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President and provost talk Redwood City campus, long-range planning in town hall event


Stanford’s incoming town center, Cardinal Conversations reboot, Redwood City campus and other initiatives were discussed at a town hall hosted by University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell at Tresidder Oak Lounge on Friday.

Tessier-Lavigne began by noting that many long-range planning projects are expected to conclude by the end of spring quarter. A human-centered artificial intelligence initiative “has been out in front and will actually be rolled out in the next few weeks,” he said.

In terms of affordability, he said “it turns out to be very multi-faceted and very complex — we’re going to try to drive this home as quickly as possible, but our expectation currently is that it will continue into the fall.”

New campus

A ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open Stanford’s Redwood City campus will be held on March 21, Drell said. The campus is intended “to allow for academic, office, research and medical uses” depending on the ongoing needs of the University, per the Stanford Redwood City website.

Drell thanked the “trailblazing staff who are going to be based at Stanford Redwood City,” including 2,700 University employees spanning nine units and schools. The staff will move to Redwood City in waves from March 18 to August.

“It’s a really historic moment for Stanford,” Drell said, adding that the Redwood City campus is the University’s “first significant expansion away from our original campus.”

Business affairs and human resources staff are scheduled to move in March, with development staff and more business affairs staff moving in April before Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) staff move in May.

“This move will require everyone at Stanford to work in new ways,” Drell said. “It’s essential for all of us to practice flexibility and adaptability and to use tools of technology to stay connected.”

She stressed the University’s desire for feedback from staff, who she said are “critical to this University’s mission.”

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Drell said. “It’s an enormous move.”

Tessier-Lavigne referred to the Redwood City campus as an example of Stanford’s “distributive work environment,” which he cited as a product of the school’s entrepreneurial spirit. He said that such decentralization can sometimes complicate matters, however, with “the left hand not necessarily knowing what the right hand is doing.”

“The decentralization issue is such a thorny one,” Tessier-Lavigne said, adding that new work processes and systems will need to supplement technology for the Redwood City campus to operate effectively.

MIT of the West?

University teams are studying the first-year and major experiences as potential changes to each are considered, Drell said, adding that she and Tessier-Lavigne “have both been extremely excited at the discussions and ideas.”

Tessier-Lavigne and Drell agreed they are “very seriously” concerned with balancing the humanities and engineering at Stanford, as the number of engineering majors continues to outweigh those in other areas of study. Drell recalled community members’ complaints that, “Stanford was being seen in terms of its school of engineering.”

“We don’t cap majors,” Drell said. “But we do feel students aren’t exploring richly enough in their first year in order to make informed decisions for themselves.”

In light of these concerns, Drell said, she hopes for “changes to majors to allow students to explore more broadly as undergraduates.”

Still, Drell noted that she and Tessier-Lavigne do not themselves have the authority to change how majors work.

“We can encourage, we can embrace, but it really requires close partnership with faculty and the Faculty Senate to come to the kinds of changes that we might want to see,” she said.

“It is a waste of a Stanford undergraduate education to be too narrow,” she added. “The strength of Stanford is in the breadth it offers our students. That is what prepares them the best for a changing world.”

Supplementing Drell’s comments, Tessier-Lavigne cited “the great problems of the world,” including human health, energy and the immigration crisis, as problems for which there is not a solely technological fix. The human-centered nature of Stanford’s incoming artificial intelligence program is one example of this, he said.

“We absolutely do not want to become a technology-focused school, because the future is about bringing technology together with humanistic disciplines,” he added. “We are so strong there. We have to preserve that.”

Community life

New associate vice president for campus engagement Matthew Tiews, the first person to hold the position, offered insight into some initial initiatives he is spearheading in the role. He cited the renaming of campus features honoring Junipero Serra as an opportunity to highlight the “amazing alumni” being newly honored.

“We are going to be creating signage and other interpretive materials that help tell the story of why Stanford did that renaming, why these are people we want to honor and how we think about that as part of our academic mission,” Tiews said.

He mentioned a desire to use “other areas of campus more effectively,” including by pursuing the Town Center project slated for the White Plaza area. The Town Center is intended to be a social hub for Stanford community members, spanning from the campus bookstore to Tresidder.

“The key elements of this plan include reimagining White Plaza as a vibrant community-building space,” Tessier-Lavigne said.

Another person who will focus on community building, he said, is whoever the University selects as associate vice president for community engagement. While the priorities of the jobholder are yet to be determined, he added, the first focus will be a “census” of unique programs the University runs for external community members ranging from local to global.

Tessier-Lavigne said “252 meaty programs” were identified in preliminary work done by a discovery team in fall.

“Everybody knew about a few of them, but nobody knew about all of them,” he added, noting that only about 80 percent of total programs are estimated to have been identified.

After the associate vice president for community engagement completes the census, Tessier-Lavigne said, they will be organizing the programs and identifying which types of interaction seem most important so that Stanford community members can “be the best neighbors” possible.

“We’ve been doing wonderful things. But we think we can achieve a lot more with intentionality,” Tessier-Lavigne said.

Cardinal Conversations

Drell addressed the future of the Cardinal Conversations speaker series overhaul, after the original series garnered criticism from the Stanford community last year amid a conservative-leaning speaker lineup and scandal on the part of series co-organizer Niall Ferguson.

“[The series] had some good things and some not-so-good things last year,” Drell said. “We felt it needed a reboot.”

She added that student engagement was lacking in last year’s offering, and said “a much more student student-focused approach is being taken,” with the rebooted series led by a faculty committee of Hoover Institution director Thomas Gilligan, Stanford Law professor Deborah Rhode and Graduate School of Education dean emeritus Claude Steele.

“I do not think there will be any actual conversations this year,” Drell said. “I think it will be next year, and I suspect it will have a different name.”

She said students will have the freedom to rename and rebrand the program “as they wish.” Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole echoed Drell’s statements.

“I want to reiterate that the faculty committee has committed to students being the focus of this program, to defining the topics, the speakers that come, the format,” Brubaker-Cole said.

An application for students interested in joining the committee is open until March 18.

Staff resources

After participation in Stanford’s staff survey increased from 61 percent in 2015 to 67 percent in 2018, Drell said she was “particularly happy to see that nine out of 10 staff surveyed expressed pride in working for Stanford and feel confident about the future of the University.”

“Staff are critical to the success of this institution,” Drell added, noting that, “there are more opportunities for improvement” and that she and Tessier-Lavigne “hear those messages.”

Vice president for human resources Elizabeth Zacharias elaborated on the survey results, saying they are being incorporated into existing University initiatives. She noted that Stanford worked with the outside partner organizing the survey to conduct analysis of comments and provide them to the affordability task force.

“The survey didn’t really ask any questions about affordability,” Zacharias said, though she noted that many comments on the survey related to affordability concerns.

“There were some really rich comments, really helpful comments, some were very critical as well about what the University may need to think about to address affordability,” she added.

Zacharias asked staff to watch out for and consider participating follow-up focus groups and in pulse surveys. She noted later in the talk that no decisions have yet been made regarding common requests such as family medical leave, which falls within the benefits considerations being examined by the affordability task force.

“Parental leave and leave policies overall have been a source of rich discussion in several meetings with our committee for employee benefits and programs, and also as a task force,” Zacharias said.

“We haven’t reached decisions yet, but we recognize the need to provide support to staff at Stanford, particularly when people have a need for a leave,” she added.

While Stanford Human Resources is aware of ways in which its employee benefits can be “more competitive,” Zacharias said, it remains to be seen which options will be pursued.

Other updates

Brubaker-Cole said a “number of announcements” related to ethnic theme housing will be made “later in spring,” as she and vice provost for undergraduate learning Harry Elam have been involved in discussions with student staff.

“We view those spaces on our campus as some of the most important places where we can realize the ideals of an inclusive community,” Brubaker-Cole said. “They’re places where we center and uplift cultures, communities and identities that have historically been marginalized on our campus and across the world.”

“These are communities that are absolutely important … and we affirm that and it is at the center of those conversations,” she added.

As discussions on course fees circulate the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), Drell took the mic on Friday to briefly address the concerns.

“One result of decentralization and an obstacle to a broad education is various course fees charged by departments,” she said. “These fees exacerbate equity and inclusion issues. They absolutely do. Is the University seriously considering addressing these foundational issues? The answer is absolutely yes.”

The University’s adult hospital is currently scheduled to open in November, Tessier-Lavigne said, though he noted the date has changed multiple times. He said the project is “moving along extremely well” and that there were “lessons learned” from opening the Packard hospital that will make opening the adult hospital more “seamless.”

“I think we’re all very excited at the opportunity to be better purveyors of healthcare to members of our community, both our campus community and also of course our local and regional community,” he added.

Tessier-Lavigne also touched on Stanford’s ongoing sustainability efforts, saying the University “could actually go the distance” to become carbon-free now, but adding that “it would be extremely expensive to do that.”

Stanford announced in December 2018 that it will reach its long-range planning goal of an 80 percent reduction, carbon-free grid four years early, in 2021 instead of 2025. Tessier-Lavigne cited ongoing technological improvements as one reason to wait before pushing for a 100 percent reduction.

“We’d like to get there as rapidly as possible, but we have to be cost-conscious at the same time,” he said.

Prior to Friday’s town hall, Drell announced that a graduate student, later revealed to be world-champion cyclist Kelly Caitlin, was discovered dead in her residence on Thursday night. A moment of silence was held after Drell’s announcement.

“I know this hits each of us in different ways,” Drell said. “Please take care of yourselves and those who are close to you.”

Tessier-Lavigne and Drell will hold their next town hall in May at the Redwood City campus.

Contact Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’

Holden Foreman '21 is The Daily's Executive Editor. He hails from the city of St. Louis, Missouri and is studying electrical engineering, computer science and economics. Contact him at hs4man21 'at'