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Endowed chairs encourage research, good teaching
STANFORD -- For Lee Shulman, professor in the School of Education, being named the Charles E. Ducommun Professor didn't change his material existence much. It paid, but didn't change, his salary and provided some welcome extra secretarial help.
However, the $1.2 million gift to the university, coupled with a matching centennial grant of $400,000, brought to his field - - research on teaching and teacher education -- a sense of legitimacy and importance, Shulman said.
"It announces the fact that teacher education is, in fact, a set of topics or problems that university research and scholarship ought to attend to," he said. "It's not a fad, but a commitment by the university."
When Charles E. Ducommun, who graduated from Stanford in 1935 with a degree in economics, donated funds to create an endowed centennial professorship, he specified that he'd like the money to go toward "improving teaching both in pre-collegiate
schools, and in colleges and universities."
The wishes of Ducommun and Shulman, a psychologist with strong interest in the study of teaching, are well synchronized.
"It's hard to imagine a time when problems of teaching won't exist. We can't imagine a society without education or an education process without teachers," Shulman said.
When creating endowed chairs, which is an irrevocable commitment, the university takes great care in assuring that the area of study is of long-term interest: It might choose to acknowledge a need to study transportation issues, rather than endow a chair in trolley car research, for example.
On rare occasions, the Centennial Campaign has raised money for what is called an incremental chair, which adds a new area of research and teaching to a department, said history Prof. John Wirth, vice provost for academic planning and development.
"We don't add on things that don't help the overall (university)," he said. "For example, in the Business School, every year three or four people try to give a chair in real estate. They don't teach it, don't intend to teach it, but people want to give the chair so their firm will get the prestige of having a chair at Stanford. That's an incremental chair we turn down."
By paying one faculty member's salary and related expenses, an endowed chair results in releasing unrestricted funds for use in the school's next highest priority, said Dudley Kenworthy, associate dean of the School of Earth Sciences.
"The unique element of an endowed chair is it provides long-term assured funding for one of the principal activities of the university," he said.
For the individual -- such as Gordon Brown, chairman of the geology department and the Dorrell William Kirby Professor -- the endowed chair "is a very real form of academic recognition beyond appointment to the tenured faculty," Kenworthy said. "It's a clear, unmistakable identification by the university that this faculty member is among its academic leaders."
Some endowed chairs come with additional funds to support the professor's research and scholarship. Physics Prof. Steven Chu holds the Theodore and Frances Geballe Professorship, which came with an extra $200,000 endowment, which provides about $10,000 a year.
"I can use it as seed money to try out radical new ideas where you have to show some practical results before you can apply for grants," he said. "The most forward looking ideas need a little kick to start off. . . . Money like that is worth much more than the initial grant."
Chu's work has led him more and more into biology, and he hopes the add-on grant will allow him to go further in this direction. Most recently he has shown how to stretch out a single molecule of DNA in water.
Included in the goal of supporting 100 professorships, the Centennial Campaign hopes to raise $19 million to support 12 rotating centennial chairs, according to Elizabeth Sloan, director of communication in the Office of Development. These five-year appointments will be offered to distinguished faculty members who emphasize undergraduate teaching.
As of May 31, the campaign has commitments for 70 endowed professorships and 11 endowed faculty scholars (half the funds for a professorship), bringing the number of endowed chairs at Stanford to 254. Each endowed chair now costs $1.6 million, $1.2 million from the named donor plus $400,000 in a matching grant from the $40 million bequest from Liliore Green Rains, said Dick Bennett, associate Centennial Campaign director.
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