Thinking Boldly

Photo: Toni Bird

Since reaching my first anniversary as president this fall, I have often been asked what the experience has been like and what I’ve learned about Stanford. 

The answer is that the experience has exceeded my very high expectations, as I’ve encountered a dynamic community eager to think boldly about the future. In this column, I’d like to share these first impressions. 

At Stanford, I’ve found brilliant scholars and educators, energetic students who are passionate about contributing meaningfully to the world, and dedicated staff who live and breathe the mission of the university. I’ve been impressed by Stanford’s breadth of academic excellence across all disciplines, by its richly varied community knit together by a collaborative culture, and by the university’s spirit of service to humanity.

Our alumni are a big part of our strength. I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with many, including more than 5,000 in visits to 10 U.S. cities, with more to come in 2018. I also met many of the more than 10,000 alumni and guests at Reunion Homecoming this fall—which had record-breaking attendance—along with some of the hundreds of graduate alumni who returned to join celebrations hosted by their schools. The impact of Stanford alumni in the world is remarkable, as is their dedication to sustaining and strengthening Stanford
for future generations.

I’ve found a campus community hungry for engagement. Provost Persis Drell and I have sought to meet that desire for engagement with town halls, office hours, staff forums, faculty lunches, dorm dinners, a new blog and many informal get-togethers with members of our community. We’re continuing to explore new ways of fostering communication and connection.  

I’ve also found a desire across our community to improve—to reject complacency and to identify not only where we can become better, but also where we should be dreaming big. Our long-range planning process has been the fulcrum of much of this discussion. 

Persis and I launched the long-range planning effort last April to stimulate a collaborative, inclusive process for creating a vision of the university’s future. If we were to ask the entire community to articulate its wishes for Stanford, what might we get? What new ideas might emerge? What common themes and interests might become more visible?

Initially the effort encountered interest but also, naturally, some skepticism. But by the beginning of summer, we were happily surprised to receive more than 2,800 ideas and proposals from across our community, including more than 500 submissions from alumni. Over the summer and into the fall, more than 100 faculty, students, staff and other members of our campus community have pored over the proposals within four steering groups, identifying and synthesizing themes in the areas of Education, Research, Our Community and Engagement Beyond Our University.

As I write, it’s too soon to describe outcomes. The process will continue into the spring. We know there will be ideas that will inspire us, challenge us, prompt short-term improvements and catalyze long-term initiatives, as we aim to develop a vision for Stanford for the next 10 years and beyond. We also know we have a responsibility to listen deeply to what our community is telling us and to use this unique opportunity to chart a compelling course for Stanford.

Jane and Leland Stanford had a bold vision for their university—a vision based on their optimism about the power of knowledge to transform lives and better the world. More than 126 years later, we have an opportunity again to think boldly about what Stanford can achieve, fueled by the talent and optimism of this special community.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.