Skip to main content

Dean's Message

Photo by Richard Morgenstein

School Matters

The school’s two highest priorities are supporting the critical research mission of our faculty and ensuring that all of our students, graduate and undergraduate, receive the best education.

Keeping these goals in mind will become even more important as we receive news of the school’s financial situation in a few months. While we are projecting a deficit, I want to assure you that the school’s priorities will shape our approach to budgetary choices. To quote the British Prime Minister William Gladstone: “Budgets are not merely matters of arithmetic.” They provide a record of our values and where we direct our energies.  

Across the school and across all the departments, I am heartened by the H&S research I learn more about every day and the dedication of faculty to creating new knowledge and to mentoring and cultivating the many abilities of our students.  

Research

Our faculty research contributes to addressing hard social problems like climate change, the persistence of poverty, political polarization, racial bias, and dilemmas of health care provision.

H&S faculty are also probing the natural world. They are making new discoveries about dark matter, developing small molecules that may radically change our treatment of previously intractable tumors, inventing systems that allow for the transfer of quantum information across long distances, and exploring the nanoscience of life.

They have generated new understandings of human culture, helping us to recover lost voices of the past; bringing to life the stories and artistic creations that help us better understand ourselves and the world around us; developing a better understanding of how we govern our own actions and behaviors; and opening our imaginations to new possibilities by showing us many different ways of organizing ourselves and our institutions in the past and present around the globe.

As you might see from this short list, faculty research spans an enormous landscape from small molecules to the universe, from our brains to our artistic expressions, and from our warming planet to our most serious social problems.

We are explainers; we seek to understand; we make things; we interpret the world; and we open up new ways of thinking and being. Our research is not constrained by considerations of financial profit, popularity, or the need for immediate impact. Research universities are, in these ways, a unique social institution. Ensuring the health of this research, helping it to be done as well as possible under the best conditions, and enabling its wide dissemination are my highest priorities.

Teaching

Teaching is also core to Stanford’s mission. We are part of a species that, hopefully, will persist and improve, and we have a role in helping to educate a new generation of researchers, critical thinkers, and problem solvers, as well as helping them to become responsible, ethical, and innovative members of our fragile world.

To that end, as you know, the school has embarked on an effort to improve our teaching and has created a new senior associate dean position to steward those efforts. Professor Mary Beth Mudgett (Biology) joined the dean’s office in September as senior associate dean for educational initiatives.

Among other things, she has convened a Natural Science Intro Curriculum Committee to study the coordination and execution of pre-specialization education in the natural sciences with the following goals:

  • Build and execute a welcoming introductory pathway
  • Articulate a shared understanding of content and pathways
  • Determine what background knowledge from other fields is required
  • Adjust course offerings
  • Improve course placement and advising practices
  • Develop curricula and tutorials for students with varying degrees of preparation.

At the same time, all incoming assistant professors are now required to attend the three-day Course Design Institute offered through the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). To further support junior faculty teaching, departments will assign a senior faculty mentor to provide expert guidance and observe classroom instruction.

In addition to improving the quality of teaching throughout the school, the information gleaned from such observations will also inform the assessment of the candidate’s teaching at reappointment and during the tenure process. Student evaluations, while important, have known limitations and biases. Working closely with CTL, we seek to bring the spirit of peer review to teaching through this effort.

Despite the budgetary challenges we currently face, I remain optimistic about the future because of my excellent colleagues in our school. Your commitment to your research and our students inspires me every day.

With best wishes,

Debra Satz
Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences
Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society
Professor of Philosophy, and, by courtesy, Political Science