Stanford University: Faculty Senate details increased interaction with Hoover Institution, grading changes

The Hoover Institution is increasing its collaborations and interaction with Stanford University, as detailed in a report to the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

The Faculty Senate also voted to approve a recommendation for the Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing grading policy from the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy (C-USP).

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne began the session by expressing the university’s support for members of the community affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The launch of a major land war in Europe is an extraordinary and shocking event of historic proportions,” he said. “I also appreciate all that you, our faculty, do to extend support and care for our students. It is important to remember that an international conflict of this scale will have effects and consequences for many members of our community, in many different ways.”

Hoover Institution
Last year, members of the Faculty Senate expressed support for increased interaction with the Hoover Institution and asked Provost Persis Drell and Condoleezza Rice, the Tad and Dianne Taube Director of the Hoover Institution, to provide an update on strategies to do so, following consultation with faculty and Hoover senior fellows.

After some discussion, former and current members of the Faculty Senate and Hoover senior fellows gathered for three co-hosted dinners last summer, Drell said. About 70 people participated in the dinners, which included structured conversations around topics such as the responsibilities of academic freedom and how to increase productive interactions.

Dinner participants agreed that campus discourse was “less civil” than desired and that being civil and listening to those with different views is fundamental to being a university citizen. Many also felt that a larger problem is what’s not being said out of fear of ending up on social media.

“There was a lot of conversation around the classroom, and what goes on in the classroom. … Both students and faculty were fearful of expressing thoughts and views,” Drell said. “And no one felt that was healthy.”

Fortunately, the discussions also surfaced ways to help overcome these challenges: having diverse groups; drawing from a range of examples from across the political spectrum; and focusing discussions on concrete and practical things. There was absolute consensus that the dinner discussions were valuable and should be continued, Drell said.

The Hoover Institution very much wants to participate in and be a part of the civil discourse discussion at the university, Rice said. She detailed concrete ways that it is doing so.

For example, nearly two-thirds of Hoover’s senior fellows hold joint appointments with other schools and institutes across the university.

“I think sometimes that’s not well understood. So these are your faculty as well as your senior fellows,” Rice said. “But I think there is more that we can do on the joint appointment side.”

Hoover also plans to launch a Hoover Science Fellows Program to attract scholars whose science, technology and engineering work may have big policy implications. “We are looking in this interdisciplinary fashion because we’re trying to encourage collaborative work,” Rice said.

Similarly, Hoover is looking to recruit those with backgrounds in the humanities. Increasingly there are also policy implications for the humanities, Rice said.

Hoover also plans to provide more opportunities for students, such as an internship program, and to redesign its website to better reflect its mission. “The great bulk of what we do is academic research from a data-driven fashion, evidence-based on important issues, that then lead to policy recommendations,” Rice said.

Stephen Montgomery, associate professor of pathology and of genetics, also encouraged the Hoover Institution to think of ways to reach out to School of Medicine students who are interested in policymaking, which could also go toward repairing some acrimony seen online between fellows and medical students.

Ways grading policy
The Faculty Senate voted to approve a recommendation from the C-USP to allow the Breadth Governance Board to certify satisfactory/no credit (S/NC) as acceptable grading bases for Ways-certified courses.

Legislation for Ways, the university’s unique general education breadth requirement for undergraduates, has required that all Ways courses be taken for a letter grade, with the exception of Creative Expression, explained C-USP Chair John Taylor, the Mary and Robert Raymond Professor in Economics in the School of Humanities and Sciences and the George P. Shultz Senior Fellow in Economics at the Hoover Institution.

In 2020, the Department of Physics changed its grading policy to S/NC and found it resulted in students being more engaged in course content and less focused on grades, said Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Sarah Church, who is a professor of physics.

The Physics Department also found that grade anxiety discourages students from taking intellectual risks and that students tend to take courses matched to their high school preparation, as opposed to focusing on course content. Based on these findings, the Physics Department will change the grading basis for its introductory course sequences to S/NC beginning in the academic year 2022-23.

“We view it as an experiment over the next several years,” said Peter Graham, an associate professor of physics and the director of undergraduate studies in the department. “We’ll be very carefully watching our final exam and midterm data. And if we see performance declining, we might change our mindsets.”

Several senators expressed concern about why a broader discussion of this issue wasn’t being considered and asked whether a formal study of this approach would be conducted.

Church agreed that it’s a good time to have a more in-depth conversation about grading and said she can establish a working group to consider the matter, adding that the way students are graded and how grades are used have changed greatly over the years.

Masking
Santa Clara County is continuing its indoor mask mandate until the prevalence of cases falls below a 7-day rolling average of 550 for a period of one week, Drell told the Faculty Senate. The Santa Clara County Public Health Department announced Thursday that this metric is expected to be reached on March 2.

A Stanford subcommittee composed of members of the university’s vaccine and testing group is developing a policy and metrics for revising the university’s masking policy, and more information will be provided to the university community soon. Those who are unvaccinated must continue to wear masks, Drell said.

‘Cautiously optimistic’
Tessier-Lavigne also discussed the Department of Justice’s announcement this week that it will end the “China Initiative,” which was launched in 2018 to counter challenges posed by China, such as potential misappropriation of intellectual property.

Stanford is “cautiously optimistic” about the indication by the Justice Department that it will broaden its focus to include threats from other nations and make reforms to address concerns raised by scientists, students and academic institutions, he said.

The university has more than 1,000 students and scholars from China, in addition to many Chinese American students and scholars. Many faculty have reported feeling increased pressure and scrutiny of their academic pursuits, and Tessier-Lavigne said he has shared this concern with policymakers.

“We know that the strength of our community comes from embracing our diversity and all that our varied perspectives and backgrounds bring to the table,” he said.

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