Faculty Senate talks poor economic outlook, passes bill supporting need-blind international admissions

Feb. 22, 2019, 12:06 a.m.

“This is going to be quite a tight year,” Provost Persis Drell told members of the Faculty Senate at their Thursday meeting.

Expecting still-rising costs and poor endowment performance, Drell spoke of “cost cutting” in response to low expectations for the University’s financial prospects. The Senate also unanimously passed a resolution expressing support for need-blind admission and need-based financial aid for international undergraduate students.


Speaking to members of the Senate at the start of their session, Drell warned of poor investment performance in volatile financial times and discussed financial strategy going forward.

“The budget will be tight this year,” Drell said. “That means we have the resources to continue to do what we’re doing, with a little bit of squeezing. But we’re not going to have a lot of new resources to fund new things.”

“I think we may be facing a difficult challenge, which is the need to incrementally do a little cost cutting and slowly deploying resources,” she added.

She said this was “not particularly new news” and that it had been communicated “for some time now with the leadership of the University.”  

“We are anticipating a period of poor investment returns, with the potential even of a market adjustment,” she said. “The incremental payout on endowment returns for the coming fiscal year will be 2.1 percent, which is significantly below the anticipated cost rise of 3.5 percent.”

Drell said that she thought it might be difficult to win support for cuts to the University’s budget.

“Our community’s not all that used to turning things off,” she said. “We like to do more. We have lots of ideas and I also really value the fact our community is not accepting cuts without lots of justification.”

Ultimately, though, she said she thought they would be accepted.

“I do believe our community will accept some cost cutting in order to meet the affordability challenges that we’re all facing, which, I think, meeting those is a really essential component of ensuring a dynamic future for th[e] University,” she said.

Drell acknowledged that even now, students are affected by issues of affordability. She said that preparing for the University’s continued financial well-being would require setting aside both base resources and one-time funds.

“Affordability challenges do continue in all sectors of our population,” she said. “Addressing these challenges will require base resources — whether salary, benefits, childcare, rental subsidies or new mitigations that are to be recommended by the affordability task force.”

However, it still remains to be seen what exactly Stanford will have to do to bring its budget more in line with performance by the Stanford Management Company. In May, the Faculty Senate plans to discuss concrete budget plans in detail.

“It is possible that we will need to reduce some program offerings that are not as core,” she said. “That would be painful, and I look forward to making a full report when I present the budget to the Senate in May. But I did think it was important to manage expectations by alerting the Senate [that] this is going to be quite a tough year.”

International admissions

The Senate unanimously approved a motion in support of need-blind admission and financial aid for undergraduate international students.

The motion, put forth by the Committee on Undergraduate Admission and Financial Aid (C-UAFA), proposes a “policy change … specifically recommending that Stanford adopt a need-blind approach to admissions for international undergraduate applicants and provide need-based aid for admitted international students.” Adopting such a policy, it says, would attract international students “unparalleled in both excellence and diversity.”

“As a global leader in higher education, Stanford University should be accessible to the best students in the world regardless of their socioeconomic background,” the text reads.

The motion was presented by David Lobell, C-UAFA chair and earth systems science professor. Lobell cited the “lack of diversity we have in the dimension of students who aren’t well-off.” He estimated that each year, there are about 80 international applicants who would be admitted in a need-blind system but who are currently turned away.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne also threw his support behind the motion, even in light of diminished expectations of the University’s future financial performance. He seconded Lobell’s assertions that being fully need-blind would bring Stanford in line with peer institutions and that high program costs might be partially offset with future philanthropy.

“I want to take this opportunity to applaud C-UAFA for bringing this forward, I know this has been something we’ve been discussing for some time,” Tessier-Levigne said. “Those of you on the Faculty Senate last May will recall that we committed to going down this path for all the reasons that have been described so eloquently.”

The decision to go need-blind for all students regardless of nationality has been something that the University has been carefully thinking about for years, according to Lobell.

“There were concerns that we discussed from an admissions office perspective,” Lobell said. “They’re getting inundated — I’m sure you all know — the number of applications goes up each year much faster than, say, the staff at the admissions office. There is a challenge of efficiency.”

Because international students often don’t pay taxes or come from countries with opaque financial systems, assessing them for financial aid status requires investing more time and resources including potentially hiring new trained administrators. Administrators must rely on more unconventional disclosures, such as the car the applicant’s family drives. However, C-UAFA believes the extra work pays off by building a more equitable freshman class.

C-UAFA, Lobell said, approved the motion last year, but was only recently given this time at Faculty Senate.

Council proceedings

After significant debate over its wording, the Senate also approved “A Vote on the Resolution on Diversity, Free Expression and Civility.”

The motion states that the Senate is “concerned by the damage to our larger democracy by the use of hate speech and disinformation” and “alarmed by lies and disinformation targeting University professors, staff and students.”

The motion stated that the Faculty Senate “reaffirms” the “University’s commitments to diversity” and the Fundamental Standard.

The Council also heard a presentation on SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory from its directory, Chi-Chang Kao. Kao discussed both the boons and challenges that come with SLAC’s unique position as both part of a private university and a contractor with the Department of Energy.


Contact Cooper Veit at cveit ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Cooper Veit '22 is an opinions writer and amateur Steinbeck scholar from San Francisco. Talk to him about the work and life of John Steinbeck, and contact him at cveit 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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