Stanford University President John L. Hennessy to step down in 2016

John Hennessy portrait

Stanford President John L. Hennessy will depart his post in summer 2016. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

President John L. Hennessy announced today that he plans to step down as Stanford University’s 10th president after more than 15 years leading the transformation of one of the world’s foremost research institutions.

Hennessy informed both the Board of Trustees and the Faculty Senate of his decision to depart his post in summer 2016, after serving in major academic leadership roles at Stanford for more than two decades.  

“The time has come to return to what brought me to Stanford – teaching and research. Maintaining and improving this university is the work of many people, and I am deeply appreciative of the dedication of so many colleagues to Stanford and its students,” Hennessy said to the Faculty Senate, where he received a prolonged standing ovation.

Since assuming the presidency in October 2000, Hennessy placed an academic emphasis on interdisciplinary teaching and research that is also reflected in a physical transformation of the campus, all designed to heighten opportunities for intellectual collaboration between faculty and students through programs that are emulated by universities around the world.

“John Hennessy has modeled what it means to be a visionary higher education leader for the 21st century,” said Steven A. Denning, chair of the Board of Trustees. “He has guided Stanford to be an exemplar of what a modern university must aspire to be. On behalf of the entire Stanford community, we thank him for his contributions as an energetic and dedicated Stanford faculty member, dean of engineering, provost and president.

“It has been a remarkable run, one of the greatest not only in Stanford’s history but also in the annals of American higher education.”

Both Hennessy and Denning praised the dedication and many accomplishments of Stanford Provost John Etchemendy and thanked him for his partnership in leading the university for the past 15 years. “To ensure a smooth transition to new leadership, the provost has graciously agreed to stay on for up to one year with my successor, but he will not be a candidate for the position of president,” Hennessy said.

In Hennessy’s tenure, arts programs have flourished as an integral part of the student experience and the undergraduate curriculum is enhanced to emphasize strategic thinking and intellectual agility. Hennessy built unparalleled support among alumni and supporters, including launching and completing the $6.2 billion Stanford Challenge campaign, the most successful fundraising effort completed to date in American higher education.

Hennessy, a pioneering computer scientist who founded technology companies, advocated as president for constructive relationships between universities and industry in order to more rapidly bring academic discoveries to the public.

“John recognizes that the world can greatly benefit from academic innovations when universities understand and focus on the greatest challenges,” Denning said.  “He championed an entrepreneurial spirit built around collaboration and innovation across disciplines, a spirit that pervades Stanford, Silicon Valley and beyond.”

Hennessy did not specify his future plans, but has expressed interest in ongoing engagement in teaching, research and higher education.

Two decades of leadership

Hennessy served as chair of Stanford’s Department of Computer Science from 1994 to 1996 and, in 1996, was named dean of the School of Engineering. As dean, he launched a five-year plan that laid the groundwork for new activities in bioengineering and biomedical engineering. In 1999, he was named provost, the university’s chief academic and financial officer. As provost, he continued his efforts to foster interdisciplinary activities in the biosciences and bioengineering and oversaw improvements in faculty and staff compensation. In October 2000, he was inaugurated as Stanford University’s 10th president. In 2005, he became the inaugural holder of the Bing Presidential Professorship.

Under Hennessy’s presidency, Stanford has undertaken major new academic initiatives to address important global challenges of this century. Interdisciplinary teaching and research has expanded dramatically with the creation of new cross-school, collaborative programs in human health, international affairs, environmental science and other areas. The Stanford Neurosciences Institute, Chem-H, the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Precourt Institute for Energy, the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy, the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (SEED), and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford are some of the interdisciplinary centers and institutes launched at Stanford since 2000.

Stanford has made a major commitment to the visual and performing arts, ensuring the arts are an integral part of the educational experience for students and making the campus an arts destination for people beyond the campus. The Arts District of the campus has been transformed with the construction of the Bing Concert Hall, the Anderson Collection, and the McMurtry Building for the Department of Art and Art History set to open this fall.

Stanford continued academic excellence under Hennessy’s leadership, with internationally regarded academic programs. Stanford counts 21 Nobel Laureates among its faculty, of whom 11 have received a Nobel Prize since 2000. The university has expanded the Bing Overseas Studies Program, enhanced undergraduate research opportunities, established new joint majors at the intersection of the humanities and computer science, and played a pioneering role in exploring how best to use online technologies to expand access to high-quality education.

The academic growth of the campus has been supported by its physical transformation, preserving the iconic architecture of the original campus while renewing infrastructure to meet contemporary academic needs. The Science and Engineering Quad, the Knight Management Center for the Graduate School of Business, new facilities for Stanford Law School and the School of Medicine, a new Stanford Stadium and multiple new student residences have been completed since 2000. Work is under way today on a new medical center, a Redwood City campus, and renovation of the Old Chemistry Building as a new Science Teaching and Learning Center for undergraduates, among other projects.

The advancement of the university has been made possible with unparalleled support from alumni and friends of Stanford. During Hennessy’s presidency, Stanford completed the Campaign for Undergraduate Education, a five-year, $1 billion fundraising effort focused exclusively on improvements to undergraduate education. It then completed The Stanford Challenge, the five-year campaign that raised $6.2 billion to provide support for multidisciplinary research initiatives, undergraduate financial aid, graduate fellowships, and other critical university needs.

Commitments to access, sustainability

To preserve access and encourage socioeconomic diversity in the student body, major new investments in financial aid have been made under Hennessy’s presidency. The university has a need-blind admissions process for U.S. applicants and meets the demonstrated financial need of undergraduate students. Stanford expects no parental contribution toward undergraduate tuition from parents with annual incomes below $125,000 and typical assets, and no contribution is expected toward tuition, room or board for those with annual incomes below $65,000.

Meanwhile, Stanford has demonstrated a deep commitment to sustainability and energy efficiency, building a state-of-the-art energy system reducing campus greenhouse gas emissions by 68 percent, developing an extensive alternative transportation system that has reduced employee drive-alone rates from 72 percent to 49 percent, and achieving a 23 percent reduction in domestic water use since 2001 despite adding new building space.

Hennessy joined Stanford’s faculty in 1977 as an assistant professor of electrical engineering. He rose through the academic ranks to full professorship in 1986 and was the inaugural Willard R. and Inez Kerr Bell Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from 1987 to 2004. From 1983 to 1993, Hennessy was director of the Computer Systems Laboratory, a research and teaching center operated by the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science that fosters research in computer systems design.

A pioneer in computer architecture, in 1981 Hennessy drew together researchers to focus on a computer architecture known as RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing), a technology that has revolutionized the computer industry by increasing performance while reducing costs. In addition to his role in the basic research, Hennessy helped transfer this technology to industry. In 1984, he cofounded MIPS Computer Systems, which designed microprocessors. His later research was in parallel processing.

He has lectured and published widely and is the co-author of two internationally used undergraduate and graduate textbooks on computer architecture design. Hennessy earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Villanova University and his master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Among numerous honors, Hennessy is a recipient of the 2000 IEEE John von Neumann Medal, the 2000 ASEE Benjamin Garver Lamme Award, the 2001 ACM Eckert-Mauchly Award, the 2001 Seymour Cray Computer Engineering Award, a 2004 NEC C&C Prize for lifetime achievement in computer science and engineering, a 2005 Founders Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the 2012 IEEE Medal of Honor, IEEE’s highest award. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, and he is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Association for Computing Machinery, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Search committee to be appointed

The Stanford Board of Trustees will appoint a presidential search committee this summer, to be chaired by former board chair Isaac Stein. Committee members will be drawn from the board, the faculty and the Stanford community.

The committee will begin work in September and conduct a national and international search. “The group will consult broadly with the community as the search unfolds,” Denning said.

Media Contacts

Lisa Lapin, University Communications, (650) 725-8396, lapin@stanford.edu