Students voice expectations and concerns for future provost

May 29, 2023, 4:26 p.m.

Students have voiced hopes and concerns for the selection of Persis Drell’s successor as provost, calling for the successor’s engagement with issues including affordability, transparency and shared governance. A committee supporting the search for the next provost was established following Drell’s May 3 announcement that she will be stepping down from the post starting next year.

The faculty-led Provostial Search Advisory Committee is soliciting feedback from the Stanford community until Saturday on potential candidates to succeed Drell as provost. Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who originally selected Drell as provost, will not select the next provost until the conclusion of the Board of Trustees’ investigation into allegations that the President engaged in research misconduct.

Stanford students expressed hopes that the next provost will maintain close communication and engagement with members of the Stanford community, including with minority groups on campus.

Muslim Student Union (MSU) associate Rami Awwad ’23 said that continuing a relationship built on communication and education between Drell’s successor, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL) officials reporting to the provost and religious minorities on campus is “of the utmost importance.”

Awwad said that he appreciated the presence of administrators from the ORSL, one of many offices reporting to the provost, at MSU’s Open Iftar on April 13. He added that he hoped that similar acts of recognition and engagement would continue from the next provost and other administrators. 

“[Their presence] shows that even the higher-ups with very senior level positions still care about us on a student [and] popular level, even if it’s a minority community such as the Muslim community,” Awwad said. “They still went out of their way and put in the effort and made time for us.”

In addition to administrators in ORSL, officials such as the deans of Stanford’s seven schools, the Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Vice Provost of Graduate Education report directly to the provost.

The Provostial Search Advisory Committee’s search for Drell’s successor coincides with graduate workers’ attempts to unionize and undergraduate students’ expressions of dissatisfaction with social and residential experiences on campus.

Given that the provost oversees many offices impacting students’ experiences at the University, Graduate Student Council (GSC) co-chair and fifth-year education Ph.D. student Emily Schell said that she hopes that Drell’s successor will come with experience working directly with students.

“They will need to be prepared to be accessible, visible and present to students in order to gather information on students’ concerns, which is a critical first step before acting,” Schell wrote in a statement to The Daily.

Lawrence Berg, a fourth-year chemistry Ph.D. student, the GSC’s 2022-23 Faculty Senate Representative and former transportation committee co-chair, voiced a similar set of hopes and concerns focused on issues of affordability.

“A provost committed to improving student wellbeing in the material sense is deeply needed at such a transformative time at the university,” Berg wrote in a statement to The Daily.

Schell argued that Drell’s absence from the graduate student community’s monthly food pantry after being invited by graduate students represented “a key missed opportunity for top leadership to understand students’ lives under the Stanford that they create and be present for their students.”

“Despite the essential nature of students to Stanford’s academic vitality and excellent reputation, our perspectives are not considered significant enough to include in critical decisions that will impact all of us in our university community,” Schell wrote.

Over the 2022-23 academic year, the GSC has spearheaded advocacy on campus affordability in areas such as the restoration of the Shopping Express, the expansion of graduate student meal plan options, a Bill on Affordability and a vote of no confidence in Stanford leadership.

The Bill on Affordability, Berg argued, came after graduate students were disappointed by the University’s stipend increase, which he said graduate students felt did not properly take inflation into account. In the past, the GSC has advocated for greater transparency on how minimum salary adjustments are calculated.

Schell wrote that she hoped the areas of advocacy on affordability would be something that “this next provost will be willing to take advantage of… as well as create opportunities to connect with students themselves.”

The current moment of affordability advocacy by graduate students, Berg wrote, means that “now is the time for a clean leadership slate.”

In response to graduate student disagreements with Drell, University spokesperson Dee Mostofi referred to Drell’s remarks to the community announcing her resignation, which read “The problems that end up on the provost’s desk often are difficult and the decisions that must be made are hard. I appreciate that while we might not have always agreed, I felt that you gave me the grace of good intentions and the respect to bring your disagreements to me directly.”

Students also expressed the hope that the next provost could advocate for underrepresented students on campus. Undergraduate Senator Gordon Allen ’26 wrote in a statement to The Daily that it’s crucial that the next provost “has experience in advocating for underprivileged groups in some capacity.”

“Specifically, the provost should have either experience or willingness to support the empowerment and resource creation for BIPOC, Queer and FLI students,” Allen wrote.

The importance of the provost’s role engaging not just for students but also for faculty, Allen wrote, makes it important for the selection committee to consider “candidates that embody a passion for shared governance.”

Sebastian Strawser ‘26 is an Opinions contributor. He also writes for Humor and The Grind. His interests include political philosophy, capybaras and Filipino food. Contact Sebastian at sstrawser 'at'

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