President speaks on graduate unionization, academic freedom at Faculty Senate meeting

April 13, 2023, 11:05 p.m.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne reaffirmed the University’s commitment to academic freedom as well as its approach to the recently launched campaign for a graduate student union during the Faculty Senate meeting Thursday. The senate also heard a report on the Doerr School of Sustainability’s future and the Committee of 12’s recommendations regarding academic integrity.

In his remarks to the senate, Tessier-Lavigne echoed his sentiments on academic freedom sent to the Stanford community in his April 3 statement amid the law school controversy following Judge Duncan’s visit.

“Conditional to our foundational mission of learning [is] our commitment to academic freedom and to the expression of diverse viewpoints in our community,” he said.

The senate passed a motion on a divided vote to endorse Tessier-Lavigne’s statement on academic freedom. 

Some senators expressed their support for his statement, including Larry Diamond ’74 M.A. ’78 Ph.D. ’80, professor by courtesy of sociology and of political science.

“It’s a very original and powerful statement,” Diamond said. “I hope efforts will be made to distribute it in innovative ways to our undergraduates, and I hope it can be worked into whatever plans there are for convocation in the fall.”

Joshua Landy, professor of French language, literature and civilization, disagreed.

“[Academic freedom] is only one of our values, and it sometimes enters into tension with academic responsibility,” Landy said. “The president’s letter nowhere mentions academic responsibility, which in my mind is a wasted opportunity.”

On the topic of graduate students’ unionization efforts, Tessier-Lavigne reiterated the points made in his April 7 statement to the Stanford community, emphasizing that the University’s relationship with graduate students is “first and foremost an educational one”, as well as affirming the University’s right to oversee academic matters. 

The unionization effort was officially launched April 3, and if successful, would offer graduate students the option to join the nationally-affiliated Stanford Graduate Workers Union.

Graduate Student Council member Lawrence Berg, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in chemistry, posed questions to Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell about their commitment to the well-being of graduate students. Berg expressed the dissatisfaction of graduate students with the return of a single transit line and the absence of University leadership when invited to graduate student efforts like food pantries to address outstanding issues of food insecurity.

“Your absence speaks louder to me and other graduate students than any half-hearted commitments you’ve made so far,” Berg said. “Graduate students have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours advocating for graduate student needs on this campus.”

In response to Berg’s remarks, Tessier-Lavigne said that the administration looks forward to working with graduate students at the appropriate time, but he and Drell refrained from making any other statements that could positively or negatively influence the unionization process, saying that such statements could violate federal labor law.

Tessier-Lavigne also expressed his gratitude to the Jewish community for speaking with him at the Passover Shabbat dinner on April 7. The past few months have seen a string of antisemitic events on campus, followed most recently by the discovery of a swastika in Lane History Corner on Wednesday. 

“Stanford rejects antisemitism and any symbols of antisemitism with all our might,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “Hatred in any form is not tolerated on our campus.”

Tessier-Lavigne also announced that tennis legend John McEnroe will speak at Stanford’s 2023 Commencement Ceremony. Though McEnroe never completed his undergraduate degree at Stanford, he led Stanford to the NCAA tennis championship in 1978 and won the individual title that same year.

Committee of 12

The Committee of 12 — which is composed of five faculty members, five students and two staff — presented the recommendations it has come up with in regards to the Honor Code and Judicial Charter and Process. These recommendations take into account feedback gathered from meetings with the deans of all seven schools at Stanford, over 40 student focus groups and 23 universities. The Undergraduate Senate, Graduate Student Council and Faculty Senate will each vote to approve the proposed revisions in the coming weeks.

The committee shared key concerns with the Honor Code that led to underreporting of honor code violations from faculty as well as general dissatisfaction. One concern is the one-size-fits-all approach to violations, which treats a minor infraction from a first-year undergraduate with the same weight as serious plagiarism in a doctoral candidate’s dissertation. 

“The stakes are really high, and we think, sometimes, they shouldn’t be,” said Assistant Vice Provost and Deputy Dean of Students Mark DiPerna. “We lose a lot of educational value of students learning from their mistakes.”

DiPerna said the lengthy and cumbersome process makes some students and faculty reluctant to report instances of honor code violations, and the overly legalistic language in the Honor Code can be hard to interpret, which “models language from the U.S. criminal justice process.” 

The recommended solutions from the committee were to have a three-tiered process with alternative resolutions and nondisciplinary actions depending on the severity of the Honor Code violation. The committee also proposed quick resolutions for low-level violations, a mandated reporting time frame of 60 days from the day of discovery and the removal of any legal or criminalistic jargon from the Honor Code.

Stanford’s Honor Code rests heavily on the principle of self-supervision, but this principle is severely limited in its ability to find instances of honor code violations, professor of mathematics Brian Conrad said. Out of 720 reports of honor code violations from students, only two were self-reported, the committee’s report found.

In response to concerns of conflicting views on proctoring and the additional clarity that is needed on unpermitted aid, the committee proposes launching an Academic Integrity Working Group that will work in conjunction with an external, educational consulting firm to carry out a study about equitable proctoring practices.

Doerr School

Doerr School of Sustainability Dean Arun Majumdar presented to the Faculty Senate about the school’s visions for the future. He said the school has plans to expand over the coming years in order to better reach its mission of addressing climate change and sustainability.

“In short, this challenge is complex and spans the whole campus,” Majumdar said. “Therefore, our response to this challenge demands a whole campus effort toward a common goal. It requires imaginative and bold changes within Stanford.”

In addition to the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy, the Doerr School plans to launch a third institute that will be focused on sustainable societies. 

“In this particular field of sustainability, if we don’t think about scale from the beginning, we may be solving a different problem,” he said.

Among the developments in store for the Doerr School are a number of educational programs. The school is offering a SUSTAIN 101 undergraduate course series as of this year and will launch a new Oceans Ph.D. program. There will also be an offering of graduate certificates for those who do not attend Stanford and want certification in the climate sciences. 

The school aims to hire around an additional 60 faculty members over the next decade, Majumdar said, going on to say that the faculty search panel will include Indigenous voices and look for experts on environmental justice.

He highlighted the ongoing discussions on fossil fuel funding for research at the Doerr School as an example of the school’s values in action.

“I put out a statement last May of where I stand,” he said. “But I also want to listen to all the students and hear what they have to say.” According to Majumdar, the next step is to have a dialogue to evaluate all the school’s options when it comes to engaging with fossil fuel companies.

Sarah Raza '23 M.A. '24 is a Vol. 264 News Managing Editor. During Vol. 263, she was a Desk Editor for the University Desk. She hails from Michigan. Contact Sarah at sraza 'at'

Login or create an account

Apply to The Daily’s High School Summer Program

deadline EXTENDED TO april 28!