Town Hall Lacked Attendance But Not Ideas

On May 12th, the University invited the student body to a town hall discussion about the selection of the new Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE). After the announced departure of Vice Provost Bravman, the university quickly convened a search committee that will present its suggestions to President Hennessey and Provost Etchemendy. Etchemendy has  asked for possible suggestions before commencement.

The town hall was announced to the entire undergraduate student body via email on Tuesday morning. Despite the email invitation, only 5 students attended, including the reporters from both the Daily and the Review. The other three students, David Geeter, Noemi Walzebuck, and Miguel San Pedro, attended the meeting on behalf of Students for a Sustainable Stanford.

Much of the meeting centered on the push for improved interdisciplinary education offerings at Stanford and how the new Vice Provost would address that push. But the discussion also covered students’ perceptions of the office of the VPUE, characteristics both students and search committee members would like to see in the new candidate, and the VPUE’s role in expanding undergraduate research.

Geeter, an Earth Systems major, called for a new VPUE candidate who would be able to lead the effort to implement interdisciplinary approaches to education.  He pointed to FutureFest and other examples of interdisciplinary efforts already within and outside of the traditional major system, asking “are students pursuing knowledge or are they pursuing a major?” Dr. Andrea Lunsford, head of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) questioned whether an interdisciplinary approach would require a complete overhaul of the current system of disciplines in favor of new interdisciplines or whether interdisciplinary education could be better instituted through the collaboration of people who have deep expertise in their own discipline.

But Former Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Ramon Saldivar reminded the audience of the scope of the VPUE office. “The VPUE, for instance, can’t initiate a new major,” he stated. He explained that the office can rather encourage, influence, and provide resources for the university departments to improve their interdisciplinary education.

Chair of the search committee Dr. Brad Osgood asked whether there is a trend among students toward interdisciplinary majors. The consensus among the undergraduates in the meeting was that incoming students and even current students are generally unaware of unconventional interdisciplinary majors like Earth Systems, Science Technology and Society, and Symbolic Systems.

With this in mind, Lunsford then asked the students how VPUE is perceived by the student body. The student consensus was that many members of the undergraduate student body were unaware of the broad reach of the office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, an office which includes programs like PWR, Introduction to the Humanities, Bing Overseas Studies Program, and Undergraduate Advising and Research.

The conversation then turned to the qualities that a new VPUE should possess. The attendees generally agreed that the new Vice Provost would have to be excellent at engaging the student body, both with social media and in-person.

Saldivar explained what he is looking for. “It’s very useful to know lots of faculty throughout the university,” he stated. He elaborated further:

“The university, as structured and rigid as it is in many ways, it’s really a fluid interaction of people, and the more you have real personal connections with people broadly, the more you can accomplish…”

Osgood emphasized the “bubble-up philosophy” in which the great ideas of the university are generated by the faculty. Consequently, he believes “it’s very important for that person to be well-connected, well-liked, well-respected by the faculty.” Lunsford further emphasized that “the Vice Provost needs to be a really, really strong communicator who is very aware of the different constituencies…”

The search committee encouraged students to contact them with comments or questions at Tonight a similar town hall will occur with the Study on Undergraduate Education at Stanford committee.

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