President outlines new vision for Stanford’s future

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne recently outlined a new vision for the future of Stanford before the Academic Council, including initiatives to support the campus community and to advance teaching and research over the next decade and beyond to better serve the region, the nation and the world.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne

The initiatives – and the vision upon which they were based, guided by the university’s mission and values – were built on thousands of ideas submitted by the campus community last year, followed by months of discussion and synthesis as part of the long-range planning process instituted by the president and Provost Persis Drell in April 2017.

Members of the campus community are encouraged to visit the website created to document the long-range process and the implementation of the resulting initiatives.

The president emphasized that his presentation constituted a “vision, not a detailed plan,” adding, “Most elements will require detail, action-oriented plans. But make no mistake: What the vision does is articulate key priorities that will set the direction of the university.”

Broad and specific initiatives
As part of the long-range planning process, 2,808 ideas were submitted by students, faculty, staff, academic staff, postdocs and alumni. The ideas, in turn, resulted in 37 white papers generated by 108 members of four area steering groups. Those white papers were analyzed by members of the Executive Cabinet in consultation with input from external education leaders to create the initiatives outlined by the president.

In a talk called “Navigating a Dynamic Future,” Tessier-Lavigne outlined initiatives that are both broad and specific, including, for instance, such actions as increasing the number of undergraduates to bolster diversity, enhancing support for community centers, creating grant programs to promote fundamental and applied research at scale and setting a campus goal of being 80 percent carbon-free by 2025 and waste free by 2030.

In recognition of the difficulties posed by affordability challenges in the Bay Area, the president also announced creation of an Affordability Task Force that will analyze, by the second quarter of 2019, steps the university can take to address the financial challenges facing members of the campus community, especially in the areas of housing and transportation.

Shared vision
At the foundation of the new vision outlined by the president are the core mission and values used to create the initiatives and to sustain efforts through their implementation. The president used the cardinal points of a compass as a metaphor for expressing the university’s mission and values, noting that, if it acts purposefully amidst accelerated change, Stanford has the responsibility to help navigate a dynamic future for the region and the world.

“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,” he said.

Among the values Tessier-Lavigne outlined were anchoring the university’s education and research in ethics and human welfare. Another Stanford value is boldness, which, suffused with humility, makes the university eager to collaborate and learn from others. And at its foundation, he said, the university must always stay true to its values, including integrity, diversity, respect, freedom of inquiry and expression, tenacity and optimism.

The university’s values support a mission to extend the frontier of knowledge and solve real-world problems, to prepare students to think broadly and critically and to contribute to the world, and to use Stanford’s strengths to benefit the region, nation and world.

The university, he noted, is already a leader in many of the areas included in the vision and initiatives, given its history of embracing new ways of thinking and its consistent pursuit of its mission of research, education and service. He noted that Stanford’s improbable transformation from a Palo Alto farm to the “university of high degree” envisioned by the founders required “intellectual capability, pioneering spirit, can-do attitude and optimism for the future.”

The challenge today, he said, is determining how to continue to move Stanford forward and further advance the university in service to the world.

Presidential initiatives
Moving beyond vision and mission, Tessier-Lavigne outlined three initiatives under the category of “presidential initiatives,” which collectively are designed to put the values into action on campus and in the world.

Under the first presidential initiative, Ethics, Society & Technology, Stanford will seek to infuse ethical and societal considerations into technological advances. Actions will include, for instance, ensuring that students are equipped to address the ethical impacts of technology and empowering faculty and schools with the resources to create new teaching approaches to ethical considerations.

President and provost
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell

Also as part of the presidential initiatives, Stanford will pursue Purposeful Engagement with Our Region, Nation & World. The university boasts many opportunities for engagement, he said, but lacks an intentional strategy for further extending outreach to the wider community. This presidential initiative will also include launching a Global Advisory Council of external experts to aid in creating engagement strategies.

Also among the presidential initiatives is IDEAL, which stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access in a Learning Community. Through IDEAL, for instance, Stanford will attempt to achieve sustainable change by exceling at recruiting and retaining talent in a diverse community. The president also announced a commitment to prioritizing need-blind financial aid for international students. Increasing the size of the student body by as much as 10 to 20 percent over 10 years is another initiative that would increase diversity. Other educational actions will include ensuring majors are accessible regardless of incoming student preparation and increasing support to community centers.

Under IDEAL, Stanford will seek to become a site of scholarship that can be shared with other learning communities also committed to inclusion, diversity, equity and access, in part through the tracking of progress and outcomes.

“What you don’t measure,” he stressed, “you can’t improve.”

Research initiatives
The president also outlined eight initiatives that are included within four broad research categories, all of which will require additional resources. The president outlined such actions as recruitment and retention of excellent faculty; increased graduate fellowships in support of research; grant programs that will support risk taking in research, as well as fundamental and applied research at scale; and communal resources for retreats and networks and other shared infrastructure.

The research areas are:

  • Sparking Discovery, Creativity & Knowledge, with a focus on the Changing Human Experience and the Natural World: These initiatives in basic research will deepen understanding of humanity’s past, present and future and its culture and arts, while also expanding an understanding of the physical world through imaging, probing, modeling, theory and design.
  • Accelerating Applications, with the creation of a Social Problem-Solving Accelerator and an Innovative Medicines Accelerator: These initiatives focus on the application of knowledge, pushing the frontiers of social science to craft solutions for challenging social issues, and accelerating translation of breakthroughs in understanding disease mechanisms into therapies and cures.
  • Solutions for Our Region and World, with a focus on Sustainability in the Bay Area and the World and Precision Health in the Bay Area and the World: These initiatives include Stanford as a Lab, which will have the goal of creating a campus that is 80 percent carbon-free by 2025 and zero waste by 2030. The second initiative builds on precision health and focuses on developing solutions with regional partners for preventive and population health.
  • Shaping the Digital Future, with a focus on Data@Stanford and Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence: These initiatives will harness the flood of new data to advance all fields of research, along with furthering the development of AI and tackling its ethical and social implications.

“Our initiatives are even more important now, when support for such research is increasingly constrained,” Tessier-Lavigne said.

Education initiatives
The president also outlined education initiatives, reiterating as he did with the research initiatives the importance of recruitment and retention of a diverse community and the enhancement of fellowships and creation of competitive grant programs. The education initiatives focus in four areas: undergraduate academics, learning and support outside the classroom, learning for the future and extending our impact.

Among the actions foreseen for undergraduate academics are development of a shared intellectual experience for undergraduates and encouragement of more exploration by students. Majors should be designed for the 21st century and build creative confidence so that students pursue education for life. The aim is that the initiative will provide faculty with the resources to create new pedagogical approaches, as well as educational spaces that are open and welcoming facilities tailored to learning in the 21st century.

Stanford should also focus on learning and support outside the classroom by improving advising for graduate and undergraduate students, considering the development of residential neighborhoods and strengthening resources for mental and physical well-being and safety. The president noted in particular the creation of new programs in advising, but said, “We know we are not where we want to be with advising. This is an area where we will double down for both undergraduate and graduate students.”

In the area of learning for the future, the university will support research on learning to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for Stanford students as well as others. The resulting scholarship will be shared with educators nationally and globally under the part of the initiative called Extending Our Impact, which seeks to develop partnerships beyond Stanford with other educational institutions.

Community initiatives
The fourth broad category of initiatives focuses on strengthening community at Stanford by specifically considering the issues of affordability, community engagement, personal development and stewardship. These initiatives, along with the IDEAL presidential initiative, are designed to create an inclusive and supportive environment for all members of the campus community.

Asserting that affordability in the Bay Area poses a “clear and present danger” to community, Tessier-Lavigne outlined specific actions, several of which are being immediately implemented. Among them, for instance, is the already announced increase in the minimum salary for postdoctoral scholars. A financial hardship fund will also be created for postdoctoral scholars struggling with childcare and housing costs. In addition, need-based financial assistance for graduate students will be increased, as will on-campus graduate housing. Faculty will be given an enhanced loan program to purchase homes, and staff members will enjoy an expanded salary program, an expanded pilot of satellite work centers, work-from-home policies and transportation improvements to ease commutes.

Under this initiative, Tessier-Lavigne said that the university also will pursue a master space plan that will help foster community, including reimagining White Plaza as a vibrant gathering space. Also to be pursued will be enhanced wellness support and personal development opportunities for the Stanford community.

The community initiative also includes a focus on stewardship – effectively managing the resources of the university – with an emphasis on using Stanford as a laboratory for experimentation. The initiative also calls upon the university to reconsider the efficacy of its decentralization. Under this initiative, the university also will focus on stakeholder engagement and ongoing communication.

Next steps
Tessier-Lavigne said the next steps in the implementation process will be the appointment of design teams across the campus community charged with developing comprehensive and specific plans over the 2018-19 academic year. The work of the design teams, after acceptance by the Executive Cabinet, will result in the creation of fundraising plans for necessary resources.

“I am inspired,” he said, “by the work that our community has done so far, and I am energized by working with all of you to advance the priorities we have identified.”