Provost Drell apologizes for controversial diversity training checklist

Nov. 18, 2020, 10:02 p.m.

Provost Persis Drell apologized for the “disruption and concern” caused by the circulation of a memo instructing departments to modify their diversity training programs in a Wednesday email to the Stanford community.

The memo detailed modifications that departments should make to diversity training programs to comply with a Trump executive order, including prohibiting references to structural racism and unconscious bias. Some professors said that the prohibited content specified on the checklist exceeded what the executive order required training programs to omit. The email explained that the message, which was sent to Stanford managers on Nov. 13, was circulated before being reviewed and approved. 

Drell did not specify how the University would comply with the executive order, beyond noting that the checklist “conveyed the opposite of what we seek to convey to our community.” She wrote that the University “abides by its legal obligations and will continue to do so.”

A University spokesperson declined to comment on whether the University plans to release an updated memo and wrote in a Tuesday email to The Daily that the University “must comply with all state and federal obligations.”

The executive order will go into effect on Nov. 21, at which point the U.S. government will be able to investigate federal grant recipients to identify whether their diversity training programs violate the order. If the University, which receives such funding, is deemed to be in violation of the order, it is possible that federal grants could be revoked. 

Drell wrote that she and President Marc Tessier-Lavigne are “deeply unhappy that the document could have been produced and circulated without an understanding of how damaging it would be.” The University will conduct a review to determine how the message was posted prematurely and to ensure that it does not happen again, she wrote.

Though the order prohibits training programs from teaching that the U.S. is fundamentally racist, Drell wrote that it would be “deeply misguided” to prohibit concepts of systemic racism and implicit bias from being a part of the University’s training programs.

“The checklist left many with the erroneous impression that Stanford seeks to eliminate discussion of topics, such as systemic racism and implicit bias, that are widely understood to be based in historical fact and are evidenced in the work of scholars at Stanford and beyond,” she wrote.

Contact Tammer Bagdasarian at tbag ‘at’

Tammer Bagdasarian '24 is an Executive Editor for The Daily, and is planning to major in Communication and Political Science. He previously served as a News Managing Editor. Contact him at tbagdasarian 'at'

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