“I was able to apply to join the committee because I had access to limited information during a short time window. It seems unlikely that so few undergraduates could accurately represent the whole student body. While serving on a committee, I felt like my voice as a student was being tokenized and not being genuinely considered to the same level.” — John Zhao ’18, student member of Engagement Beyond our University steering group.
Since early last year, the University has been in the process of planning its future. With a 30-day comment period underway, we have until March 2 to give feedback on the results of this exercise so far and express to the administration what we, the Stanford community, wish to see the University work toward. It is imperative that after the comment period ends the process remains transparent and responsive to the priorities of the community.
This is particularly important because — as we noticed while reading through 37 white papers providing summaries of over 2,800 proposals from community members — some ideas conflict with each other.
Some suggestions urge Stanford to rethink dorms to promote “discourse around difficult issues like race, religion, gender, identity and sexuality”; others warn Stanford against over-programming dorms. Some call for Stanford to focus more of its resources on STEM, while others call for greater emphasis on the humanities. Submissions request all sorts of University funding that will have to compete for priority: Proposals ask for investments in everything from community centers and housing to mid-career education and a public policy district. How will Stanford’s leadership prioritize these papers’ ideas and concerns given that many of them clash and that all of them cannot be addressed at once? Our feedback is crucial here.
Meanwhile, despite the administration’s efforts to share results of the long-range planning process with the community, elements of the process’ next steps are unclear: The schedule and the way we will be able to track progress are murky. A timeline posted on Stanford’s website ends, “Leadership receives conceptual frameworks from Area Steering Groups and uses them to build vision.” A Stanford News article outlines next steps, but we haven’t seen specifics at this point.
Finally, while we appreciate the insight that the white papers provided into the long-range planning process, as well as the tremendous work that went into compiling them, the white papers left us with more questions than answers.
In one white paper, for example, we read, “For three well-developed plans on increasing and supporting faculty diversity, see 655, 779 and 859.” What are the specific proposals behind the broad suggestions cited, such as increasing faculty diversity, a call familiar by now to community members? Without access to the proposals themselves, we’re left wondering about the details.
It’s important and achievable for the president, provost and executive cabinet to consider the will of the community as they move forward while also increasing transparency in their decision-making so that the community can provide their most thoughtful feedback. So far, and perhaps necessarily, much of the process has occurred away from the Stanford public. But we can only hold University leadership accountable for following through with the long-range planning process’ goal of channeling a community vision if we insist on knowing details of the final product and how it takes shape.
The president and provost’s planned town hall discussions — set for March 6 and May 2 — are a great start, as is a March 8 community meeting devoted specifically to long-range planning. That said, while we know that the Board and community will eventually receive a “high-level vision” from the president and provost, we believe the Stanford community deserves more insight into both this vision and how it will come to be. The high-level vision will be followed by new working groups tasked with deciding how to prioritize and implement goals; these groups should conduct their work as openly as possible, and the University should create a timeline for this important stage of the process.
Making meeting minutes for these next-stage working groups public would help keep the process accessible to community members. At the same time, the Stanford community must commit to participating — to giving the process their time and ensuring that their favorite ideas don’t get lost in the sheer volume of proposals up for consideration.
Students, in particular, can feel that their input has little influence on the University’s ultimate direction. They wonder if their voices can really have a lasting impact in a place as large and complex as Stanford. Consider the experience of Zhao related above: Even those with the most access to the long-range planning process have expressed doubt about the value placed on their contributions.
While committee dynamics may not have lived up to some student members’ hopes, the long-range planning process remains a valuable opportunity for all of us, who may only stick around for four years, to shape Stanford into the future. The Daily’s Editorial Board will spend the coming weeks examining the long-range planning process — and the issues it’s highlighted — in more depth. In the meantime, we hope that everyone will look over the wealth of ideas compiled in the white papers, decide what deserves our attention and share their thoughts.
— Vol. 253 Editorial Board
Contact the Board at opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com