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Faculty Senate discusses inclusion, accessibility in student body

L.A. CICERO/Stanford News Service

In its first meeting of the school year, Stanford’s Faculty Senate discussed how to best improve inclusion and accessibility within the student body with ASSU executives Erica Scott ’20 and Isaiah Drummond ’20. The Senate also unanimously approved a charge to the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on the Stanford University Press (SUP) and heard University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne deliver his high-level vision for the University. 

“Fueled by optimism, ingenuity and a sense of responsibility, we seek to have a meaningful impact on our world,” Tessier-Lavigne said.

Drawing upon Stanford’s Long-Range Planning initiative, he highlighted the university’s commitment to promoting both basic and applied research, and ensuring a holistic education for the student body. Tessier-Lavigne also referenced recent initiatives like creating an arts incubator on campus and emphasized the importance of incorporating ethics in innovation. 

Supporting the international community

Tessier-Lavigne affirmed his support for the international community in response to increased national concerns about foreign intellectual property theft and technology transfer at U.S. universities.

“As you know, we aim to protect the integrity of Stanford research,” he said. “[But] we absolutely must not permit in any way legitimate concerns about national security to bleed into questioning people based on their country of origin, heritage or immigration status.”

Electrical engineering professor Andrea Goldsmith requested that Tessier-Lavigne comment on University efforts to combat recent “political activity around companies being blacklisted and concerns about the funding of those companies.” Last year, the University put its research partnership with Huawei on hold after the company was accused of intellectual property theft and espionage by the U.S. government.

Tessier-Lavigne passed the question onto Dean of Research Kathryn Moler, who noted that two new bodies — the Foreign Influence Policies and Practices Advisory Committee and a subcommittee of the Committee of Research — are currently tasked with reviewing that issue. 

“I’m not trying to be coy,” she said. “But you’ll be receiving more detailed updates in the future.”

Memorial resolutions, SUP Update

The Senate put forth three memorial resolutions for faculty members who had recently passed away. Professor emeritus of agricultural economics Timothy Josling, business, education and humanities professor James March, and physics professor Shoucheng Zhang were all honored with spoken tributes to their accomplishments by other faculty members.

During the meeting, faculty also unanimously approved the charge of the Senate’s ad hoc committee on SUP, created in June to explore the role of the Press in academia in light of recent funding concerns.

ASSU presentation on inclusivity and Long-Range Planning proposals

ASSU executives Scott and Drummond debuted their annual Goals and Student Priorities presentation, addressing two Long-Range Planning proposals — the Future of the Major and the First-Year Experience — which seek to recenter a liberal arts education in the Stanford undergraduate experience. 

The two broke down the goals of the ASSU into increasing communication between students and faculty, student engagement beyond the Stanford “bubble” and care in the Stanford community. Furthermore, they identified mental health, well-being and affordability as priorities of the Graduate Student Council. 

Referencing a recent New York Magazine article titled “How to Major in Unicorn” that characterized Stanford as a place “where students go to get venture capital but not necessarily an education,” Scott described the lack of a central role played by a liberal arts education at Stanford. Students found the article “unsettlingly accurate,” according to Scott, who also said she found some “uncomfortable truths” in it.

Scott and Drummond also encouraged faculty to continue normalizing the sharing of pronouns, giving the example of how they both have included their pronouns at the top of their email signatures.

“It’s a very small ask,” Scott said, “but it has a profound effect on many of our community members here.”

Former Stanford provost John Etchemendy raised a concern with the pronouns recommendation, referencing a recent conversation with a student who was questioning their gender identity and felt distressed about the new classroom norm to introduce one’s pronoun preferences. Etchemendy said the student felt that “they were in the position of either lying to themselves or coming out in a way they were not yet prepared to do.”

“I don’t know how many people are in that position, but I would think they are the most vulnerable people on campus, and we’re making them feel awkward,” he added.

Faculty Responds 

The presentation opened a broader conversation among faculty surrounding how best to promote inclusivity and enhance a Stanford liberal arts education, particularly for first-generation and/or low-income (FLI) students.

Citing his own experience as a first-generation student, earth systems professor Dustin Schroeder cited the attraction of fitting a coterminal master’s degree in four years for undergraduate students as harmful to promoting a broader liberal arts education. As of now, financial aid for undergraduate students does not carry over to a separate, fifth-year master’s degree.

Drummond pushed back on this argument. While mentioning the importance of better funding opportunities for fifth-year master’s degrees, Drummond mentioned that a required liberal arts core for first-year students and limitations of major sizes could still diversify undergraduate educational experiences while allowing for four-year coterminal degrees.

Trimming down major sizes and incorporating a liberal education into undergraduate degree requirements are central goals of the Future of the Major proposal

Professor Goldsmith challenged the idea that high unit requirements would necessarily prevent a student from receiving a well-rounded liberal arts education. 

“It is not true that other universities have fewer requirements in STEM majors, particularly in Engineering. Any ABET-accredited engineering program, including those at Princeton and Yale and Harvard, will have higher requirements that what we [have], so I don’t think that our majors as they are are incompatible with a liberal arts education,” she said, referring to the ABET-administered accreditation system, which accredits university STEM programs that meet a high standard of education. 

Numerous Stanford departments, the latest being Electrical Engineering, have chosen to stop structuring their major programs around ABET-accreditation, Professor Tom Kenny said in an interview with the Stanford Sphere. He said that the EE major saw increases in enrollment after the change was made. At Stanford, only two major programs — Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering — are still ABET-accredited, less than the number of accredited programs at Princeton, Yale and Harvard. 

Goldsmith instead encouraged the University to focus on making a liberal arts education mandatory in the curriculum, counteracting the pressure faced by students to pursue narrowly-technical classes perceived by students to increase future job prospects. 

She also encouraged the University to strengthen its preparatory training for low-income and first-generation STEM students by offering formal courses in the summers before and after freshman year. The Leland Scholars Program and Summer Engineering Academy are both pre-University programs currently offered by the University to FLI students.

The next Faculty Senate meeting will take place on Oct. 24.

Contact Berber Jin at fjin16 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Kate Selig at kselif ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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