth O’Hara, for doing an excellent job fostering civil discourse around difficult issues, and he looks forward to continuing that with the help of the Steering Committee and Vice Chair Deborah Hensler, the Judge John W. Ford Professor of Dispute Resolution in the Law School.

“The senate hears reports and discusses topics that are very important to the university community and to the faculty at large,” Schultz said. “The senate works well when senators have a good sense not only of their own personal feelings but also those of their colleagues. So fostering an interaction whereby faculty know what the senate’s doing, and senators know what their colleagues are thinking, is really important to proper functioning of this kind of body.”