Dear Stanford community,

I hope you have had a restful and enjoyable winter break, in anticipation of the upcoming start of our winter quarter. With the series of storms we have been experiencing in Northern California, I also send good wishes for you and your families’ safety and well-being.

As the university reopens from the winter close, I want to address an issue that arose at the beginning of the break when prominent media outlets reported about a website for Stanford’s Information Technology (IT) community that discussed an “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative” undertaken by that community.

This website was sponsored by the CIO Council, a group made up of information technology leaders from Stanford’s schools and administrative units, and its stated purpose was to educate members of the IT community about potential harmful effects of word choices in websites and software code. It is not unusual at Stanford for websites to be created for specific unit purposes without representing formal university-wide policy. The initiative was undertaken by well-intentioned staff as they sought to promote an inclusive community, but, as the university CIO has explained, the approach taken missed the mark so the website has been taken down and the program is being re-evaluated.

Two important points I want to make:

First, to reiterate: At no point did the website represent university policy.

Second, many have expressed concern that the work of this group could be used to censor or cancel speech at Stanford. I want to assure you this is not the case. From the beginning of our time as Stanford leaders, Persis and I have vigorously affirmed the importance and centrality of academic freedom and the rights of voices from across the ideological and political spectrum to express their views at Stanford. I want to reaffirm those commitments today in the strongest terms.

Advancing inclusion also remains a critical objective for our university. Persis and I continue to believe, as we wrote in 2017, that the free expression of ideas and an inclusive community are essential parts of the same whole. Our efforts to advance inclusion must remain consistent with our commitment to academic freedom and free expression.

I value your partnership as we continue to work together in pursuit of these important goals. An upcoming Faculty Senate meeting will provide a near-term venue for continued discussion of these issues.


Marc Tessier-Lavigne