Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Sarah Church addresses the Faculty Senate during a presentation on undergraduate education on Thursday. (Image credit: Harry Gregory)

The Faculty Senate discussed ways faculty can further support undergraduates, held a discussion with the presidential search committee, and approved the charge of an Academic Integrity Working Group, which was created this year as part of an approved proposal to update the university’s Honor Code, during its Thursday meeting.

In his remarks to senators, President Richard Saller acknowledged that it is a challenging time as the violence in Israel and Gaza continues, and that an atmosphere of anger and fear pervades many campus communities.

“Provost [Jenny] Martinez and I view our primary responsibility as to protect the campus safety and well-being, and to protect academic freedom,” Saller said.

Martinez and Saller have been meeting with student groups, and the Department of Public Safety and other campus units are monitoring and responding to incidents. Saller urged faculty to be flexible and understanding with students who may be directly affected by the violence, and to be prepared to give extensions on work.

Jonathan Berk, the A.P. Giannini Professor of Finance, voiced concerns about the university’s role in creating a climate on campus where people struggle to accept differences of opinion and cast moral judgments on those they don’t agree with.

Saller noted that the Civic, Liberal, and Global Education (COLLEGE) first-year curriculum on citizenship seeks to address this very problem by teaching students how to engage in respectful discourse, but said that the international climate at this time makes it more challenging. This is a significant issue facing peer institutions as well, he added.

In her address to senators, Martinez thanked Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) Sarah Church, who will be stepping down from her vice provost position at the end of the quarter due to health reasons.

“She oversaw the launch of the COLLEGE curriculum and helped guide our educational continuity efforts through the course of the pandemic, and has been a champion of the Leveling the Learning Landscape initiative, among many other things,” Martinez said. Church is “a tireless advocate for our students and for the value of our undergraduate education.”

In her last presentation to the senate, Church shared that, many years ago, she was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Church said that she’s been struggling with it for a year, and wanted others who might be wrestling with major depressive disorder or depression to know that it’s still possible to “do great things” even with the challenge.

Senators responded with a standing ovation.

Referring to it as one of the great things she gets to do in her position, Church announced the 2023 Bass University Fellows for their extraordinary contributions to undergraduate education.

Flexibility and compromise

Church shared highlights from VPUE’s successes over the past year, including the expansion of the COLLEGE program and launching Leveling the Learning Landscape, an initiative to support First Generation and/or Low-income (FLI) students. The latter includes the Stanford Summer Fellows Program for FLI rising sophomores and the Curriculum Transformation Institute, which supports faculty as they reimagine and rework introductory curricula to better support students.

Looking ahead, faculty have several key opportunities to strengthen the undergraduate experience, said Church.

This includes consistent practices around academic support for students with accessibility challenges and documented disabilities, and for supporting student-athletes in a changing national landscape, Church said.

The Faculty Senate can also play a leading role in addressing increased friction and a decline in trust between faculty and students in the classroom on issues such as deadline flexibility, academic integrity, bias, and microaggressions, she added.

For example, students may feel that exposure to some ideas in class is harmful to them while faculty feel free expression and open discussion of ideas is the bedrock of higher education. Or, students feel faculty who are not flexible jeopardize their mental health and well-being, while faculty don’t feel they can be flexible if they are to be fair to other students.

VPUE does not have authority over these issues, Church said, nor can individual schools or departments dictate policies or practices that extend beyond their individual boundaries. “There’s no other body that can really solve some of these issues, other than the Faculty Senate and its committees,” Church said.

Graduate students, who often are teaching undergraduates, should be a key part of this conversation as they may understand the issue better than some faculty, said Gabriella Safran, the Eva Chernov Lokey Professor of Jewish Studies.

Eric S.G. Shaqfeh, the Lester Levi Carter Professor and Professor in Mechanical Engineering, said it would be “incredibly helpful” for him to talk with other faculty about student accessibility issues he encounters, and brainstorm potential solutions. Church agreed and said VPUE, the Office of Student Affairs, and the Office of Accessible Education can facilitate those conversations.

A student representative said some faculty are not flexible in response to illness such as COVID, which feels contrary to messages to stay home if you feel ill. Church said faculty should show students flexibility to finish the work, not flexibility to do the work. Also, it’s unhelpful when students “name and shame” faculty online, she said. “My final plea is to try to come over those barriers, get together, and talk,” Church added.

Presidential search committee co-chairs Gene Sykes (left), Lily Sarafan (center), and Bonnie Maldonado discuss the process to hire Stanford’s next president and heard input from faculty at the Faculty Senate meeting on Thursday. Sykes and Sarafran are both members of the board of trustees, and Maldonado is senior associate dean for faculty development and diversity, the Taube Professor of Global Health and Infectious Diseases, and professor of epidemiology and population health.

The search

Members of the presidential search committee visited with senators to provide an overview of the process to hire Stanford’s next president and hear input from faculty.

“Our goal is to understand the community’s expectations and aspirations for our next president,” said Lily Sarafran, committee co-chair and member of the Board of Trustees. “We aim to cast a very wide net and also listen deeply.”

There are three major phases of the search: the community engagement phase, building the candidate pool, and narrowing down the pool for interviews, due diligence, and selection, explained Gene Sykes, committee co-chair and member of the Board of Trustees. The committee is working with an outside search firm with experience in this process.

As part of the first phase, a survey has been shared with the university community. Nearly 1,000 campus community members, as well as almost 3,400 alumni and parents of undergraduates, have responded so far.

Several senators said they would like to see the committee improve the process of due diligence during the search, citing concerns over previous searches. Sykes said that has been the topic of several discussions within the committee and that there are plans to conduct due diligence “in a way that was not done in the previous search.”

Other senators emphasized the importance of improving trust between leadership and students, as well as protecting academic freedom, and freedom of speech.

“At Stanford, there are just very large numbers of faculty and students who feel they cannot speak their minds across a very wide range of issues, for fear of career-threatening consequences …,” said Jeffrey Zwiebel, the James C. Van Horne Professor of Finance. “And this really strikes at the very heart of what a university is and what the university should be.”

Dan Edelstein, the William H. Bonsall Professor of French and professor, by courtesy, of history and of political science, added that the next president should understand how different this generation of students is from others. “They’ve grown up in an entirely different environment, a different media environment … It really feels essential that the next president really understand what’s changed so that we can address these other problems that are flaring up in a more holistic way.”

Other senators voiced a desire for the next president to be more transparent about decisions that are made, to inspire trust in their commitment to the community’s well-being, to be authentic and empathetic in their communications, and to be skilled at finding common ground across communities.

“What we really need is somebody who can challenge us all to be our better selves in a way that brings people together,” said Ross Shachter, associate professor of management science and engineering.

University community members can contact to share thoughts, and direct nominations, with the search committee for consideration.

Stanford’s academic landscape

The Academic Integrity Working Group (AIWG) is charged with studying Stanford’s academic landscape to identify the scope of academic dishonesty, its root causes, and the interplay of the state of academic integrity and pedagogical practices in use. The group will recommend policy changes and other measures to address these concerns.

Beginning this academic year, the AIWG is also tasked with carrying out a multi-year study of equitable in-person proctoring practices to answer student questions during exams and promote academic integrity by supervising the assessment process.

The AIWG will produce a final report – available to the university community – to advise Stanford administrators and governance bodies on any potential changes related to academic integrity and Stanford’s proctoring policy.