Editorial Board: An open letter to Stanford’s incoming President, Marc Tessier-Lavigne


Dear Dr. Tessier-Lavigne,

It’s been over 10 years since you were here as a professor, and Stanford is a very different place. The campus climate, as well as student hopes and expectations regarding the role of the president, have undergone so many transformations that it is hardly the same institution you likely remember.

Your presidency will set the tone for the office of the Presidency and have a lasting impact on Stanford’s foreseeable future long after your leadership here has come to an end. Fairly or unfairly, Stanford’s governance structure asks its president to focus on fundraising and research. But recent events have shown that the position needs to adapt to changing times.

Despite John Hennessy’s success in advancing Stanford as a research and educational institution, the campus has increasingly felt that the administration’s views and attitudes are not actively present in the community’s day-to-day life. While students and faculty may find things to agree or disagree on regarding actual policies the administration takes, the decision-making process for selecting those policies still seems opaque.

Stanford students have always expected more from their president than for him to be someone who sits in his office, fundraises and attends official events. We want someone who is present on campus and finds ways to connect to students and the extraordinary things they do both inside and outside the classroom — someone who can ultimately engage with and appreciate our populace, as well as its distinctive communities, as a whole.

But engagement begins with education. We believe that your time at Rockefeller University will allow you to bring valuable insight into research and graduate work at Stanford. But the University also prides itself on its undergraduate schools, so it’s important that the University’s incoming president take the time to fully understand and appreciate the undergraduate experience in all its uniquely cherished forms.

Based in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford is often viewed by outsiders as a STEM-focused school, and the separation between “techies” and “fuzzies” is an all too-easy means of dividing the student body. But these labels aren’t the only ones we represent, and some of us choose to claim none at all. Part of what makes Stanford so vibrant is its defiance of stereotypes, in favor of unique self-expression: You can as easily find athletes who are musicians, as professional dancers turned engineers and coders who like to write for the school paper.

Last year was a particularly tense year at Stanford. Part of the tension was Stanford’s response to national events, like the Black Lives Matter movement. But the other part of it stemmed from incidents on our very own campus — growing pressures to divest and demands to address sexual assault on campus, to name but a few. It was a year marked by increasing tensions and divisions both within the student body and between students and the administration. While this year has been quieter in that respect, and the administration has sought to reconcile some of the resultant friction, there is still more to be done to improve the campus climate.

For 125 years, Stanford has been led by straight, white men. In that historical context, it’s not surprising that the fact you’re a continuation of that trend has dominated student conversations, from student publications to social media, since your appointment was announced. These concerns do not stem from a desire to attack you or your identity, or to diminish your accomplishments. They come from a campus climate and a university culture across the country that have been developing over many years — a culture that is asking more of its college administrators now than ever before.

College students across the U.S. are looking for leaders who can relate to the student body — people who can address with due urgency the concerns of minorities and historically marginalized groups from a place of not just empathy, but also of understanding.

We believe, and hope, that you have the ability to turn sincere and well-intentioned conversations into action by reaching across gendered, racial, academic and other lines. Our differences aren’t our dividers — they’re our definers, and it’s your job as our leader to understand and value them, even if it isn’t part of your official job description.

All of these expectations boil down to this: As Stanford students, we want someone who cares about us and the experiences we have at this institution. We also know that we need someone who can keep Stanford at the forefront of excellence, and continue to make it better every day.

And we at The Stanford Daily are hopeful that you’re up to the task.

Welcome back to The Farm.

– The Stanford Daily’s Volume 249 Editorial Board

Contact the Editorial Board at Opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com


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