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Proposal for a Replacement for Cardinal Conversations

Jan 14 2019

In 2017, the Stanford president and provost launched a Cardinal Conversations series as a forum for thought leaders to engage in respectful and rigorous discussion of important social issues. The hope was to provide a model of how commitments to both free expression and an inclusive culture can coexist. The forum sponsored five programs during its inaugural year with mixed success. Although many appreciated the opportunity for dialogue across difference, many also raised concerns about the topics, speakers, and governance structure of the initiative. To address these concerns, the provost appointed a new faculty committee to reboot the series and engage students as more equal partners in the effort.  To that end, the committee met with interested student leaders and drafted this proposal. We now seek feedback from the entire campus community.

An online survey has been created to help us collect your thoughts. Please respond by January 30, 2019.   


There are a number of challenges and tradeoffs in structuring an effective governance committee. We all agree that it is important to include students with diverse backgrounds and perspectives as equal partners in the effort. There is less consensus about how to do this, especially in the initial year, when we do not have a committee with current student members to select future student members.  After considering different possibilities, we are proposing a combination of self-nominations and nominations by Voluntary Student Organizations (VSOs).  Our goal is to establish a structure that commands the greatest possible trust and credibility within the campus community and ensures student leadership and agency.

Governance Structure

The new forum will be governed by a committee consisting of at least three faculty members appointed by the provost and 10 to 15 students with different backgrounds and perspectives. The initial committee will be selected by faculty members, students nominated by VSOs, and an ASSU representative. These individuals will also consider additional members who are self-nominated. Every student candidate for a position on the committee will submit a short application describing their background, relevant experiences, and interest in participation.  Future committees will be selected by past members, who include both self-nominated individuals and individuals selected by VSOs.

Committee Responsibilities

The committee will be responsible for choosing topics, speakers, and formats for all forum events. To that end, it will solicit proposals from any Stanford affiliate including students, faculty, staff and administrators. The committee will look for partnerships with other organizations and oversee efforts to publicize events and engage the broadest possible audiences.  The committee will experiment with different formats, including those that give students greater responsibility as discussants and participants. The committee will also actively seek feedback from the community in an effort to enhance the quality and inclusiveness of events.