Stanford University
Dean Stephan Graham

Dean's Desk

Posts for faculty, students, and staff from the desk of Steve Graham...

Photo by Steve Castillo

Next steps

ClockMay 28, 2020

There is suddenly a great deal of movement on two fronts – and it is all going in the right direction. We are about to take next steps in two very important, very different areas: First, Stanford’s sustainability initiative; and second, a restart of activity on campus. One is the long game: building a 21st-century school for 21st-century sustainability challenges well into the future. The other is a shorter term return to a 'new normal' as we emerge – slowly – from the pandemic.

As all that is evolving, our 2020 graduates are about to take their next steps out into a very changed world – one in which their skills and knowledge will be more relevant than ever before. The pandemic has only underscored the need for good science and data-driven decision-making.  

Sustainability initiative

First, for those who were not able to attend our special Stanford Earth Town Hall with Vice Provost and Dean of Research Kam Moler on Tuesday, let me summarize where we are: The sustainability initiative is moving into its next phase. Yes, there are still many questions but we are about to move into execution mode. I am optimistic that we will be able to shape curricula and research priorities to address the challenges in climate science, food security, global health, and more – while maintaining our strengths in fundamental Earth sciences ranging from geomicrobiology to petrology.

Most of what we covered in the Town Hall was articulated this month by president Marc Tessier-Lavigne to faculty before the Academic Council public forum and in my May 21 email to everyone at Stanford Earth. I want to thank the 209 of you who attended the Town Hall and not only submitted questions – but also shared comments. Please know that all of these will very much add to our thought process.

Going forward, Kam Moler and I will co-lead the next steps in this process. We want to have a blueprint by Fall that will plot how we plan the integration of Stanford’s many assets in sustainability. I believe things will move quickly, now that we have the deep work outlined by the Design Team committee (led by Scott Fendorf and Lynn Hildemann in 2019) and the Organizational Structure committee (led by Noah Diffenbaugh and Arun Majumdar in winter) behind us. Find the structure committee's recent report here

Kam Moler is an inclusive, dynamic partner and thinker and, like our university president, she is fully invested in this endeavor. I hope those of you who heard her in the Town Hall took away the same sense of focused enthusiasm, drive and integrity that I did. I expect Kam and I will have more to say about our process in a few weeks.

Restart is coming

Meanwhile, we are about to begin a period of reopening after being held hostage by COVID-19 for nearly three months. This is an enticing, but daunting prospect. Next steps are here:

In the parlance of our Emergency Operations Center (EOC), we are currently in Stage 0. That is, only faculty and staff listed as essential to maintaining laboratory equipment or conducting COVID-19-related research may enter our buildings. Next month however, barring unexpected changes in current health data trends or Santa Clara County restrictions, plans are that we will move to Stage 1. That is when a limited number of lab personnel may return to prepare laboratories for restart.  Stage 2, which would allow a limited amount of research activity but does not mean a return to 100 percent staffing on campus, will occur later in the summer. Some time after that, we will then move to Stage 3, which will represent our ‘new normal’ until a vaccine is developed. Activities will be broadened, but even at this stage it is quite possible a number of people will continue to work from home. These timelines are not yet known. It will depend on the county guidelines and the progression/regression of the virus in our area.

Nonetheless, as some of you prepare to return, I want you to be very aware of critical requirements:

We will have our next regularly scheduled Stanford Earth Town Hall at 3 p.m. June 4 during which guest visitor Stanford Associate Vice Provost for Environmental Health and Safety Russell Furr and our Director of Planning and Facilities Sandy Meyer will go over the latest plans for Restart. Please register to join us.

Congratulations 2020 graduates

As this is my last blog before students complete their studies, allow me to offer hearty congratulations to our 2020 graduates. I am so proud of you all. It has been an unprecedented year. The obstacles are significant, but be optimistic. Be resilient. The path may twist and turn, but I know each of you will do incredible things over the arc of your life to come. The battle with COVID-19 has only heightened the realization that it is more important than ever to tackle multi-faceted climate change and sustainability issues now. No one is better prepared to participate in that than each of you.

I hope you will attend the June 14 virtual celebration planned by the university as well as check out the school photos and well wishes from faculty chairs available on our Stanford Earth website by then. Please stay in touch and visit us from time to time.





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