In its Thursday meeting, the Faculty Senate approved a permanent implementation of the principal investigator (PI) waiver program at the Stanford School of Medicine, which will allow post-doctoral students who aren’t typically eligible to become PIs — University-funded lead researchers in medical school projects — to apply for waivers to achieve this opportunity.
The Senate also discussed the recently-introduced Association of American Universities (AAU) survey for documenting sexual misconduct, as well as the need to expand academic diversity at Stanford.
Under University policy, PI eligibility is limited to members of the Academic Council and to Medical Center Line faculty, including faculty with University Tenure Line and Non-Tenure-Line-Research appointments.
According to the Stanford Medicine Research Management Group, “[the current] policy limitation is in place because principal investigators are responsible for determining the intellectual direction of the research and scholarship and for the training of graduate students.”
Professor of Medicine Harry Greenberg gave the presentation requesting that the PI waiver program be permanently implemented. The program has been piloted under annually renewed trial periods since the 2010-2011 school year.
“No other change is being asked for,” Greenberg said.
Still, some members of the Senate expressed concern over what they referred to as “signals” from the School of Medicine that students in other departments have the right to a similar PI waiver program.
Economics professor Caroline Hoxby expressed concern that changing the program from trial status to permanency may set a “precedent” for other departments to allow similar funding waivers to their post-doctorates, causing demand to grow out of control.
Philosophy professor Kenneth Taylor concurred with Hoxby.
“It’s not really about what the medical school wants, and if we adopt this, we are setting a signal. We have to decide if this is a signal we want to send,” Taylor said.
Greenberg, however, disagreed.
“There is no intent in this proposal from the School of Medicine to say this is the right or that we are telling the rest of the University that this fits your [department],” Greenberg said.
Furthermore, Greenberg said that the lack of security in an annually-renewed program could make postdocs at the medical school feel unwelcome.
“Extending this for 12 [trial years] would send another signal from the academic Senate, one that might get interpreted by at least half of the postdocs at the University that the faculty have real ambivalence about their situation,” Greenberg said. “That would be a real con.”
According to Greenberg, 62 percent of postdocs are in the School of Medicine. He added that the grant process holds its applicants to a high standard.
“The School of Medicine developed a relatively tight set of regulations over who can apply,” Greenberg said.
Computer science professor Mehran Sahami said he applauds the “gatekeeping” and “safeguarding” put into the PI program to prevent abuse of the opportunity by students searching for grants.
Sahami added that he thinks that replication of the PI waiver model in other departments would benefit the University in the long run.
“Rather than classifying [this change] as a con, I would classify that as a pro,” Sahami said. “Part of the University’s mission is to come up with the next set of academics. Training and research and grantwork are part of that process, and giving [postdocs] the opportunity to do that before they actually get a faculty position is an important thing to do.”
He added his belief that if postdocs in the School of Medicine may benefit from the program, so too should postdocs in other departments.
“You can be very old by the time you finish both your clinical training and your research training, and we would like our trainees to get their grants before they get Social Security,” said School of Medicine Professor David Spiegel.
The Senate meeting also featured memorializations of former Stanford professors Miguel Mendez, Maryam Mirzakhani and Juergen Willmann.
Mendez, the first Latino professor at the Stanford Law School, died of cancer on May 17, 2017. Stanford Law professor William Gould IV gave a memorial statement honoring Mendez.
Mirzakhani, a mathematics professor, was the first woman and first Iranian to win the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics. She died on July 14, 2017 after a four-year battle with breast cancer. Mathematics professor Ralph Cohen gave a memorial statement honoring Mirzakhani.
Willmann, a radiology professor at the School of Medicine, died Jan. 8, 2018 in a car accident. Professor of radiology R. Brooke Jeffrey gave a memorial statement honoring Willmann, who he referred to as “a renaissance man who had a wide range of interests.”
Provost Persis Drell also spoke briefly about the recent decision to replace the current Campus Climate Survey with the AAU survey, effective spring 2019.
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam praised funding that supports large intro lectures such as CS 106A: “Programming Methodology” and ECON 1: “Principles of Economics,” as well as Program in Writing and Rhetoric and Thinking Matters classes that include one-on-one tutorials between teaching fellows and undergraduates.
However, Elam said the University must do more to support first-generation, low-income (FLI) students, who make up a record 18 percent of the current freshman class.
“We have not yet done an adequate job ensuring that each of our students is fully supported and guided to their particular needs,” Elam said.
Included in these efforts, Elam called for additional funding beyond financial aid in order to help FLI students afford lab fees, arts classes and other course fees that might otherwise deter them from taking associated classes.
“Sometimes FLI students say that they are choosing classes based on the prices of the books,” Elam said.
While he acknowledged the lend library as one successful resource for FLI students, Elam said FLI support is currently decentralized. In an effort to address this, Elam said he wants to coordinate a “FLI task force” between organizations that are diluted across the campus.
He also said the University will consider expanding the Leland Scholars Program (LSP), a summer program intended to assist students in the college transition process, to sophomore year and beyond, in addition to accepting more students to LSP in the first place. He noted that LSP received 140 applications for only 60 spots in 2017.
“LSP by itself is not enough,” Elam said. “We have to do more for these students as they negotiate Stanford.”
Elam encouraged the Senate to watch a video about what FLI students wish their professors knew in order to increase faculty awareness about issues in the FLI community. Elam also expressed frustration over the constraints athletes face in attending classes that do not interfere with their game and practice schedules, such as Introsems.
Furthermore, Elam said the University should reconsider what a college major looks like in the 21st century. He praised the School of Engineering for lightening students’ introductory course loads in recent years. Still, he said academic diversity remains a chief concern on Stanford’s campus.
He stressed the Newcomer Guides program, which will replace Pre-Major Advisors next fall, as a step in the right direction for promoting “student choice” and general counseling rather than major-specific advising.
“A sustained personal relationship with a professional adviser will provide our students with a sense of connection,” Elam said.
He ended his presentation with a reflection on FROSH 101, a new one-unit course offered this school year intended to foster freshman mentorship by upperclassmen and to promote discussions on diversity. In exit polls, Elam said 97 percent of students said they would recommend the course, and 84 percent reported that the course helped “very much” or “extremely” in their understanding of other students’ views. Next year, Elam said FROSH 101 will expand to up to 10 dorms and 300 students.
The next Faculty Senate meeting will take place on May 17.
Contact Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.