meeting of the Faculty Senate April 11, 2024

Jonathan Berk, the A.P. Giannini Professor of Finance, Stanford Graduate School of Business, (second from left) addresses the Faculty Senate after raising the motion to rescind the 2020 censure of Scott Atlas. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Following lengthy debate, the Faculty Senate on Thursday voted to have a policy board address core governance issues, policies, and procedures related to censure, and review the 2020 censure of Scott Atlas, a Hoover Institution fellow who advised President Donald Trump on COVID issues.

In doing so, the senate chose not to vote on a motion to rescind the original resolution condemning the actions of Atlas. The motion to rescind will return to the Faculty Senate by the end of the Planning and Policy Board’s (PPB) deliberations, which will conclude by the end of October.

The PPB is charged with addressing and providing recommendations to the Steering Committee regarding who the Faculty Senate ultimately represents, whether it is appropriate for the Faculty Senate to censure a university community member, and if so, what are the principles and procedures it must follow.

“Such questions are complex and require broad consultation and deliberation, and the stakes are high,” said Senate Vice Chair Grant Parker, associate professor of classics, of African and African American studies, and, by courtesy, of comparative literature, who raised the motion to send the matter to the PPB. “We need to get it right and that takes time. Any decisions made will have implications for campus culture and our future as a university.”

The PPB consists of the current senate chair, the previous two chairs, and six Academic Council members elected by the Committee on Committees in consultation with the Steering Committee.

Jonathan Berk, the A.P. Giannini Professor of Finance, Stanford Graduate School of Business, had raised the motion to rescind, citing concerns that the Atlas resolution was an “extraordinary rush to judgment” that denied Atlas due process and violated principles of academic freedom.

Provost Emeritus John Etchemendy argued in favor of rescinding the 2020 resolution that condemned Scott Atlas now while the PPB takes up larger questions of senate governance and censure. “Putting it off, turning it over to committee is going to be seen as a transparent attempt not to deal with the issue,” he said. “We clearly did something that we should not have done. We rushed to judgment. It was a difficult time.”

Jeffrey Zwiebel, the James C. Van Horne Professor of Finance, Stanford Graduate School of Business, also supported rescinding the 2020 resolution and said sending it to the PPB would be “peak Stanford bureaucracy.”

Philip Levis, professor of computer science and of electrical engineering, took the alternative view and said that rescinding the 2020 resolution before the PPB had a chance to weigh in would be premature. “If we rescind, and the PPB comes back and says, ‘No, things were fine,’ then what do we do? … We backed ourselves into a corner,” he said.

Several senators said that sending the matter to the PPB would provide it with the careful consideration and deliberation that it deserves.

Julie Parsonnet, the George DeForest Barnett Professor in Medicine and professor of epidemiology and population health, noted that the senate does not currently have processes and procedures in place for censure or, for that matter, rescinding a censure.

Other senators expressed concern about how long the motion to rescind may be delayed. This led to amendment of the resolution, specifying that the motion to rescind would return to the senate by the end of October.

Course materials

The senate also voted against changing the default setting of course materials to “public” on Canvas, with many senators voicing concerns about copyright issues, sensitive topics, and increased risk to instructors and the university.

Canvas is the online platform used for courses at the university.

The Committee on Academic Computing and Information Systems (C-ACIS) had brought the motion, citing potential benefits to students, faculty, the university, and the world at large. Instructors could always change settings to restrict access as needed, said Levis, C-ACIS chair.

Ken Schultz, the William Bennett Munro Professor in Political Science in the School of Humanities and Sciences, argued that the proposal created “unnecessary risk for instructors” because the dangers associated with making sensitive material public are vastly greater than forgetting to change the default setting from private, which can be easily reversed.

“The proposal doesn’t take into account the asymmetry and the risks of making a mistake under the current system,” Schultz said. “We need to protect instructors from the greater and less easily reversible mistake. Making course materials public should be an intentional act, not an act of omission.”

‘Inherently forward-looking’

In addressing the senate and to enthusiastic applause, President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez took the opportunity to congratulate Jonathan Levin on being named the university’s next president. Levin has led the Graduate School of Business (GSB) for the last eight years.

Levin thanked the senate for their efforts in governance and said he is honored, humbled, and excited to lead the university and serve it in this way.

“I still feel that same sense of possibility that I felt the first time I walked onto this campus when I was 17 – that I’m going to be part of some stimulating discussion, or be inspired by a student, or learn something illuminating from a colleague,” Levin said. “We face challenges on campus, nationally, and in fact, around the world. Those challenges will demand focus and attention in order for us to sustain and build the level of excellence to which we all aspire. And yet, Stanford is an inherently forward-looking, innovative, and optimistic place.”

Separately, Martinez announced that she has asked the senate’s Committee on Committees for suggestions of GSB faculty to serve on a search committee for the next dean of the school.

Martinez also announced that a committee tasked with reviewing the Protected Identity Harm Reporting process will be chaired by Diego Zambrano, professor of law and associate dean for global programs at the law school. Additionally, Martinez has asked Russ Altman to chair a working group that will advise her on issues involving artificial intelligence as it relates to the campus enterprise. The provost encouraged faculty who have input on these matters to reach out to the chairs.

In memory

Senators also heard memorial resolutions for Winslow R. Briggs and William H. Northway Jr.

Briggs, a professor emeritus of biological sciences who explained how seedlings grow toward light, died at age 90 on Feb. 11, 2019.

Northway, a professor emeritus of pediatric radiology who discovered a lung condition among premature infants and ways to prevent it, died Jan. 26, 2022, at age 89.

Russ Altman is the Kenneth Fong Professor in the School of Engineering and professor of bioengineering, of genetics, of medicine, and of biomedical data science; a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence; and professor, by courtesy, of computer science.