Committee on University Speech Chair Bernadette Meyler provides an interim report on the committee’s work to the Faculty Senate on Thursday, Jan 25. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

During its first meeting of the winter quarter on Thursday, the Faculty Senate was briefed on efforts to improve guidelines and protections for speech in the university.

It also heard a presentation on how the federal government’s increased focus on research security is impacting Stanford’s research.

In addressing the senate, President Richard Saller said he remains focused as president on protecting academic freedom. Therefore, “I want to reassert that I am not going to issue statements about international affairs or national affairs except insofar as they may have a direct impact on the university and its mission,” he said.

In her remarks, Provost Jenny Martinez named the members of the search committees for the new vice provost for student affairs and the vice provost for undergraduate education, and she announced two student advisory committees created to support those searches.

Martinez also announced the appointment of a committee to revise the Protected Identity Harm Reporting process, which has garnered faculty concerns about its impact on freedom of speech and academic freedom, as well as confusion as to how it operates.

Martinez concluded by reminding senators that Stanford’s policy on campus disruptions also applies to disruptions of classrooms. “There are many times and places on campus for people to exercise their right to free speech,” Martinez said. “We don’t want to stop the content of people’s speech, but we really want them to do that in times, places, and manners that don’t disrupt our educational activities like in a classroom.”

Faculty resources regarding classroom disruptions are available on the Teaching Commons website.

University speech

Faculty will play a crucial role alongside university leadership in addressing a breakdown in trust in regards to questions of speech around campus, said Bernadette Meyler, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on University Speech, during an interim report about the committee’s work.

The committee was created last year after some faculty voiced concerns about perceived threats to academic freedom as well as a language initiative initiated by staff that garnered national criticism. However, other events have since brought up further questions of free speech and academic freedom and have made it more crucial for the Faculty Senate to clarify the university’s stance, as both a conceptual and policy matter, said Meyler, the Carl and Sheila Spaeth Professor of Law.

The committee found that many members of the Stanford community are still unclear on what is considered protected speech, or how the university decides what falls under that category. The result, Meyler said, is that some people are fearful of speaking out while others push the boundaries of what is permissible without even knowing they are doing so.

Meyler also noted that ​​many perceive the university’s decision to speak out on an issue or not signals a preference or an endorsement of a particular viewpoint, and that there can be a chilling of speech even in absence of explicit university restrictions due to the proliferation of recording devices and the risks associated with going viral.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that time, place, and manner restrictions can be consistent with the protections afforded by the First Amendment, Meyler said, and the committee is working on recommendations that would distinguish the public square – like White Plaza – from the classroom or dorm.

The committee’s recommendations will focus on articulating clear principles for protecting speech throughout university processes; establishing mechanisms for ensuring that protection; and training students, staff, and faculty on those principles.

The goal, Meyler said, is not just establishing new rules around university speech, but promulgating the values of free expression throughout the community. “How do we disseminate these values more generally throughout the university?”

Multiple senators asked for more details regarding when university leadership should speak on an issue, and Graduate School of Business Dean Jonathan Levin said issuing a statement with absolute moral clarity shortly after an incident does not reflect how the university wants its students to act.

“I think it models the wrong thing for our students, and it actually undermines our basic educational mission …,” Levin said. “We want them to think slowly, to hear from different people, to weigh things carefully, and we should model that and have the focus after an event in the world to be around listening and learning.”

Joseph Lipsick, professor of pathology and of genetics, said that it would help to clarify the approach for how leadership approaches making statements going forward. Meyler added that it would be best for the senate to be the body that sets a paradigm for the university, rather than looking to the actions of past administrations for guidance.

The committee will continue to meet with campus leaders, solicit input from students, and finalize its audit of Stanford institutions and policies that impact speech, among other actions, before providing a final report in late spring.


The federal government’s longstanding concern regarding research security is intensifying with rapidly expanding rules and requirements focusing on university research and international engagement, said Jessa Albertson, senior director of research security.

Concerns include how adversarial foreign governments are exploiting the openness of university research in ways that threaten U.S. national security and competitiveness, such as acquiring sensitive technologies to advance military capabilities.

This has translated to legislation such as the 2021 National Security Presidential Memorandum-33, and the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, the latter of which requires research security training for covered personnel.

Many faculty have already felt the impact of the increased rules and requirements on research as well as a chilling effect on international collaborations, which is essential to the production of knowledge and Stanford’s research mission, said George Triantis, senior associate vice provost for research, and the Charles J. Meyers Professor in Law and Business.

While Stanford is committed to open research, the federal government holds legitimate concerns regarding foreign collaboration, such as the window of vulnerability between when a research discovery is made and when the findings are published and disseminated, Triantis explained. Further, there is concern about how graduate students or postdocs may be constrained from participating in sensitive research as well as how these increasing requirements may impinge on Stanford’s fundamental standards of research.

Stanford’s response is focused on complying with regulatory requirements while staying true to principles of openness and nondiscrimination, said David Studdert, vice provost and dean of research, and professor of health policy and of law.

“We’re trying to take a kind of pragmatic case-by-case approach as these matters come up,” Studdert said.

This includes properly resourcing the Research Security Office and the Global Engagement Review Program; advocacy through conversations with funding partners in Washington; and a major initiative by the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research (VPDoR) to increase the quality and efficiency of pre-award disclosures and Conflict of Interest/Conflict of Commitment reporting.

As higher education falls further into political crosshairs, the burden, complexity, and cost of research security requirements are likely to increase, and if so, using a case-by-case approach may not be sustainable, Studdert added.

Geophysics Professor Rosemary Knight wondered whether the rising costs of ensuring compliance outweighed the cost of noncompliance. The vast majority of what is being considered are areas where outside regulators, particularly the federal government, are implementing requirements, Studdert said, and the university must comply in order to not breach federal law.

Another senator asked about the difference between sponsored research versus gifts, and permissible administrative controls in that area. Studdert said it’s an area VPDoR is looking at. “I think issues of academic freedom are much more closely connected to sponsored research than they are to gifts, and I think we need to kind of articulate why that is and have a clearer sense of what the rules are here,” Studdert said.

In memory

Senators heard memorial resolutions for Shoshana Levy, Perry McCarty, and Howard Sussman.

Levy, a professor of oncology, died Nov. 16, 2022, at 83. McCarty, 91, the Silas H. Palmer Professor in Civil Engineering, Emeritus, and former chair of the Department of Civil Engineering, died June 4, 2023. Sussman was an emeritus professor of pathology who died at age 87 on July 14, 2022.

Meyler is ​​also the associate dean for research at the Stanford Law School, and a professor, by courtesy, of English and comparative literature.

Knight is the George L. Harrington Professor in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability and a senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment.