Sunday Message: Modeling Civil Discourse

Dean Jon Levin writes to the Stanford GSB community honoring the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the importance of civil discourse.

September 20, 2020

We had a very successful first week of the quarter, and will be in full swing tomorrow with the start of MBA elective courses. I’d especially like to thank everyone involved in the new First Lecture series, which was dreamed up by the Autumn Quarter Task Force, and coordinated by faculty member Kate Casey. It involved 32 instructors giving talks last week for more than 300 returning MBA students — by all accounts a terrific program!

As we look ahead, many of us are thinking about the November U.S. presidential election. This weekend, I had the good fortune to get a briefing from Stanford Law professor Nate Persily. Nate is running the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project, which is helping state and local officials prepare for the complexities of mail-in voting, COVID-19, and worrying distrust in election integrity. I encourage everyone to take a look at what they are doing; if you are a student looking to get involved in the election, you can email Nate to join the project.

I also would like to encourage everyone to register to vote. Only 60 percent of eligible voters, and less than half of those under the age of 30, participated in the 2016 election. David Dodson, GSB lecturer and former Senate candidate, and GSB alumni Malcolm Collins (MBA ’14) and Corey Longhurst (MBA ’20), have founded, which makes it easy to register and request a mail-in ballot. Other nonpartisan registration sites include and Democracy Works. This Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day, so take the five minutes required to register.

Over the next six weeks and likely beyond, we will spend a great deal of time discussing the election. I know I’m not alone in regretting not spending more time before the last election listening to different points of view. As we enter into discussions, I’d like to remind everyone that members of our community will, and should, have different perspectives. No matter how passionate we feel and how polarized the country may be, those differences are an opportunity to learn and to model civil discourse.

School Updates

  • Stanford LEAD. Stanford LEAD is the GSB’s flagship online program, an intensive year-long professional program with classes taught by more than 25 GSB faculty. All summer we have been seeing a sharp rise in interest paralleling the global shift online. Now our fall cohort has started with more than 530 program participants, an 80% increase over our previous high point this spring. Congratulations to everyone involved in the growing success of LEAD!
  • Stanford China Economic Forum. Each fall, we collaborate with the King Center for Global Development and the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research on a major Stanford-China event, bringing together academic, business, and policy leaders. We have turned this year’s event into a series of virtual sessions. The first is October 15, where I will be talking about the Future of Business Education with Hongbin Cai, the Dean of the Business School at Hong Kong University, and the former Dean at Peking University, and Ann Harrison, the Dean of Berkeley Haas. The events are open to all members of the Stanford community; information is on the SCEF website.


The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week was a reminder of the remarkable impact that a single individual can have, from her advocacy of women’s rights to her four decades of jurisprudence. My brother clerked for Justice Ginsberg — as he says, before she was notorious. This morning he sent me an email about her, part of which reads: “She understood what it was like to be a woman paid less than a man for the same work, just as she understood that having to wait hours at a polling place would make the right to vote illusory, or that access to higher education can make all the difference in a life. She taught us that the law should be used to make people’s lives better.” It is a good lesson for all of us, whatever our chosen profession.

I hope everyone had a good weekend, and in the spirit of Rosh Hashanah, I wish you all Shana Tova, a good year to come.

Jonathan Levin

More Updates from the Leadership

May 01, 2023
Being exposed to differing views is essential in business education — and business leadership.
October 24, 2022
Dean Jon Levin writes about the ingredients needed to create an innovative ecosystem for Stanford Business magazine.
April 18, 2022
Dean Jon Levin writes about the business opportunities and responsibilities that come with technological advancement for Stanford Business magazine.