Stanford's Faculty Senate ends the year with sendoffs and a renewed commitment to civility

The Faculty Senate on Thursday heard a presentation from outgoing and incoming leaders of the Associated Students and a report from the Emeriti Council. They bid farewell in song to the outgoing chair Russell Berman and gave President John Hennessy a standing ovation. They also urged the community to foster a climate of respect and civility when debating controversial issues.

The Faculty Senate on Thursday approved a motion calling on "all members of the Stanford community to observe mutual respect and civility in the debate of controversial issues."

L.A. CiceroElizabeth Woodson speaking with Brandon Hill standing behind her.

Outgoing ASSU President Elizabeth Woodson speaks to the Faculty Senate on Thursday. At left is Brandon Hill, incoming ASSU vice president.

The motion follows statements issued in February by President John Hennessy and to the Faculty Senate in April  by Provost John Etchemendy that called on the Stanford community to remain committed to civil and rational discussion, especially on controversial topics.

At the end of the meeting, Hennessy announced his plans to step down as Stanford's 10th president in summer 2016, after more than 15 years leading the transformation of one of the world's foremost research institutions. He received a standing ovation.

The senate also heard presentations by the chair of the Stanford Emeriti Council and by student leaders, bid farewell to outgoing senate chair Russell Berman, and approved a resolution honoring Trish Del-Pozzo for her long and distinguished tenure as assistant academic secretary.

Student leaders talk

Elizabeth Woodson, outgoing president of the Associate Students of Stanford University (ASSU), encouraged faculty members to engage more with students by serving as "connectors" by referring students to vital campus services, and to "engage in the moment" if an inappropriate comment is made in a class.

As an example, she described an experience in her computer science ethics class two weeks ago when a male classmate said that women shouldn't be allowed to program driverless cars because they are terrible drivers and all the cars they programmed would crash.

"After that comment was made in that class, I was no longer listening to the lecture and I was no longer listening to the material because I was very upset," she said.

Rather than ignoring such comments, Woodson encouraged faculty to use the opportunity to open up the topic for discussion, which would empower other students to respond, and to ask the student to explain the statement, which would allow the student to clarify the remark, if it had been misinterpreted.

L.A. CiceroJohn Hennessy seated with others standing and applauding.

John Hennessy pauses as the Faculty Senate stands to applaud his years of service after he announced his plan to step down in summer 2016.

"There is the perception that some comments are so horrible that if they are not addressed, that sends a message that they do not have power and should not be acknowledged," she said. "Unfortunately, the lesson that students learn from comments that go unacknowledged is that they are condoned, that they are all right."

Each member of the senate earlier received a copy of the ASSU Executive 2014-2015 Term Final Report, which detailed the accomplishments of this year's student government and the lessons they learned along the way.

John-Lancaster Finley, who was recently elected ASSU president for 2015-16, said student leaders expect to focus on a variety of issues next year, including student mental health and well-being, sexual assault prevention, environmental sustainability and the campus community.

Emeriti Council

David Abernethy, professor emeritus of political science and chair of the Stanford Emeriti Council, said the council co-sponsored a lecture series with the Stanford Center on Longevity during the 2014-15 academic year. The speakers were:

  • Ken Smith, a senior research scholar and director of the mobility division at the Stanford Center on Longevity, talked about the center's design challenge, a global competition aimed at encouraging students to design products and services to improve the lives of older adults. The center recently announced the winners of the 2015 design challenge.
  • Steve Vernon, a consulting research scholar in the center's financial security division, talked about financial security matters affecting retirees.

Farewell to the chair

Brad Osgood, a professor of electrical engineering, offered an acappella "thank you" to outgoing senate chair Russell Berman, a professor of German studies and of comparative literature, with a song based on Cole Porter's "It's De-Lovely." The first two verses were:

The Prez is here, the Provost too,
But the man in charge, well it's you know who.
He's delightful, he's de-lovely, he's de-Berman.

A scholar deep, a writer clear,
But to read his work I'm afraid my dear
Better study, better bone up on your German.

The senate also approved a resolution honoring Trish Del-Pozzo, who is retiring after more than three decades of service to Stanford, including 31 years as assistant academic secretary. The senate also honored Del-Pozzo at a Faculty Club reception following the meeting.

The resolution honored Del-Pozzo for "her competent, inventive and cheerful support for the senate and its steering committee," for "her professionalism and loyalty in strengthening Stanford's remarkable system of academic governance," and for "her patience, pedagogical skill and wonderful sense of humor."

The full minutes of the June 11 senate meeting will be available soon on the Faculty Senate website. The minutes will include the Q&A  sessions that followed the presentations.