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Opening thoughts

Dear Stanford students,

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with some student leaders here at Stanford. Out of that great conversation came the idea for this email – a first communication with all of you as I become provost today.

My role, in a nutshell, is to serve as Stanford’s chief academic officer and chief budgetary officer. With that portfolio, issues that are important to students are very important to me. Over the rest of this academic year and beyond, I will be looking to connect with you, both undergraduate and graduate students, in a number of ways.

I will be meeting with students in the community centers and elsewhere on campus, holding office hours beginning this spring, joining Marc Tessier-Lavigne in upcoming “brown bag” conversations with the campus community, and attending student events whenever I can. I may periodically use this email format, too, if it proves helpful for communication.

I know there are many pressing issues on the minds of students. Without attempting to address all of them here, I want to share where I stand on three things:

  1. Many issues of social, political and humanitarian concern are the subjects of campus discussions today. They include, but are certainly not limited to, the recent executive order on immigration and the deep concerns of members of our Muslim and immigrant communities.I want to be clear that I value and will work to support ALL members of our community. I am deeply troubled by policies that restrict the broad flow of people and ideas across national borders, or that have the effect or appearance of excluding people based on religion or ethnicity. Such policies are completely antithetical to both our mission and our values as an institution and my personal values as well.

    As I think about the challenges facing our country and our world, what gives me abiding hope and optimism are the students here on our own campus – your energy, your dedication, your values. I have enormous respect for all who work to use their education to build a country, and a world, worthy of their aspirations.

  2. Regarding sexual assault: The large number of students who experience sexual violence in some form is unacceptable, and we can’t be satisfied until the number of offenses in our community is reduced to zero. I believe we have made progress in improving our campus climate around sexual assault, but there is more to do.I value our Confidential Support Team and I support Stanford’s current Title IX process for managing reports of sexual assault, understanding that it is a pilot process that we want to learn from and improve. I am committed to continual evaluation and improvement, and your voices are extremely important to that process. I welcome your input, as does the advisory committee monitoring these issues, which has a feedback form on the Not Alone website.

    Perhaps most of all, I want you to know that Marc and I care, deeply and genuinely, about your well-being. We want you to thrive at Stanford. Our job is to provide an environment that supports you, including in times of difficulty or crisis. And we take that job very seriously.

  3. The relationship between students and university leadership is important to me. My style is to welcome input, to be upfront about problems and to confront issues head-on.I also believe that finding problems is easy, and finding solutions is often what is challenging. The best solutions will come from deep community engagement, and I look forward to that engagement with you. You are welcome to email me at any time at or with your thoughts and suggestions.

Thank you. Have a great winter quarter. We will be talking more in the weeks ahead.

Persis Drell