Faculty Senate hears President address research misconduct allegations, discusses graduate students’ affordability issues

Feb. 27, 2023, 12:08 a.m.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne addressed allegations regarding his past research at the Faculty Senate meeting Thursday. The Senate also discussed graduate student financial concerns, administrative efforts to address rising costs of living and the upcoming accreditation.

Tessier-Lavigne’s comments come after The Daily reported on colleagues alleging that an internal review at Genentech found that a paper authored by Tessier-Lavigne’s while at Genentech was “falsified.” The University President is currently under investigation by Stanford’s Board of Trustees after The Daily broke the news of alleged research misconduct.

“I reject the allegations in the strongest possible terms. There was no fraud, no investigation, no cover-up,” Tessier-Lavigne said about the ongoing controversy with his past research

In addition to encouraging fellow faculty to read his letter addressing the allegations, he referenced a statement by Genentech that they have found “no documentation substantiating allegations of a Genentech investigation, scientific fraud, misconduct or other wrongdoing in the research work leading to the 2009 Nature paper.” In a statement to The Daily, the company also acknowledged that “given that these events happened many years ago […] our [Genentech’s] current records may not be complete.”

Tessier-Lavigne also expressed his intention to cooperate with the committee that has been put together to investigate the allegations and spoke directly about his research. 

“The first publication is almost never the final word,” he said. “In our case, we published initial findings, and when our subsequent experiments told us that we didn’t get it perfectly right the first time around and that we needed to revisit aspects of our models, we did so.”

No faculty members gave comments in response to Tessier-Lavigne’s statement, but undergraduate representative Gurmenjit Bahia ’24 posed a question. “You personally are under investigation for alleged academic misconduct. Students are rapidly losing trust in your leadership […] what will you say and most importantly do for students to help them regain faith in their administration?” Bahia said.

Tessier-Lavigne emphasized continued engagement with students to rebuild trust. “We want to [regain students’ trust] to the extent that it’s eroded. We want to do that with continued engagement with the students, hearing what’s on your minds, hearing what the priorities and the pressure points are, [and] genuinely working with you.”

Much of the meeting focused on the tension between graduate students and the administration on affordability. Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs Stacey Bent presented research conducted by the university about financial support for graduate and postdoctoral students, of which Stanford has around 9,600 and 2,500, respectively. 

This presentation comes after the Graduate Student Council (GSC) unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in the University on Feb. 14 over continuing affordability concerns. The next day, the GSC posted a Change.org petition calling on University action to address their concerns.

Bent outlined initiatives the University has taken to improve affordability. Starting this academic year, Cardinal Care is now fully funded for all doctoral students. Need-based funds have also expanded, Bent said, with each student family eligible to receive up to $20,000. Other funds include emergency aid and student aid.

In December, R&DE did a market comparison study, finding that rent for Stanford units are 21-33% below the comparable market of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City and Mountain View. In 2024, rent is expected to increase 4%, Bent said.

Of all graduate students, 70% live on campus, and the majority of students get their first or second choice for housing through R&DE, according to Bent. In October 2022, Stanford announced the purchase of Oak Creek, which will add 759 housing units for postdoctoral fellows and other Stanford affiliates, though some countered that the high rent would continue to pose a barrier to graduate students.

Despite these efforts to improve cost of living for graduate students and postdocs, a survey conducted by Director of Assessment and Evaluation Brian Cook found that 74% of PhD students experienced financial stress while at Stanford. The survey also found that 24% experienced financial stress that they felt impacted their academic performance at Stanford, 34% said they had foregone medical care due to it being too expensive, 22% said they worked one extra job and 11% said they worked more than one extra job.

Food insecurity has specifically been cited as an issue. In the survey, 4% of PhD students said they sometimes or often do not have enough to eat. Bent mentioned the food pantry managed by R&DE, but she said it is “either insufficient or the wrong resource for these students.”

Prior to 2020, a shopping express Marguerite line connected campus to the San Antonio shopping center where there are affordable shopping options, such as Walmart and Safeway. Bent proposed to the budget group to reinstate some of the shuttle route.

“Over the past decade, the University has steadily increased the financial support that PhD students and postdocs receive,” Bent said. “Yet, a significant percentage of our students and postdocs still face very concerning financial difficulties […] We need to be strategic about solving the problems.”

Graduate Student Council (GSC) members fourth year Ph.D. student Lawrence Berg, fifth year Ph.D. student Emily Schell, Yiqing Ding Ph.D. ’21 and fourth year Ph.D. student Jason Anderson gave a presentation about affordability for graduate students emphasizing that the current initiatives were not enough to combat the high cost of living.

“Stanford is currently unaffordable. I will personally tell you this: it is not sustainable,” Berg said. According to Berg, 900 students signed up at the last food pantry. “That’s something that should bother you.”

Schell, who works three jobs, advocated for bringing back the pre-pandemic transit line. “We’re not asking for massive changes and we recognize it’s expensive to keep graduate students at work,” Schell said. “Stanford is our landlord and our employer, so we’re being squeezed as Stanford continues to put these financial interests above students’ experiences.”

Though the GSC passed a bill on affordability in October 2022, the representatives said not one recommendation has been met yet.

Following the presentation, faculty members gave sympathetic comments towards graduate students and postdocs, emphasizing the importance of affordability.

“If I had experienced any of the financial stress you’re talking about, I wouldn’t have gotten my PhD. I am appalled,” said Eric Shaqfeh, professor of mechanical engineering.

Also discussed at the meeting was the upcoming accreditation visit on March 15 and 16 by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). According to the WASC website, accreditation is a “voluntary dual-purpose process” that evaluates the quality of learning at schools, as well as their self-improvement. The accreditation review occurs once a decade and applies to every degree Stanford offers, giving the University access to federal financial aid funds.

Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Stephanie Kalfayan said the University is seeking to maintain its full institutional accreditation.

“A very tangible outcome of being accredited is that it allows our students access to federal financial aid funds. Last year alone, this amounted to $61 million,” Kalfayan said. “Accreditation is pretty important to all of us.”

Two teams, the 12-person steering committee and the 25-person advisory committee, have been preparing for the accreditation since the last review in 2013.

They have recently submitted a 60-page report that focuses on “advancing undergraduate education and supporting our community for success,” Kalfayan said. The report explains recent changes to the undergraduate education structure, such as the COLLEGE requirement, capstone requirement and unit cap. The report also includes findings from the IDEAL DEI survey and conversations with faculty.

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