On Thursday night, forty Stanford alumni threatened in an open letter to withhold their donations to the University until it launches another climate survey of campus on sexual assault. Signatories included lawyers and academics, including the current Director of MIT’s Libraries.
While Stanford administered a climate survey last year, releasing results in October 2015, many complained that “Stanford’s chosen methodology [led to] misleading results”. The most striking result from the survey was that only 1.9% of respondents “indicated having experiences since starting their degree programs at Stanford that were categorized as meeting Stanford’s definition of sexual assault”, which many thought did not reflect incidents categorized as misconduct. Stanford’s definition of sexual assault matches that of the California penal code.
That said, Stanford has pushed back on the contention that this 1.9% figure has been “highlighted” by the University, and says that “any number above zero is unacceptable”. They also argue that it is important to separate the “most serious form of sexual violence” from others.
Last week, a petition proposed by the ASSU Senate to readminister the climate survey passed with a 90% majority. Stanford, however, rejected the petition’s outcome, criticizing the “survey fatigue” caused by repeatedly asking students the same question. They also claimed that the Senate’s requirement that the survey be standardized with other colleges’ would have had negative consequences on reporting: communal surveys have lower participation rates and do not allow Stanford full access to important information, claimed Provost John Etchemendy in a response letter to the petition sent on Sunday.
Etchemendy’s letter reiterated Stanford’s “deep concern” with sexual assault while making no specific pledges as to how the university might respond to the petition, letter, or advocacies from groups on campus such as One in Five.