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President's Welcome

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COLLEGE Faculty Orientation

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne

Thank you, Sarah Church, for your introduction and thank you to Dan Edelstein for bringing us together this morning.

While we’re together on our laptops and monitors today, before long we will be having meetings like this in person once again.

We’re working toward a fall quarter that is as close to normal as possible, and it’s exciting to contemplate gathering in the same room once again.

Along with that new beginning, this Civic, Liberal and Global Education program will provide a new type of “COLLEGE” experience – one written in all caps, even! – for our first-year students and for Stanford more broadly.

As you gather for orientation, I appreciate the chance to spend a few minutes with you and to thank you for the crucial role you’re playing in this ambitious, exciting new opportunity.

I’m also grateful to the members of the first-year governing board, who are with us, too. Thank you for taking on the critical, timely tasks of reviewing, designing and certifying, and translating Faculty Senate legislation into the operational language that will make this exciting vision of undergraduate education a reality.

I particularly want to acknowledge Jay Hamilton for your leadership chairing the governing board as you have taken these steps together.

Just over three months from now, students will be arriving back on campus, with fall quarter classes beginning on Monday, September 20.

We’ll officially welcome them at Convocation.

A consistent thread in my Convocation remarks has been this observation: For many and likely most of these new students, Stanford may be the most diverse community they’ve ever been a part of.

And not only that. Stanford just may be the most diverse community they will ever inhabit.

Each one of these students will bring a special perspective and a unique background.

Each one will enrich and energize our community.

Each one is an incredibly gifted individual, with much to offer our campus community.

These students will learn from each other and about each other.

But they can’t do it alone. You have a key role to play.

You will engage them in self-reflection.

You will offer them extraordinary opportunities: the opportunity to think about ethics and citizenship within a rigorous academic context, the opportunity to think critically about their own views and preconceptions, and the opportunity to deepen their thinking about our society and our world.

You are an inspiring group for many reasons, but three in particular stand out to me.

The first is your enthusiasm.

We’re grateful that you wanted to support this mission.

I find it noteworthy, but not surprising, that Dan Edelstein says no arm twisting was needed when the call went out. You raised your hands and volunteered.

Our frosh are required to take these courses. But no faculty are required to teach them.

Therefore, we can meet this robust commitment only because you and your colleagues support this initiative. Some of you are well-established at Stanford and others are in earlier stages of your academic careers. You come from a broad range of departments. Together, you are building something with a lasting value.

You will be encouraging an intellectually rigorous and fact-based approach among our first-year students. It will provide them with common ground for fruitful discussions, even when the topics are contentious.

If COLLEGE achieves the goals we have set – and I am confident that it will – we will look back to this remarkable group of trailblazers gathered here today.

And that brings me to my second reason: You’re acting out of your own sense of civic responsibility. You are great university citizens.

As faculty, oftentimes we focus first on teaching that directly relates to our own research. Next come courses that help our departments.

That implicit ranking scale is understandable. But you are setting it aside – and focusing on service courses and the overall mission of the university.

And you are also setting aside the autonomy of designing your own courses – and instead following an outline aimed at giving these students a common frame of reference.

In addition to your enthusiasm and your sense of civic responsibility, I want to salute your willingness to extend beyond your specialties.

You are contributing by teaching outside your fields, especially those of you who are teaching the “Why College?” and “Citizenship in the 21st Century” courses.

I hope that you will find that reaching beyond your areas of direct expertise will be, as your teaching guide anticipates, “invigorating, liberating even.”

Students can learn how to be thoughtful, well-rounded citizens if we model that behavior for them. You will be providing them with examples of how to think and how to talk about a wide range of topics – not just those they have studied for many years.

And I suspect you might even do some learning yourselves alongside them!

You agreed to take on this new role during one of the most consequential years in the history of both Stanford and this nation.

You have had to develop creative ways to enhance remote teaching and to connect with students from a distance.

And in the coming academic year, you are being called on to foster an engaged and spirited dialogue around the important issues of ethics and citizenship.

This dialogue can help strengthen our bonds as a community and as a nation.

You’ll be promoting constructive disagreement and discourse – the sorts of interactions and discussions that won’t polarize, but will engage and inform.

You will help ensure that the next generation has the skills and knowledge to navigate ethical and societal dilemmas, and that the research and education conducted here won’t stay on the Farm. Rather, it will benefit communities far beyond our campus. It will resonate for years to come.

From our founding, Stanford has been known for being bold and optimistic, and we must continue to anticipate, address and get ahead of the challenges facing our rapidly changing world.

I think everyone here knows that Jane Stanford set the tone in 1903, when she said: “Let us not be afraid to outgrow old thoughts and ways … and dare to think on new lines.”

More recently, at my Reunion Homecoming welcome in 2019, I told our alumni in Memorial Auditorium about the faculty proposal for this first-year requirement. The applause was thunderous.

In fact, the reaction was even more enthusiastic than when I asked how many from the Class of 1969 had attended Grateful Dead shows at Frost.

Both Jane Stanford’s challenge and our alumni’s applause point to the significance of what you’re undertaking and the appreciation for the enduring impact that you will have.

You should take great pride in the roles you are playing and the differences you are making in our students’ lives.

Once again, thanks to ALL OF YOU for your contributions – for being here today, so that you can be there for our freshmen in a few short months.

We can’t do it without you.