Faculty Senate addresses Peking Center, earthquakes and curriculum

Three topics of discussion took the spotlight at the Faculty Senate’s Mar. 31 meeting: the Stanford Research Center at Beijing, earthquake preparedness and innovative curriculum design.

The Senate’s first order of business was to address the development of a state-of-the-art research facility in China, situated at the heart of Peking University. According to Coit Blacker, senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI), the push for this facility began in earnest in 2007.

Blacker said the University received “an intriguing offer from the leadership at PKU,” shorthand for Peking University. The PKU leadership has been very open to maintaining an ongoing relationship with Stanford, a circumstance that Blacker described as quite unique.

“The way things work in China is nothing like this comes about accidentally,” he said, alluding to the fact that decisions of this nature tend to involve very senior-level leadership in the country.

The construction project, in fact, has already made some headway.

“We broke ground in the fall of 2010 and we anticipate that we could start to move in as early as late 2011 or early 2012,” Blacker said. “Stanford will have exclusive use of the space.”

“In fact, no other American institution of higher learning has or is likely to have a presence on campus,” he added.

FSI has been tasked with managing the Stanford Research Center in Beijing on behalf of the University. Political science professor Jean Oi, who is also a FSI senior fellow, said the new center would serve multiple functions.

“BOSP is going to remain the anchor program for the center,” Oi said.

The facility is meant to “enrich the environment in which the BOSP students will be spending their quarter,” she said.

It also opens up the opportunity to accommodate graduate students in addition to the undergrads for whom Beijing is already a popular overseas studies location. The Stanford-Peking center will serve all seven schools and provides accessible case rooms, teleconferencing facilities and many other amenities.

Following this decision, Ann Arvin, vice provost and dean of research, touched upon the topic of earthquake preparedness on campus. Stanford currently boasts seismic mitigation, potable water and food, emergency, core IT backup and fire sprinklers.

But more could be done, Arvin said. She underscored, in particular, the “Protect SU Program,” which aims to provide nonstructural equipment loss mitigation. The program pertains to the potential loss of research data, sample specimen and research laboratory equipment in the event of an earthquake.

The proposed equipment seismic mitigation program would focus on equipment valued at more than $20,000 per item. Arvin concluded by imparting advice on what individual principal investigators (PIs) could do to protect their research.

The Senate meeting wrapped up with a panel discussion on innovative curriculum design at Stanford.

Computer science professor Daphne Koller spoke extensively on using virtual learning at Stanford, arguing that some courses could move from “frontal” instruction to online instruction. Assistant professor of history Edith Sheffer used avatars in her history course to help students “develop skills in perspective shifting.” Banny Banerjee, associate professor of mechanical engineering, emphasized the need for “scaled, rapid and systemic transformations” in the way today’s challenges are approached.

 

About An Le Nguyen