Saller and Martinez speak on Israel-Gaza at Faculty Senate meeting

The Faculty Senate met for the third time this quarter at the Stanford Law School Thursday and addressed rising tensions on campus amid the Israel-Gaza conflict.

The Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) also presented insights on student life and laid out a roadmap to collaboration between students and administrators.

President addresses tensions on campus, warns about fake news

President Richard Saller reiterated the University’s condemnation of the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel during the meeting and assured the Senate of the administration’s continued priority to “maintain the safety and wellbeing of the campus.”

The administration intends to implement “a new security review and … education of the community about the roots of antisemitism,” Saller said. He highlighted the University’s efforts to “secure Palestinian and Muslim communities which have also been targeted with hate speech and are fearful.”

He cautioned community members against “drawing conclusions about things that may be reported on, with or without verification” and warned about “the circulation of fake news,” which he said is an important issue for consideration in keeping the University safe. 

Saller brought up a Protected Identity Harm report the University received on Wednesday regarding markings made with chalk in White Plaza.

"Come chat about how Jewish babies should be burned alive" written in chalk alongside an arrow and a smiley face.
A message chalked over and the words "not endorsed by sit-in written in chalk."

Saller said “an individual affiliated with the University attempted to chalk phrases on the ground pointing toward students participating in the sit-in for Palestine.”

According to Saller, the phrases “included deeply offensive language about violence toward Jewish people.” He said that although the photo was initially assumed to be antisemitic in nature, this was later disputed. 

“The chalking was created by a Jewish community member who was trying to use irony and sarcasm to draw negative attention to the pro-Palestinian protests on campus,” Saller said, referencing a statement made by Stanford Hillel. “Within a few minutes of chalking, they regretted what they wrote and erased it with water and actually apologized.”

Provost highlights free speech policies

Provost Jenny Martinez expressed concern about rising antisemitism worldwide. 

She said she wanted to be “unequivocally clear that Stanford stands against antisemitism and recognizes the deep historical roots of this form of hate, and the ways in which Jewish students, faculty … and staff are affected by this horrible legacy.”

She also described an increase in violence against Muslims across the U.S., including the recent murder of a six-year-old Palestinian boy in Chicago.

“Stanford stands against Islamophobia and all forms of hatred and discrimination on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity or national origin,” Martinez said.

Stanford’s threat assessment team and the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) are “working closely with state and federal law enforcement partners and other outside law enforcement,” Martinez said. 

She assured the Senate special attention was being given to affected groups. They are working with organizations like “Hillel and The Markaz to make sure that their particular security needs are addressed. DPS has also been present to canvas events and facilities to provide security,” Martinez said. 

SUDPS personnel were present outside the venue of the Faculty Senate meeting. 

Martinez also addressed faculty concerns about free speech: “Free expression of ideas necessarily includes protection for some forms of controversial and even offensive speech, both as a matter of Stanford’s policy on academic freedom adopted by the Faculty Senate in 1974 and California’s Leonard Law,” which extends some First Amendment protections to students at private colleges. 

She urged community members to practice constraint in their rhetoric. “Faith-based calls for violence do not meaningfully contribute to the free exchange of ideas on campus. Categories of speech like threats, harassment and incitement to violence are not protected, and will not be tolerated at Stanford,” Martinez said. 

Senators raised questions during the meeting about the University’s response to student and faculty reports of misconduct and violence. The questions were met with reiterations of previous statements by the president and provost. They “and many others in the University … have meetings with student groups to hear their concerns and to respond to them in a variety of ways,” Martinez said.

ASSU executives critique bureaucracy, neighborhood system and space shortages

ASSU President Sophia Danielpour ’24 and Vice President Kyle Haslett ’25 gave their inaugural address to the Senate about the state of student life and a vision for improvements. 

Based on perspectives from various constituents and surveys, Danielpour said undergraduates feel “Stanford’s identity and systems of trust had eroded.” They highlighted tension and distrust among community members, the prioritization of risk management over student experience and over-regulation as the primary causes. 

Danielpour also said students are doing “anything they can to avoid the [neighborhood] system,” which she said contributed to feelings of isolation and weaker housing culture. They proposed alternative systems including only having neighborhoods for frosh and different ways to approach clustered housing.

They advocated for revisions to the University’s alcohol policy and expressed how even though the Stanford Hates Fun movement “gets giggles, it is an outcry from students” who think that social life on campus is deteriorating. Danielpour and Haslett were elected on a “Fun Strikes Back” slate. 

Danielpour and Haslett expressed hope that the administration would help support subsidized spaces for student events, and various faculty members agreed. The ASSU executives cited figures showing that over 40% of student organization funding goes back to the University in the form of rent, catering and maintenance services for events.  

Engineering professor Parviz Moin said that some spaces in Tresidder “cost up to $1,500 for a day’s rent, in addition to maintenance fees,” even if the reservation is for academic purposes.

The executives criticized several aspects of the Office of Community Standards (OCS), which they said they saw as an overstep in bureaucracy. They advocated for ending mandatory reporting by resident assistants because it “created a culture of fear” among students. 

When the floor was opened to questions for the president, political science professor Stephen Stedman also voiced his concerns about a USA Today article on the suicide of Katie Meyer, who was a Stanford athlete. The article laid out the Stanford legal team’s defense strategy, which blamed Meyer’s parents based on evidence that “reveal[s] Katie’s struggles with her parents and their control and pressure to be perfect.”

Stedman asked Saller whether University administration had approved this legal strategy, which Stedman said “argued that [Katie Meyer’s] parents contributed to her suicide” by “breaching duty of care.” 

Saller said it is possible there will be negative externalities, but declined to comment further, due to a lack of data and the ongoing litigation.

ASSU executives also expressed complaints against surveillance efforts on campus, namely the “400 cameras” that have been installed in residential spaces. The ASSU executives said it was unclear how and when OCS accessed and used footage from these cameras. 

“On the overwhelming bureaucracy, many faculty are also with [the ASSU] on this,” said mathematics professor Brian Conrad.

Originally posted 2023-11-03 08:20:43.