By Charles Schott (AB 74 / MBA 83)
With the departure of Persis Drell as Stanford’s provost, the Board of Trustees has formed a search committee to replace her. President Tessier-Lavinge has been charged with establishing a faculty-led committee that will be chaired by Debra Satz, Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences with additional details to be announced later. See https://news.stanford.edu/report/2023/05/03/persis-drell-step-stanford-provost/.
Recently there have been calls for students and post-docs to be added to this committee and there has been a general recognition that something along these lines makes sense. See https://stanforddaily.com/2023/05/07/from-the-community-students-and-postdocs-are-needed-on-the-provost-search-committee/. I want to suggest that the addition of a Stanford alumni representative to the search committee would be equally relevant and an important voice to include in this process.
Stanford is an ecosystem consisting of faculty, students, administrators, alumni and others and the alumni plays an important role in that multi-verse. Not only do they contribute important financial and volunteer support, but they also provide key expertise and intervention on matters where the university is trying to accomplish its various missions in places like Washington, DC, New York City and other capitals and financial centers around the world.
At Stanford, our alumni are active participants in the life of the institution, particularly when asked to be and often not in the traditional sense. As former Hoover Institution fellow and San Jose State University President, the late John Bunzel once famously observed, “As everyone knows, it is the job of the university president to build a university that the football team can be proud of!”
That is not the provost’s job, of course. The provost acts as both the COO of the university and the chief academic officer and thus has primary responsibility in so many areas, not the least of which is responsibility for the university’s excellence in both research and contributions to society, as well as its brand. We all benefit when those jobs are done well. As such, all of us in the Stanford eco-system are stakeholders in the outcome of this selection process. And if this process is going to truly include the most important constituents and stakeholders in the process, clearly the alumni should be part of it.
Surely President Tessier, working with his alumni association advisors, would be able to identify more than one qualified alumni candidate with a firm sense of current alumni sentiment, as well an understanding and appreciation of our unique traditions (something many of today’s Stanford administrators clearly do not).
We understand that some administrators today think the alumni should have absolutely no role in the running of the university, let alone in such an important process as the selection of the provost. We think that this view is evidence of the fact that these administrators do not understand their role to serve the university and most importantly, the students in their charge. When alumni parents say they are involved because they “love” their children, the administrator’s answer typically is, “well we also love your children.” There is only one proper response to that….”OK, tell me their names.”
Administrators holding the view that alumni should have no role in the governance of the university clearly do not get Stanford and probably should consider their position here. They tend to be the ones seeking to micromanage student lives, all while telling them to “eat their vegetables” and tamping down on everyone’s sense of fun. Part of the new provost’s job will need to be to change this culture. Remember, at Stanford, it’s ‘let the winds of freedom blow”… not “let the regulations of Lilliputians suck!”
Charles Schott AB 74 / MBA 83 is a public policy expert as well as a lawyer, management consultant and venture capitalist. Over the years, he has been active in Stanford alumni matters and is a member of the Stanford Associates. He currently serves as Vice Chair of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation in Washington, DC and as a Senior Advisor of the Center for Financial Stability in New York City. He is a co-founder of ‘Save Stanford TDX,’ which is currently trying to return his undergraduate fraternity, Theta Delta Chi, to good standing on the Stanford campus. In 1973 he was present for the TDX ‘Axe Theft’ by the Infamous Three and in 1982-83 (after attending Big Game and observing “the play” from immediately behind the Stanford Band) he led a Stanford-in-China Alumni group to hang an appropriately sized “Beat Cal” banner from the Great Wall. The banner is now stored in the Hoover Institution archives.