My role in this annual meeting is to give remarks on the state of the university. It has been a tumultuous year. When Chair of the Board Jerry Yang asked me to take on the interim presidency, there was no thought of the dissolution of our 109-year-old athletic conference and then shortly afterward a tragic war in the Middle East. In the next few minutes, I want to offer a realistic report and assessment of each and how they affect our basic mission of excellence with integrity in research, education, and clinical care.

Let me start with the war and campus protests. In the week following the terrorist attack of Oct. 7, Provost Martinez and I came to see that our primary responsibility was to protect the physical safety of the campus community while preserving space for expression of First Amendment-protected free speech. It was not to announce our personal judgments or to claim to speak for the institution, since members of our community hold different and sometimes conflicting views. Preservation of the safety of the campus required that we be sensitive to the changing context both locally and nationally.

The war in the Middle East has pitted student against student and generated bitter complaints from our alumni, as well as a stream of negative media coverage. At the extreme, some of this coverage included claims of mobs rampaging around our campus. In talking to our students I have felt their intense pain of loss, but “rampaging mobs” is obviously a caricature.

The administration has worked diligently to try to calm the waters. The provost and I have met repeatedly with students engaged in activism. A team from the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs, the Office for Religious and Spiritual Life, the Department of Public Safety, the Office of General Counsel, and Building 10 have met daily, morning and night, including weekends, to monitor the situation and to discuss the best approach to avoid violence and to minimize disruption.

We added round-the-clock security and cameras to maintain safety, especially of White Plaza, our free speech zone. We have watched the news reports from other campuses around the country to learn lessons about the most effective course of action, knowing that we are not able to exert mind control to limit all unacceptable behavior.

So far, Stanford has fared better than some of our peers. We are engaged in planning to have a celebratory commencement. I want to thank those on the team who have devoted endless hours.

In the longer run, there is much work to be done to suppress antisemitism and Islamophobia, which have no place in our community. I am grateful to the two committees who are gathering information and providing recommendations to improve the campus climate.

As I said, our approach has been partly informed by the changing context, including the House hearings on Dec. 5 and April 17. Over the past five months, elite universities have become a focal issue in national and state politics. It is crucial that we act responsibly to protect the integrity of our institution in a period of intense political scrutiny.

With the dissolution of the Pac-12 and Stanford’s transition to the ACC this summer, we solved one challenge – but it turns out to be just the beginning of more challenges. Stanford is rightly proud of its unique position as the leader in college sports as well as research and education. Stanford has provided more Olympic athletes than any other university, and an Athletic Advisory Committee has been formed to support our ambitions.

Our student-athletes were very clear that they needed membership in a Power 4 Conference to compete at the highest level. A task force is working on ways to mitigate the impact of travel on the academic experience of athletes. But it is also clear that college sports are profoundly changing, fueled by issues such as Name, Image, and Likeness payments, collectives, revenue-sharing with athletes, and obligations of Title IX.

There is broad consensus among university presidents that federal regulations to put some boundaries around these trends would be hugely beneficial. In the meantime, it will be a challenge for the university to maintain the primacy of the “student” in “student-athlete.”

In the midst of the tumult, the great work of our faculty and students continues unabated. Let me point to a few examples:

  • This year, the university acquired a major research tool for historians and conservationists: the archives of Tompkins Conservation and the personal archives of its co-founders, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins and the late Douglas R. Tompkins. These historical, legal, and scientific records shed light on the work Tompkins Conservation has done over three decades to protect 14.8 million acres of land and 30 million acres of ocean in Argentina and Chile. The archives will be of great benefit to faculty and students conducting field studies and research in Chile and Argentina, as well as those interested in land conservation initiatives.

  • Stanford medical research has made a breakthrough in treating depression by reversing brain signals. Nolan Williams, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and his team have revealed that transcranial magnetic stimulation treats depression by correcting the abnormal flow of brain signals. In patients treated with the therapy, the neural activity flow shifted to the normal direction within a week, coinciding with a lifting of depression.

  • Anne Dekas, in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, is senior author of a study that expands the possibilities for where life might be found. The discovery of microbes in extremely salty water suggests life may survive conditions previously thought to be uninhabitable. The finding widens possibilities for where life may be found throughout our solar system and shows how changes in salinity may affect life in aquatic habitats on Earth.

  • In our mission to benefit society by using technology to reduce social inequity, a team of researchers led by Jackelyn Hwang, assistant professor of sociology, and Hae Young Noh and Sarah Billington, professors of civil and environmental engineering, have used vehicle-mounted sensors, cameras, and other devices to assess neighborhood conditions, such as air pollution, potholes, building deterioration. Their data can enable cities to be more targeted in how they use limited resources to address inequalities. The goal is to improve well-being of people and communities and shrink the gap between haves and have-nots.

  • And, in our mission to make scientific research accessible, Christopher Gardner’s study comparing the impacts of vegan and omnivore diets in identical twins became the Netflix hit You Are What You Eat.

  • This important work needs to be better supported by the university. Last fall, I announced that ex-Provost John Etchemendy would provide a study with an inventory of suboptimal processes requiring redesign to simplify and expedite research. He is finishing that study, and I will work with Provost Martinez and President-designate Levin on next steps for implementation.

Let me end my report with a quotation from the speech of John Gardner at the inauguration of Stanford’s ill-fated sixth President, Ken Pitzer, in 1968 during the violent Vietnam War era: “We have now proven beyond argument that a university community can make life unlivable for a president. We can make him a scapegoat for every failure of the institution. We can use him as the target for all the hostility that is in us. We can fight so savagely among ourselves that he is clawed to ribbons in the process. We have yet to prove that we can provide the kind of atmosphere in which a good man can survive.”

This statement is for me a stark reminder that, while the past eight-and-a-half months have not been easy, I am deeply grateful for the broad support of most of the community and for the outstanding leadership of Provost Martinez, who, like me, had no idea what she was getting into when she accepted the job last summer.

I trust that our new President, Jon Levin, will enjoy the same support to ensure that Stanford continues to lead the world in research, education, and clinical care. President Lyman concludes his book, Stanford in Turmoil, with the observation that, despite the violent protests during the Vietnam War era, Stanford came out of the period stronger, rising from a good regional university to become a world-leading university.