September 25, 2017

A new academic year

We want to take the opportunity of a new fall quarter to extend a warm welcome to you, whether for the first time or once again. This is traditionally a time for optimism and excitement at the new academic year, and we have seen those in abundance in the past week as new undergraduates and graduate students arrived on campus.

Yet as we write we are also reminded of the challenges facing some members of our community, with the announcement just hours ago of an updated travel ban affecting visitors to the United States from several countries. We are reviewing the details of this latest announcement and will be providing updates on our website, but in the interim we want to reaffirm again our support for all members of our international and immigrant communities. We stand by you.

Amidst our concern, we must also maintain our resolve and look forward to the year ahead. We hope, for each of you, that it will be a year of new discoveries, of personal growth, of satisfying work and deepened friendships.

We also hope that it will be a year of rich conversation and broadened perspectives. An educational institution is a place built around listening to and learning from each other. Communication is fundamental to our work, and to living in our community.

One of the things we heard from you last year was a request for more information and more communication from university leadership. So, one thing we’re announcing today is a new way to hear from us: a blog named Notes from the Quad. Throughout the year, Notes from the Quad will feature posts from both of us, and from an array of other leaders across the university, about issues we hope will be of interest to you. We invite you to subscribe on the website to receive new posts by email.

More than initiating a new communication channel, however, we want to take this opportunity to encourage a year of deep listening to each other.

One of Stanford’s great strengths is that it is a diverse community of people from all over the world, reflecting varied backgrounds, identities and ways of thinking. We have an extraordinary opportunity here to learn from each other, to have our thinking challenged, to sharpen our arguments and to develop better ideas from thoughtful debate. A thriving academic community depends upon the free exchange of ideas from across the diversity of the community, within a culture of inclusion and mutual respect.

Even before the updated travel ban, the summer brought many reminders of the challenges facing our country and our world. In challenging times, empathy – putting ourselves in another’s place – is more important than ever. This was brought home to us in a meeting with one of our Long-Range Planning area steering groups, the one focused on “Our Community.” In that discussion, we heard about the importance of recognizing and embracing the experiences of those who have different perspectives than we do, even when it disquiets us.

Any day at Stanford that ends without having learned something from another person, or having had one’s mind changed or one’s views enriched by another person, is a missed opportunity. Taking full advantage of that should mean speaking persuasively and listening deeply to each other, even when it means grappling with the unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

That applies to those of us in university leadership, as well. The two of us will be continuing our open-invitation conversations with the campus community, the next of which will be on Wednesday, October 4, at 12 noon in the Gunn-SIEPR Building, 366 Galvez Street. We’ll also continue our office hours and other gatherings, formal and informal, to hear from you.

Speaking of Long-Range Planning, we cannot begin the year without expressing our gratitude for your enthusiastic contributions to this effort. Our community submitted more than 2,700 ideas and proposals to guide Stanford’s long-term future or to make practical improvements in the short term. Those ideas are now being considered by more than 100 faculty, students and staff who compose our four area steering groups. There will be more updates this fall as the groups synthesize and reflect on the proposals, moving them to the Executive Cabinet for consideration and ultimately toward conclusions next spring.

Best wishes for a productive and engaging academic year. We look forward to being in touch, and to moving forward together as a community.