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SSU 115 — Stanford Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series

Quarter: Spring
Day(s): Mondays
Course Format: Live Online (About Formats)
Duration: 5 weeks
Date(s): Apr 29—Jun 3
Time: 5:00—6:10 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: May 1
Unit: 0
Grade Restriction: NGR only; no credit/letter grade
Tuition: $250
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
Please Note: No class on May 27
Live Online(About Formats)
5:00—6:10 pm (PT)
Apr 29—Jun 3
5 weeks
Refund Date
May 1
0 Unit
Grade Restriction
NGR only; no credit/letter grade
Please Note: No class on May 27
This spring, we are pleased to present a new edition of the Stanford Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series, which will feature five Stanford faculty members delivering talks on their engaging areas of research. In this five-week course, clinical professor Rafael Pelayo will begin with a primer on the fascinating realm of sleep and dreams while highlighting the latest advancements in sleep science. Political scientist Jeremy Weinstein will then explore how the technology industry’s relentless focus on optimization has sacrificed core values that underpin our democratic society. Caroline Winterer, chair of Stanford’s history department, will present the talk “What Historians Still Don’t Know about History,” in which she will consider intriguing mysteries left by gaps in our historical knowledge—gaps often caused by wars, fires, floods, deliberate destruction, or just plain carelessness. Economist Scott Rozelle will set his sights abroad to look at how China has transformed itself into a modern economic powerhouse by relying on an unskilled and comparatively uneducated labor force, a formula that may lead to disappointment in the future. Finally, as we look toward the November 2024 elections, Stanford law professor and leading legal scholar Pamela Karlan will discuss the fascinating and contentious history of voting rights in the United States, while addressing contemporary debates over voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and other practices. Each professor will present for 45 minutes, to be followed by a Q&A session with students.


Session 1: Monday, April 29

Sleep and Dreams

Rafael Pelayo, Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Division of Sleep Medicine, Stanford Medicine

William Dement, often referred to as “the Father of Sleep Medicine,” established the original “Sleep and Dreams” course at Stanford in 1971. At the time, it was the first of its kind in the world; today, it is just as significant as ever. Drawing inspiration from the renowned course still offered on Stanford’s campus and his years of experience running the Stanford Sleep Clinic, Dement’s successor, Professor Rafael Pelayo, will take you on a wide-ranging tour of topics related to sleep science and its impact on our lives, including sleep stages and circadian rhythms, the characteristics of healthy sleep, and the factors that influence sleep duration and quality. The lecture will also touch on the physiological and neurological processes that underlie sleep and briefly scrutinize the nature of dreams with the goal of an up-to-date demonstration of the role healthy sleep plays in our physical and mental health, memory consolidation, immune system regulation, and emotional resilience.

Session 2: Monday, May 6

Ethics, Public Policy, and Technological Change

Jeremy Weinstein, Kleinheinz Family Professor of International Studies, Stanford; Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

As the dominance of “big tech” became an explosive societal conundrum in recent years, political scientist Jeremy Weinstein worked with Stanford faculty colleagues to develop an undergraduate course marrying the humanities, social science, and computer science that was designed to explore the ethical and social impact of technological innovation. The course emphasizes how the technology industry’s “optimization mindset” impacts our values as a democratic society. The goal is to bring about a fundamental shift in how college students think about their role as enablers and shapers of technological change in society. Summarizing the material from that course and the findings outlined in his book System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot, this lecture offers an updated overview of provocative insights and concrete solutions to help everyone understand what we can do to control technology instead of letting it control us.

Session 3: Monday, May 13

What Historians Still Don't Know about History

Caroline Winterer, William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies, and, by courtesy, of Classics and of Education; Chair, Department of History, Stanford

There’s a lot we know about history. But there are still some pretty big gaps in our knowledge, for the simple reason that a lot of information about the past gets lost over time. Wars, fires, floods, deliberate destruction, or just plain carelessness―all of these factors contribute to some intriguing historical mysteries. In this lecture, Caroline Winterer, chair of the Stanford Department of History, will discuss the latest reliable evidence and theories for some major events and people that fascinate all of us. Who were the first Americans and when―and how―did they arrive? How on Earth did Stonehenge get built? What did Cleopatra look like? What caused the Salem witchcraft outbreak of 1692? Students will examine all these questions and more during this fun and engaging talk.

Session 4: Monday, May 20

Invisible China: How the Rural-Urban Divide Threatens China's Rise

Scott Rozelle, Faculty Co-Director, Center on China's Economy and Institutions; Helen F. Farnsworth Endowed Professorship; Faculty Affiliate, Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law; Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

In many ways, China has quickly transformed itself from a place of stark poverty into a modern economic powerhouse. But China’s growth has relied heavily on unskilled labor. While this national growth strategy has been effective for three decades, lately, employment in manufacturing and construction has been falling, and China is experiencing a reversal in the unskilled wage rate as companies inside the country have begun automating and exiting China in search of cheaper labor in other countries. Drawing on his book Invisible China and decades of economic research, Professor Rozelle will use this lecture to show how the nation’s strategy to stimulate demand and its reliance on a labor force that has one of the lowest levels of education of any comparable country may lead to disappointment in the future.

Session 5: Monday, June 3

Voting in America: A Legal Perspective on Rights, Challenges, and Progress

Pamela Karlan, Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law; Co-Director, Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, Stanford Law School

The right to vote is considered fundamental in the United States and represents a cornerstone of democratic principles and citizens' active participation in shaping their government. And yet, the right has been contested throughout our history. What does the right to vote mean? How is it protected? How have our understandings of the right changed? In this lecture, Professor Karlan will take you on a journey through the transformations of the right to vote that reflect societal shifts and evolving perspectives on inclusivity and equal representation in the United States. She will also shed light on contemporary voting considerations, including debates on voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and other practices that may impact access to the ballot box in the approaching 2024 elections and beyond.

Textbooks for this course:

(Recommended) Rafael Pelayo, How to Sleep: The New Science-Based Solutions for Sleeping Through the Night (ISBN 978-1579659578)
(Recommended) Rob Reich, Mehran Sahami, and Jeremy Weinstein, System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot (ISBN 978-0063064881)
(Recommended) Caroline Winterer, American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason (ISBN 978-0300192575)
(Recommended) Scott Rozelle & Natalie Hell, Invisible China: How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China’s Rise (ISBN 978-0226739526)
(Recommended) Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (ISBN 978-0465005024)