President, provost talk racial inequality, financial difficulties, University planning updates

June 1, 2020, 9:48 p.m.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell addressed anti-Black racism nationwide and on campus, warned that financial losses are expected to continue into the next fiscal year and discussed prioritizing research in the University’s phased reopening in a virtual conversation on Monday. 

Protests, racial inequality on campus

Both speakers began by addressing the protests that have erupted across the country in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.

“For so many in our community, the last few days have brought feelings of anger and fear and grief and disbelief,” Drell said. “They have brought stress, additional stress for so many of you who are already pushed to the brink of exhaustion due to the chaos and uncertainty that have been surrounding this pandemic.”

She said that the administration is communicating with spring quarter instructors to be flexible and extend empathy to all students who need it at this time. 

Drell also received a question that was submitted by a participant “on behalf of [their] Black co-worker.” 

“I’ve never felt welcomed or safe on campus,” reads the question, which was co-signed by the submitter. “I feel safer in Oakland than I do anywhere in Palo Alto, Stanford and Menlo Park. And after this horrible injustice that continues to happen, i.e., George Floyd’s murder, I will not feel safe at all.” 

Drell expressed recognition and respect for the lived experience of people who share the questioner’s sentiments, saying she doesn’t have “an easy answer.”

“As a community and as an institution, we have to continue to work to address the causes of injustice, of inequity, of racial violence,” Drell said. “We have to address them in our teaching, and we have to address it with our personal lives and the way we personally behave. These aren’t just societal issues, they are local issues too.”

Over the past month, faculty members have used the N-word three times during instructional settings, drawing criticism and condemnation from community members. An assistant art history professor read the word while quoting song lyrics in a guest lecture at the end of April and used the word again in a Canvas discussion post a week later. Last Wednesday, a Stanford Law School professor said the word aloud while reading a quote attributed to Patrick Henry.

In response to an audience question on the repeated use of racial slurs in classes, Drell replied that faculty are asking the University for help in determining what crosses the line between pedagogical value and the real damage to the community. 

When talking about increasing diversity on campus, Drell mentioned the IDEAL initiative that sets diversity and social justice as one of the University’s central goals as well as the success of diversifying staff through hiring practices. 

“We stand in support and in solidarity with our Black community, and with our other communities who each day confront the realities of inequality, discrimination and racism,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “As a community here at Stanford, we must all of us recommit ourselves to standing against racism and hatred, and for equity and inclusion.”

Financial difficulties 

Tessier-Lavigne elaborated on last week’s letter about the University’s financial situation following the impacts of COVID-19.

The forecasted $267 million shortfall only encapsulates the losses for the fiscal year ending on August 31, Tessier-Lavigne clarified. In order to ensure pay continuation until then, the University used “reserves and a number of one-time actions.”

The University expects financial losses to continue in the next fiscal year, and expects to lay off or furlough some workers and cancel some department programs. According to Tessier-Lavigne, the budgets of university units will be finalized in July. Information about which programs will be cancelled will be available at that time. 

Tessier-Lavigne also responded to a question about the limited use of endowment to address the needs of the community. 

“We do draw on the endowment every year to support activities across the university,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “The endowment is invested. When the endowment grows, it provides a payout that provides about 20% of our operating revenue.”

Tessier-Lavigne cited market challenges, long-term financial planning and restrictions on the use of endowment funds as challenges that prevent the University from using it to cover short-term expenses.

Nevertheless, the discussions are ongoing about the use of the 25% of endowment that do not have restrictions  on their use. 

“So I can assure you we will draw on the endowment again, to the extent that is prudent and responsible, balancing current needs with the long term needs of the University,” he said. “I’m working with the Board of Trustees on determining what that payout can be.”

Resuming university activities

As the University starts to gradually resume in-person activities, Drell said that workers are encouraged to work from home if possible until September 1. She said that it was hard to imagine that the practice will not become a more substantial part of University culture long-term. 

Another submitter questioned Drell about the University’s support for postdoc students, saying the University treats postdocs as “not deserving [of] basic University rights and resources during normal operations and a pandemic.” 

Drell said that Stanford is working to ease the pressure to return to research if postdocs don’t feel safe doing so. 

“They also absolutely shouldn’t be pressured to go into a lab if they aren’t comfortable or don’t feel safe,” Drell said. 

“The postdoc community is a very very important driver of the research engine of this University,” she added.

Research is the University’s highest priority during its phased reopening, Drell said. 

“I think for many postdocs, a primary concern that they have is the ability to accomplish the research they are in progress on so that they can go on to their next job or whatever their career aspirations are,” she said.

Attendees also asked what academic changes Stanford will make to address “issues of justice, equity, access to diversity across our society.”

“My personal feeling is that the issues of race and equality and inequity are the issues of our time,” Drell said. “It is very hard to look at any research without at least being aware of that lens. So, I very much hope that it will be front and center for Stanford going forward.”

Contact Anastasia Malenko at malenk0 ‘at’

Anastasiia Malenko is the Vol. 261 News Managing Editor. Originally from Ukraine, she focuses on politics and international student life in her coverage. In her free time, she loves listening to throwbacks and catching up on book and coffee recommendations. Contact her at amalenko 'at'

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