Fall letter to our community

Dear members of our Stanford community,

In the next few days, many of you will be returning to Stanford or joining our community for the first time. Welcome, and welcome back! Though life always seems busy for people in our community, I hope you have had an opportunity this summer to pause for renewal and relaxation with family and friends.

I’m excited about the approach of a new academic year, and I hope you are, too. The fall quarter brings new beginnings and new possibilities for our shared mission of teaching and research for the benefit of humanity.

As we begin a new year, I believe it’s important both to celebrate the work of our community and to acknowledge issues of concern, where we have much more work to do. I’m writing here – at greater length than usual – to share four things: some notes on the progress of our academic vision and long-range plan; updates on some of our community’s recent accomplishments; thoughts about some of our ongoing issues of concern; and efforts Provost Persis Drell and I will be undertaking to stay in touch with you this year.

Our vision

Stanford has always been about the discovery and transmission of knowledge for beneficial impact in the world. Today, I believe, our country and our world are yearning for at least two things: optimism and responsibility. Optimism, that our people and institutions have the capacity to develop the new ideas that will address the pressing issues facing our country and our planet; responsibility, that as new discoveries and technologies emerge, in both education and research we are intentionally addressing the human implications and our ethical obligations.

These themes are prominent in the vision we have developed together through our university-wide Long-Range Planning process. Work has continued this summer on the major emerging initiatives we announced last spring. Many initiatives are actively launching; some are being refined and will take shape over the course of the fall; some will be going through further assessment of the resources needed to realize their goals. This work has involved faculty, students and staff throughout our university, who have generously invested their time in shaping a compelling path for Stanford that transforms learning and accelerates our beneficial impact in the wider world. You will be hearing much more in the coming weeks and months about our progress on the initiatives that have come out of this collaborative process.

Most immediately, our faculty design teams examining the future of the major and the first-year undergraduate experience have just issued initial proposals that seek to revitalize broad liberal education at Stanford. The faculty, which is responsible for guiding the curriculum, will be reviewing and discussing the recommendations over the coming months. The discussion that will be occurring, about the goals and aims of an undergraduate education, is enormously important to Stanford and lies at the heart of faculty governance.

You are invited to review the proposals here and here, respectively, and to join in the conversation; comments can be sent to the design teams by emailing curriculum-feedback@stanford.edu. Any changes would be for future classes of undergraduates who have not yet enrolled at Stanford. But I believe the discussion will be of interest to our current students, who care deeply about our institution and about the type of academic experience we create for those who will follow. 

Community accomplishments

In addition to work on the vision, we marked other important accomplishments in our community this summer. 

There was a constant flow of news on the contributions of Stanford faculty and students to scholarship in diverse and exciting fields – in areas as varied as Antarctic glacier melt, the intersections of poverty and disease, how language shapes culture, how race influences the judgments of professional investorswireless sensing that tracks human health, and the magnetism of graphene.

In the last few days, the university community and the broader public have been given an advance look at our new Stanford Hospital opening this fall, serving our community and the broader region with world-class precision health care. Our newly reopened Frost Amphitheater held a series of summer concerts in its revitalized space, and most staff finished moving into our new Stanford Redwood City campus. Work progressed on the new Escondido Village Graduate Residences, which will provide greatly expanded on-campus housing for graduate students beginning next year. Elsewhere, we reached agreement with SEIU Local 2007 on a new five-year contract for food service workers, groundskeepers, and other employees who, like our dedicated staff throughout the university, play a vital role in supporting the mission of Stanford. University HR developed a new suite of tools to support the successful onboarding of staff employees who join our community. And the efforts of our student-athletes and coaches brought the Learfield IMG College Directors’ Cup to Stanford for the 25th consecutive year.

Addressing community concerns 

As we look to the fall, we’re also working to make progress on issues that are important to our community, starting with the well-being of our people. 

CAPS recently announced an expansion of its mental health and well-being services, including a new model for getting access to services. We are continuing to give close attention to mental health resources, recognizing the critical importance of these services for our students. Prevention and effective response to sexual violence also continues to be an essential area of focus for Stanford, and this fall will include the reporting of results from the AAU (Association of American Universities) survey that students participated in last spring.

This summer’s noose incident on our campus raised deep concerns for our community, including about university responses to racist incidents and other acts of intolerance. This incident has served as a catalyst for us to move all the more expeditiously to address critical issues of equity and inclusion on our campus. A group of senior administrators met with black student community members this summer, and further meetings and action steps are in process now – including improvements to campus response processes and collaborative planning for educational programs around the ongoing impact of racial violence, past and present. We must continue our work to become the truly inclusive and socially just community we seek to be, where people of all backgrounds are valued and respected. Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole, Senior Vice Provost for Education Harry Elam and others will be sharing further details with our community soon. 

We also must continue to defend those in our community who feel vulnerable in our country by virtue of their country of origin, heritage or immigrant status. As Persis and I have said on many occasions, we appreciate the ongoing concern of the federal government in protecting intellectual property and safeguarding American economic and national security, and we will remain vigilant in addressing these concerns. But we also know that the international exchange of people and ideas is essential to the discovery of knowledge. Our international community of students and scholars is integral to the richness and academic strength of our campus. We must remain vigilant in our respect for human rights and strongly resist lapsing into mistrust of others based on their national origin.

Elsewhere, we are moving into the final phase of hearings with Santa Clara County on our proposed General Use Permit, which would allow Stanford to expand housing and build new academic facilities over the next two decades. We continue to be focused on a permit that addresses the needs and concerns of our neighbors in addition to providing the necessary support for our academic mission over the long term. 

Communicating with you

The list above is far from comprehensive. I, and others in our university leadership, will be addressing these and many other topics in more detail over the course of this year. 

We intend to be in touch with you in many ways. This letter is one example; I’ll be writing to you at the beginning of each quarter with updates and thoughts on the issues before our university. Persis and I will be expanding our in-person meetings around our community, in addition to continuing office hours for students. We’ve heard positive reaction, also, to the (judicious) use of email to communicate with you during the year. We intend to use a combination of email, social media and regular digital publications such as Stanford Report and, for students and postdocs, the Roundabout to connect with you and to provide visibility into the university’s deliberations on issues that are important to you.

We also have an exceptional team of leaders across the university who often are closest to a given topic and can provide the best information about it. You will be hearing from them, as well.

Please accept my warm wishes for an energetic and rewarding fall quarter. I’m enormously proud to be a member of our optimistic and dedicated community, and I’m continually awed by the unique and varied contributions made by each one of you. Once again, welcome!

Sincerely,
Marc