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Stanford Report, June 14, 2000

Beasley outlines challenges, goals for School of Humanities and Sciences

After two years at the helm of the School of Humanities and Sciences, Dean Malcolm Beasley said last week that he is optimistic about the school's future, while acknowledging its budget issues need to be addressed head on.

"Basically, I'm optimistic. I truly am," Beasley told the Faculty Senate in a wide-ranging presentation on the school.

"I want to see the school move to the next level. I've been here 25 years, and I'd like to see it [be] the best School of Humanities and Sciences."

Reaching that level, however, "is getting more expensive," he said. "We are seeing incredible pressure on salaries, certainly in particular areas and from particular institutions when we recruit. There's no question that to bring in senior faculty from our peer institutions is quite a hit on salaries."

As a result, he said, "some strain" has been placed on the school's budget, depleting its reserves. "So that is a serious problem and one, obviously, everybody's working very hard to get a handle on."

Beasley said he is looking at the possibility of increasing the payout on the school's endowment, and that the school is having some success at securing one-time funding. He also said the school is undertaking administrative reforms to make it run more efficiently.

"We have been encouraged by our advisory groups and by the next president, and I suspect our next provost, to develop a strategic plan," he said, referring to incoming President John Hennessy and incoming Provost John Etchemendy, a member of the Humanities and Sciences faculty. The dean said he hopes that within a year a plan will be in place "that will not only deal with some of these questions of what is the role of the school in the university, but what are its real needs. . . . Clearly, we all understand that the financial needs of the school that I think are now well documented can only be met through serious development efforts."

Beasley traced the somewhat unusual history of the school, which was founded only in 1948 because the university's first president, David Starr Jordan, initially organized Stanford into departments rather than schools. As a result, the university's professional schools predate the School of Humanities and Sciences -- the opposite of how Stanford's peer institutions evolved.

"I'm not sure I would want to draw too many ironclad conclusions from that, but I think it has to have something to do with the history of the school and how it has evolved and where it is today and what the issues are," he said.

Beasley presented statistics showing the school's importance relative to the university as a whole: Its 500 faculty represent about 33 percent of university faculty; 81 percent of bachelor's degrees are given in the departments or the programs the school administers, as are about half the university's doctoral degrees.

The school brings in about $62 million in sponsored research and has an operating budget of about $200 million.

National Research Council rankings place 74 percent of the school's departments among the top 10 in the country. "We are one of the premier teaching and scholarship institutions in higher education in this country," he said, adding that much of the credit for that is owed to former school deans John Shoven and Ewart Thomas.

Beasley displayed charts showing that department rankings in the natural sciences and social sciences have been on a continued upward trajectory since 1969. In the humanities, in 1969 six departments were in the top 10 compared to seven in 1995, the most recent year available.

"This is obviously not as successful a rate of improvement as in the other two clusters," he said. "Whatever the reasons, it's clear that if we are to be the school we want to be and the university we want to be, there has to be a strong effort to improve the humanities. I think you've heard President [Gerhard] Casper over his presidency stress this, and I assure you as the dean of the school, I also recognize the importance of doing this."

Beasley also detailed recent school initiatives such as the creation of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, the Social Science History Institute, the Archeology Center, an initiative in Asian religions and cultures, and the Stanford Humanities Lab.

Beasley's talk came toward the end of the senate's last meeting of the academic year -- and with the clock ticking and the senators eager to get to a farewell reception for Casper, they did not engage a discussion on the presentation. SR