Faculty Senate wrestles with issues in residential and social life

Oct. 6, 2023, 2:57 a.m.

The Faculty Senate tackled a lack of student engagement with neighborhood system at its first meeting of the academic year on Thursday. University leadership acknowledged student criticism of the neighborhood system and shared plans for improvement.

It was the Senate’s first meeting following transitions in University leadership. Interim President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez shared updates and engaged in dialogue with the senators.

Residential experiences and social life

Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole and Senior Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Elaine Treharne explained many aspects of student life — residential and social — to senators in a presentation on the evolving residential system. 

Treharne said the core goal of Residential Education (ResEd) was supporting students in “learning and practicing civil engagement” and personal growth to meet the “unique and challenging circumstances” of student life. 

ResEd was established after the COVID-19 pandemic. Brubaker-Cole described recent changes as “a massive undertaking,” with “foundational changes made thus far.”

According to Brubaker-Cole, reoccurring feedback from students included the importance of opportunities to group with friends and the physical organization (or lack thereof) of neighborhoods.

Friend groups being split up is “a huge friction point for students,” Brubaker-Cole said.

Brubaker-Cole also acknowledged concerns that buildings within neighborhoods were too spread out. The organization was a result of the need to spread row houses across neighborhoods, she said. 

The Neighborhood Task Force is focused on the future of the neighborhood system, including housing assignments, how the neighborhoods are spread around campus and equity across neighborhoods. Brubaker-Cole said the task force includes students from “very diverse backgrounds, housing experiences and interests.”

“We’re optimistic that by the end of the quarter we’ll have a solid set of recommendations that will strike an appropriate balance between community and an equitable distribution of resources,” Brubaker-Cole said. 

Brubaker-Cole also said residential assistants (RAs) received a pay raise to support additional duties tied to revitalizing student life.

English professor Gavin Jones — who was a residential fellow (RF) at the same time as Brubaker-Cole — said RAs are critical to the undergraduate residential system.

Brubaker-Cole said “substantial changes” made to RA training received “extremely positive” feedback.

Computer science professor Mehran Sahami Ph.D. ’99, who is a former RA and RF, said several students shared negative experiences with him tied to the neighborhood system.

“I worry we are trying to over-engineer [student life],” Sahami said.

Echoing Sahami, Jones said he hears the phrase “War on Fun” a lot.

Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Executive Vice President and former social chair of Kappa Sigma Kyle Haslett ’25 said there was “a large increase in the amount of students that were rushing fraternities and sororities.” This was an indication of student desire for autonomy over social life, Haslett said.

ASSU Executive President Sophia Danielpour ’24 highlighted the emphasis on social life in her and Haslett’s platform — titled “Fun Strikes Back.” She raised questions to Brubaker-Cole and Treharne on the focus on the Neighborhood Task Force and perceived delays in rolling out a survey about the residential system.

Treharne emphasized that the review of ResEd was “meant to be a genuinely democratic process. We want to hear from students.” ASSU executives raised their hands five times before they were called on to speak.

Brubaker-Cole said the results of the survey would “be really revealing” and are expected to guide future policy decisions.

She acknowledged that the neighborhood system would not resolve every concern over student life and stressed the importance of organically formed communities.

The neighborhood system “probably contributed to some of the problems,” but “I will express again my optimism [that] we’re going to create really positive change,” Brubaker-Cole said.

Updates from University leadership

Saller preceded Senate discussions by commending Martinez’s “experience and judgment” and elaborated on the University’s decision to join the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

“It’s been the subject of more media coverage than anything else that’s happened over the past year,” Saller said.

Following the departure of other schools from the PAC-12 Conference, Saller said the move was “really the only option left.”

“We know what the revenue agreement is, but there are many other factors that play into the net financial picture,” Saller said. He emphasized “that this increased deficit will not come out of general funds” because “two years ago, the endowment enjoyed a 40% jump and that has provided a surge of revenues to the president’s discretionary fund.”

Martinez said she looks forward to supporting faculty and students and address “a range of issues from affordability to mental health and unionization.”

The Faculty Senate will address the Supreme Court’s decision overturning affirmative action later in the quarter, Martinez said. The University remains “committed to a holistic review of every applicant for review that considers the broader array of accomplishments and life experiences of every student.”

Martinez said application readers “will not receive the race [and] ethnicity checkbox information that students provide on their application.” She also shared that there were “minor adjustments to essay questions.”

“It’s important that prospective students know that our extended scholarship program ensures that they can afford to come here,” Martinez said. She highlighted efforts like “planning and hiring additional staff, including regional staff, to aid in these efforts.”

Martinez announced the committee to find her official successor as Dean of Stanford Law School (SLS) will be chaired by law professor Jane Schacter and former provost Persis Drell.

Support for emeriti/ae faculty

Iris Litt, a current pediatrics professor emerita and Emeriti/ae Council chair, presented on how the University can better support its emeriti/ae community.

“The stereotype of emeriti sitting on the porch is, in fact, incorrect,” Litt said.

According to Litt, emeriti faculty teach undergraduate and graduate courses, serve on dissertation committees, mentor students and faculty and consult at institutions outside of Stanford.

Chemical engineering professor Eric Shaqfeh M.S. ’82 Ph.D. ’86 asked why the roles of emeriti/ae can vary widely between departments: “What creates the culture in some places?”

Litt responded that her department tries to invite emeriti/ae to “one tailgate a year” and called on senators to advocate “for meaningful inclusion of emeriti/ae.”

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' stanforddaily.com.

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