A commitment to need-blind admissions for international students, increased faculty diversity and an 80 percent carbon-free, zero-waste campus by 2030 were among the prominent issues presented by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell at Thursday’s annual meeting of the Academic Council.
These goals were raised as part of the pair’s high-level “Vision” for Stanford’s future, the culmination of the University’s year-long long-range planning process. The process synthesized over 2,800 ideas from the Stanford community in 37 white papers that address issues including education, research, sustainability and community outreach.
After Tessier-Lavigne delivered a presentation on the vision, he and Drell fielded audience questions on topics ranging from the vision’s sustainability initiatives to budgetary concerns related to the long-range planning process.
“I think if you start with the attitude of a constrained budget, you get constrained ideas,” Drell said in response to a question about cost of long-range planning. “When you start with the vision of where this institution needs to be in 10 or 15 or 20 years, you get big ideas, and big ideas will generate big resources.”
The Stanford Vision is captured in four “Cardinal Points”: Mission & Values, Education, Research and Community.
Under Mission & Values, the pair highlighted initiatives to promote technology and research ethics, as well as greater community engagement. Specific goals include increased community center support, a new postdoctoral program to increase faculty diversity, financial aid expansion and increased enrollment.
Under Education, Tessier-Lavigne and Drell stressed an improved academic advising system and the development of a revised residential life plan. The Research point drew attention to the “Stanford as a Lab” initiative, as well as ways to leverage artificial intelligence across all fields.
Finally, the Community point underscored affordability issues, such as increased financial assistance for graduate students with children, an increased minimum salary for postdocs and expanded remote work options for staff members.
Need-blind aid for international students
Tessier-Lavigne announced that Stanford’s Admission office will “go down the path” to become need-blind for international applicants.
Though Tessier-Lavigne conceded that the initiative “cannot happen overnight” because of financial constraints, he said that the University has a responsibility to move toward this policy change.
“It’s something we want to do, and it’s something that we need to do,” he said. “If we don’t prioritize it, it won’t happen, which is why we are prioritizing today.”
Dean of Undergraduate Admission and Financial Aid Richard Shaw expressed support for the long-term initiative.
“Accomplishing this objective to become need-blind for international students will bring us to a point of total access and support without any consideration of [one’s] ability to pay,” he wrote in a statement to The Daily following the announcement. “It will take some time to build the endowment but this upfront commitment incorporated in the plan is a strong positive for Stanford.”
Following the revelation of the vision, many student activists also reported that they are happy with the announcement. Hamzeh Daoud ’20, who in March co-authored a petition that demanded need-blind admission for international applicants, said that Tessier-Lavigne’s push for the need-blind admission policy is “beyond exciting.”
“Setting the goal of implementing a need-blind admission policy as one of the highest priorities Stanford will focus on moving forward in the long-range planning process is one step closer to actualizing a Stanford that is inclusive to everyone, especially FLI students around the world,” he wrote in a statement to The Daily. “The international Stanford student experience should not be exclusive to those who are comfortable enough to not ask for aid. This is a step in the right direction, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Celia Chen ’20, another co-author of the petition, lauded the changes but added that Stanford can make additional reform to financial aid programs in the more immediate future.
“It’s truly heartening that the university listened to students’ voices and responded to the demand of student activism,” she wrote in a statement to The Daily. “Besides the long-term change, we will also work on immediate policy change, such as increasing the flexibility of financial aid status in [response] to students’ changing financial situation.”
Affordability and diversity
Tessier-Lavigne described affordability as a “clear and present danger to the future of the University,” and emphasized that Stanford must take “decisive steps” to mitigate the issue.
He proposed a series of immediate actions, as well as near-, mid-, and long-term projects the University intends to enact under the Vision.
“We are not underestimating the threat to Stanford of the affordability crisis,” he said.
Tessier-Lavigne also emphasized the importance of increasing faculty diversity and formally endorsed the creation of a new program to promote postdoc diversity to help realize this goal. He described this program as a “pipeline” for recruiting faculty to both the University and other academic institutions.
“We cannot rest until we excel at recruiting more diverse talent,” he said. “This includes being systematic about applying best practices to diversify our community.”
To support postdocs specifically, the University will raise the minimum salary for postdoctoral scholars from $53,400 to $60,000 in 2019.
Tessier-Lavigne emphasized campus inclusivity as an additional goal to be pursued in tandem with diversified faculty recruitment.
“Just as we must excel at recruiting diverse talent, we must excel at being an inclusive community where everyone feels they belong,” Tessier-Lavigne remarked.
Per the vision articulated Thursday, increasing undergraduate enrollment is also a priority of Stanford’s. Tessier-Lavigne said that the University is looking to increase undergraduate class sizes by between 10 and 20 percent over a period of around 10 years, but with around a three-year “lead-in period” to build additional residences.
“We want to make sure that our systems for bringing in and supporting diverse students are really effective before we start increasing the class size from what it is right now,” he said.
Referring to the Vision’s “Stanford as a Lab” initiative, Tessier-Lavigne described the sustainability goals to go 80 percent carbon-free by 2025 and zero-waste by 2030 as “feasible but aggressive.”
According to Drell, the 80 percent mark was determined as the most “reasonable” number given the costs associated with such sustainability measures.
“A question we might have gotten was, ‘Why only 80 percent by 2025?’ So just in case somebody out there was going to ask that question: We looked at the goals. They’re both achievable, but they’re achievable at a reasonable price,” she said. “We could have chosen other goals, but they then required more investment.”
In their “Notes from the Quad” blog post, Tessier-Lavigne and Drell emphasized scope as a main challenge in the execution of their Vision.
“The biggest challenge, I think, has been to really make an open, engaged and inclusive process work effectively,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “What was so gratifying was that people came into the process and wanted to participate. But we ended up with 2,800 ideas: that’s a lot to work through and to digest.”
He described the four Area Steering Groups that helped devise the original long-range planning white papers as being instrumental in the process of organizing the 2,800 community submissions.
Tessier-Lavigne also stressed international messaging as a challenge, and said that Stanford hasn’t yet “messaged [its] engagement with the world.” On this matter, he pointed to the importance of working with external communities “as peers and partners, not as people bringing solutions to others.”
“We need to be bold, as I said, but we need to be humble as well,” he said.
Moving forward, Tessier-Lavigne and Drell aim to implement a series of more immediate policies, including increased financial aid for graduate students and students with children. Last week, they announced an increase in the minimum postdoctoral salary from $53,400 to $60,000, which Tessier-Lavigne described as “a first attempt to address the affordability challenge.”
To execute more long-term plans, Tessier-Lavigne and Drell will appoint official Design Teams over the summer, and will work with these teams to develop action plans during the 2018-19 school year. Additional teams will also help push forth major projects such as the Housing Task Force and a Master Space Plan for redesigning communal campus spaces.
They emphasized accountability measures throughout the planning process, adding that the design teams’ progress will be tracked on the Vision’s main website.
After design teams’ plans are approved by the Executive Cabinet, University leadership will assist them in securing the necessary resources for implementation.
“All of this is happening against a backdrop of diminished trust of institutions, including universities,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “But we believe that Stanford’s can-do spirit, our optimism [and] our track record of innovation position us strongly to help society navigate this dynamic future in order to accelerate benefits and address challenges.”
Following Tessier-Lavigne’s presentation and the President-Provost Q&A session, Nannerl O. Keohane, Jonathan Jansen and Hans N. Weiler — who were former presidents of universities around the world, but all of whom have a connection to Stanford — addressed faculty governance and the current state of universities more generally. Keohane, Jansen and Weiler had planned to field audience questions at the end of their speeches, but ran out of time.
Tessier-Lavigne and Drell will also host two community discussions in the coming weeks, on May 30 at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and on June 5 at the University’s Porter Drive offices.