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Welcome to fall quarter

an arcade at Stanford around the main quad, showing archways
Jason Leung/Unsplash
Sep 14 2020
Announcement, Students

Dear members of our Stanford community,

Last week, we welcomed new frosh, transfer students, and graduate and professional students to Stanford. Though our orientation programs were virtual this year, meeting our diverse cohort of new students brought all the enthusiasm of a new academic year, as we convene as a community, reconnect with friends and colleagues, and dive back into our work and studies. Even in 2020, the new school year carries with it the excitement of cracking open a new book—or its online equivalent—and the anticipation of everything we’ll learn in the weeks and months ahead.

We have faced extraordinary challenges this year, including most recently the ongoing tragic wildfires that are affecting many members of our community, directly impacting the homes of some, and affecting many more through the poor air quality in our region. As we all yearn for normalcy in these uncertain times, I hope that you find comfort in reconnecting with Stanford and the return to the rhythms of our academic year.

As fall quarter begins, I’ve been reflecting on how much has changed since our campus entered shelter-in-place in March. Both the public health situation and state and local guidance have evolved almost week by week, and Stanford has had to regularly roll out new and changing policies in response. I want to thank all of you for working with us to implement necessary changes. As well, in our efforts to respond rapidly to changing circumstances, we sometimes need to adjust course as we take into account ideas and concerns expressed by the community. I greatly appreciate all who provide input and help us improve the university’s response.

Throughout fall quarter, we will continue to communicate with you as circumstances and guidance change. One way we will be connecting with you more often is through regular virtual conversations, featuring a variety of faculty and staff leaders who will update you on specific issues and answer your questions.

The first of these conversations will be held on September 23, when Provost Drell and I will be joined by Shirley Everett, Senior Associate Vice Provost for Residential & Dining Enterprises, and Mona Hicks, Senior Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Students, to discuss the residential student experience for this academic year. I hope you will join us.

As we have worked to navigate the pandemic, we’ve also all heard the call for racial justice that intensified this summer. As I announced in June, we’ve launched a number of initiatives to counter racism and create a more inclusive culture on campus, and we’ve been meeting with community members and hearing your thoughts and recommendations. In the coming days, Provost Drell will provide an update on the progress of these initiatives.

This summer, we also expedited the process to consider the requests to rename Jordan Hall. After conducting extensive research, outreach, and evaluation, the review committee has submitted its recommendations by the beginning of the quarter, as promised. Final recommendations will be brought to the Board of Trustees in the coming weeks.

From our COVID-19 response to our racial justice initiatives, I’m grateful to all who are doing the important work of moving our university forward. At New Student Orientation, I was asked what gives me hope. It is, without a doubt, our people. And as I look to the future, I believe we can use the knowledge and skills concentrated in this community to help lead in the world that emerges after the pandemic.

When I think about how this crisis will change our university, I believe that it will help renew Stanford’s mission of public service in at least two important ways.

The first is through an increased focus on accelerating the generation of knowledge and its application to solving problems. Acceleration has been part of our long-range vision since before the pandemic. But its promise was highlighted this spring, when many members of our university community rapidly pivoted to deploy our resources to respond to the medical, epidemiological, and societal dimensions of COVID-19. Spurred by the urgency of the moment, we collaborated more effectively and efficiently with regulatory authorities and private partners to develop diagnostic tests, hasten trials of possible therapies, and conduct cutting-edge research. I’m confident that these lessons will be built on across many other fields of research moving forward.

The second is by leveraging the lessons of what has been an intense experiment with online learning. Stanford faculty and researchers have used this period to develop new models of more equitable and effective remote education. The opportunities that this provides to make education more accessible have the potential to revolutionize how we teach tomorrow’s leaders, at Stanford and beyond. Similar opportunities are evident in online health care delivery, which has also dramatically accelerated since the pandemic began.  

It will take innovation, creativity, and resolve to navigate the challenges we face and build a safer and more equitable future for all. There will be difficult days ahead. But as I look to the future, I find myself thinking often of Jane Stanford’s words in 1904: “Let us not be afraid to outgrow old thoughts and ways, and dare to think on new lines.” We have a rare opportunity to rethink every aspect of our lives: from the big questions in our fields, to the preconceptions we hold, to our plans for the future. Even as we attend to the ongoing crisis, let us embrace this opportunity to change things for the better in the long term.

Thank you, as always, for your partnership through this challenging time. I wish you the best for a creative and fulfilling quarter.

Best wishes,
Marc