President’s comments to the annual meeting of the Academic Council, May 11, 2017

Today is my first Academic Council meeting since becoming Stanford’s president a little over eight months ago. I am so honored by the opportunity to reflect on the state of our extraordinary university.

As part of that reflection, my remarks today must begin with a deep appreciation to all of you.

On a personal level, my family and I are so very grateful for how warmly we have been embraced by the Stanford community. We love calling Stanford home.

As president, I am particularly humbled to serve after John Hennessy’s extraordinary tenure. John, and John Etchemendy, were responsible for facilitating the expansion of Stanford’s capacity as a world-leading, game-changing research university.

I am very fortunate to follow their example, and for the opportunity to work with all of you to build on the accomplishments of the last 16 years.

I am particularly grateful to my leadership partner in this endeavor, Provost Persis Drell. It’s just such an incredible honor and joy to work side-by-side with Persis to sustain the full breadth of Stanford’s excellence across the arts, the humanities, the social sciences, the sciences, engineering, and the professional disciplines.

Persis and I also aligned on the importance of academic freedom, free expression, diversity and inclusion, as well as on the urgency of doing all we can do to ensure our campus is safe including the importance of meaningfully addressing, and ultimately eliminating, sexual assault on our campus.

 Affordability for our faculty, students, and staff is also something we agree must be tackled urgently in the years to come as we consider how best to move the university forward.

Persis and I are both thrilled and humbled to work with you on all of these topics and more – to strengthen the university’s foundation and imagine new and even greater heights for the university.

What makes Stanford great is not the rankings and the accolades, but the spirit that has led to such superlative accomplishments: Excellence to benefit humanity.

We are more than a very fortunate university; we are a very fortunate community.

And, as we all know, of those to whom much is entrusted, much is expected.

Among the highlights of my first eight months, my exchanges with faculty, students, staff alumni have been some of the most enjoyable. During Faculty Senate meetings, meetings with department chairs, town halls, advisory council meetings, dorm dinners, sessions with student groups, all-staff meetings throughout campus, as well as in many other venues, we have talked about a range of essential topics.

We have discussed the importance of academic breadth and depth – that we must continue to highlight the importance of the arts, humanities and social sciences at Stanford alongside our strengths in the sciences and engineering.

We have talked about the equal importance of fundamental research and applied research, and wondered about the breakthroughs that are possible within the next five, 10 and 25 years.

We have talked about how to improve diversity and foster inclusiveness within our student and faculty communities, if we are to become the best university we can be.

We have spent considerable time discussing some of the biggest challenges we face on campus and also in the context of the larger world. From sexual assault, to immigration restrictions, to the threat of war, to the dangers of climate change, to our hopes for better human understanding – we have had occasion to talk about many urgent issues in my first year.

What has become clear to me is that Stanford and our country’s leading research universities are relied upon to nourish the brightest minds, explore the most intriguing mysteries of the universe and address the most complicated challenges facing society.

Whether we are on the verge of breakthroughs to cure disease, innovating approaches to education or convening the leading minds to eradicate poverty, everything that happens on this campus also matters to people across the country and throughout the world.

Given the stakes, our purpose as a university will always require our humility – to make sure that Stanford and our students continue to be of utmost usefulness to the world.

When I started, of course, I knew Stanford was an exceptional place. But serving as President has brought me into even closer contact with you and the game-changing teaching and scholarship happening across campus.

From the hospitals, to the law clinics, to executive education – and in classrooms and research labs – Stanford really is home to the extraordinary.

And yet, keeping pace with our excellence are the world’s challenges.

One member of the faculty, Juliet Brodie, recently said, “Great research universities don’t happen by accident.”

Through intention, planning, and execution, we chart our course.

This is why, in consultation with leaders throughout the university, Persis and I immediately made a decision to initiate a large-scale, university-wide long-range planning process – a process that engages the entire campus community in making Stanford the best university we can be, and more.

Now, some had counseled to wait a year or longer. I can certainly understand why. They suggested that we get settled first and get to know everyone. Don’t be too ambitious in your first year, they said.

Others have suggested, and I can’t agree more, that no one wants another process in which input is requested and then ignored.

 Yet, after so many conversations throughout campus, Persis and I became persuaded of the value of embarking right away on a community-wide long-range planning process.

 We’re committed to a genuinely inclusive and collaborative process that engages a diversity of perspectives and opinions to create a shared vision for Stanford’s future. We are so grateful for so many members of the faculty who have, for months, been working on developing a sincerely inclusive and collaborative long-range planning process.

We put out a call, as you know, to the Stanford community to generate innovative ideas for advancing frontiers, strengthening foundations, stimulating synergies and anticipating change in Stanford’s approach.

We have launched a website, planning.stanford.edu, and we are now in the process of receiving ideas and proposals in four main areas.

Those areas are Education, Research, Our Community, and Beyond Stanford. And the deadline to submit ideas, as you know, is July 1st.

In this meeting, I have invited four members of the faculty to join us to discuss the long-range planning process. I would now like to ask the members of the panel to come up to the stage. These are members of the faculty who are helping to lead the long-range planning process by serving as co-chairs of one of the four areas. Once they are seated, I will introduce them and moderate a discussion on their role in the long-range planning process.

[Discussion follows with Stacey Bent, professor of chemical engineering and senior associate dean for faculty and academic affairs; Juliet Brodie, associate dean of clinical education, professor (teaching) of law and director of the Mills Legal Clinic; Ramesh Johari, associate professor of management science and engineering; and Kathryn “Kam” Moler, professor of physics and of applied physics and senior associate dean for the natural sciences.]