Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, October 20, 2000

Stanford in the 21st Century

This is the prepared text of President John Hennessy's speech at his inauguration as Stanford's 10th president on Friday, Oct. 20, 2000.

Good Morning, Chairman Stein, Presidents Emeriti Lyman, Kennedy, and Casper, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty colleagues, undergraduate and graduate students, staff members, alumni, fellow presidents and chancellors, neighbors, and friends. I welcome you all.

One hundred and nine years ago, David Starr Jordan stood before a group of faculty, students and dignitaries not far from here and accepted the awesome responsibility to serve this university as its first president. Today, I stand before all of you with a great sense of history and humility to accept this same honor and responsibility.

By any measure, Stanford has prospered in the years since its founding. There have been many challenges to overcome, but our history has been one of overcoming those challenges, taking advantage of opportunities and creating new ones when none previously existed. Today, we are correspondingly positioned. Despite the formidable challenges arising from the remarkable prosperity of Silicon Valley, we are perhaps better poised now to build on the accomplishments of the past than at any other time in our history.

Thus, at the beginning of our 110th year, it is an auspicious time to consider the opportunities before us. A time when we must ask ourselves "What does Stanford stand for?" "What shall we be in ten years? In one hundred years?" and "How do we ensure that future generations of our community will have the same opportunities that we have had?"

This discussion of what we stand for and what we hope to be is the subject of my talk today. In that regard, I do not consider these comments so much a speech as an invitation to begin a dialogue. It is in this spirit that I offer this address, knowing that the success of what we will accomplish over the next few years will largely depend on the degree to which all of you are involved in conceptualizing, implementing and supporting our initiatives.

In trying to understand what we stand for, it seems appropriate to start with the Founders and their goals. In the opening sentence of the Founding Grant, written 115 years ago, Leland and Jane Stanford set out a noble purpose. It was their desire, the grant states,

"to promote the public welfare by founding, endowing, and having maintained upon our estate known as the Palo Alto Farm, . . . a University for both sexes, with Colleges, Schools, Seminaries of Learning, Mechanical Institutes, Museums, Galleries of Art, and all other things necessary and appropriate to a University of high degree"

Three things are clear from even this short passage: Stanford should be co-educational, it should have breadth, and it should be a "University of high degree." How well has Stanford carried out these goals?

Stanford was one of the first private universities in the country to be co-educational from its inception. In fact, the founding grant obliges us: "To afford equal facilities and give equal advantage in the University to both sexes." Surprisingly, Jane Stanford, worried that the university named for her son might enroll too many women, amended the founding grant to specify that there be no more than 500 women students at any time. In 1933, the Board of Trustees decreed that this amendment was incompatible with the primary direction that Stanford be a university of high degree and, henceforward, the amendment would be ignored! Although ethically and academically the decision to ignore the amendment was beyond reproach, it is not altogether clear that this action was legal. Nonetheless, I want to ensure any alumna enrolled between 1933 and 1973 -- when the amendment limiting the number of women was overturned by court action -- that we will protect her degree with any and all measures necessary!

Despite Jane's short-lived deviation from the instructions of the founding grant, we have been, and will continue to be, strongly committed to equal opportunity for all members of the university community whether faculty, staff, or students.

The second goal of the opening sentence compels us to embrace a broad range of academic disciplines. I have always been astonished that we have been able to maintain this disciplinary breadth and also achieve consistent excellence with fewer than 1,700 faculty and a comparably small staff. Of course, given our size, this breadth also poses problems.

In particular, our size makes it imperative that we carefully choose what we pursue, so that, in an attempt to be broad, we do not sacrifice excellence and intellectual leadership. This combination of breadth and size creates a feeling among many faculty and staff that we are constantly in danger of becoming spread too thin. Of course, admitting this fact is easy; overcoming it is far more difficult. I will return to these challenges a little later.

But first, I want to address the third -- and, to my mind, most important -- element in the opening sentence of the founding grant, namely the founder's desire that Stanford be a "university of high degree." Certainly, we have achieved this distinction, perhaps even to a greater extent than the founders ever could have dreamed.

Being a university of high degree, however, is not something that can be maintained by standing still. It requires us to reexamine and rejuvenate what we are doing, and it requires us to be bold in launching new efforts and in seeking out new ways to build on the foundation of our predecessors.

While it would be impossible, at least in a speech of tolerable length, to talk about all the areas in which we need to rejuvenate activities or to launch new efforts, I do want to briefly discuss several critical directions. I will start with the area that is at the heart of our university: our commitment to undergraduate education. This commitment is grounded upon three goals that have changed in direction and emphasis over time, yet flow from the original objectives of the institution.

The first is a belief in liberal education. Leland Stanford in his address on opening day voiced his belief in this bedrock for a Stanford education when he said:

"The intelligent development of the human faculties is necessary to man's happiness, and if this be true, each individual should, if possible, have such a liberal education as to enable him to understand, appreciate, and enjoy the knowledge of others."

Today this commitment to a liberal education is embodied in our general education requirements and, most directly, in the humanities core. This core, since its inception in 1923, has been through five different iterations including the present offering, Introduction to the Humanities, established in 1997. The primary theme we can see in this five-step, 77-year evolution has been a broadening in the diversity of the cultures examined and the authors read. This history reminds us that while our humanities core must remain strong, it must also adapt over time.

A second goal of our undergraduate program has been to admit the most qualified students, independent of their ability to pay. In the first years of the university, tuition was nonexistent, and admission was determined by an entrance exam. All students were required to take exams in 8 areas, including, some of my colleagues will be happy to hear, both Latin and Physics!

Although the academic standards were rigorous, Jordan stressed the importance of accepting anyone who met those standards, regardless of their ability to pay tuition. He worried that high tuition would reduce both the quality and the diversity of the student body. Today, this goal of admitting the best students regardless of their ability to pay is embodied in our need-blind admissions policy and an unyielding effort to meet the demonstrated financial need of all our admitted undergraduates.

Bethel Otuteye, class of 2002, clearly described the accessibility of a Stanford education in a recent letter to alumni when she wrote:

"Leland Stanford, Sr. could have built Stanford on a hill so it could be seen from a distance, a lofty goal difficult for anyone to obtain. But he didn't. The Farm is accessible to anyone in pursuit of a higher education."

The third fundamental goal of our undergraduate program is to provide our students with access to the research opportunities that arise from Stanford's position as a world-class research university. Indeed, we have never separated our undergraduates from our research mission. Instead, we have tried to create a continuum of opportunities from freshman introductory studies to graduate study and research.

Forming this continuum and achieving a balance between undergraduate studies and graduate research activities has taken time. A decade ago, our prowess as a research institution was unquestioned. President Kennedy in an address given in April 1990 challenged us to strengthen our commitment to teaching and to undergraduates. Under President Casper's leadership, we initiated an experiment, called Stanford Introductory Studies, to inject new intellectual excitement and vitality into the first two years of undergraduate study. Freshman Seminars, Sophomore College, and Sophomore Dialogues have all significantly strengthened the engagement between faculty and students to the benefit of both. Students are more intellectually engaged early on in their time at Stanford, and faculty have found that teaching small classes of enthusiastic students in courses of their own design often has been their most rewarding teaching experience. Overall, this venture has substantially enlivened the first two years of a Stanford undergraduate education, and it is time to make these enhancements permanent.

Building on this renaissance in the first two years, I am convinced that we should turn our focus toward comparable enhancements in the junior and senior years. This means renewal and strengthening of majors, and perhaps most importantly, increasing the research opportunities available to our undergraduates. With such additional enhancements, I believe that Stanford could claim to offer the best undergraduate education in the country.

In the early days of the university, Stanford struggled to balance its goals of becoming a major research university while also becoming a first-class undergraduate college. Jordan argued that Stanford could not afford to do both. In the intervening years, we have found a way to do both and now, we cannot afford not to do both well!

But, to do both well and to continually renew Stanford, we must find the strength of will -- and the resources -- not just to make the enhancements of the last few years permanent, but to build other innovative programs on that foundation. Stanford cannot maintain and enhance its undergraduate offerings, however, by forsaking its research mission or by asking more of the already overextended faculty. For example, to make the current Freshmen Seminar program permanent, we will have to add over 20 incremental faculty to a variety of departments. Likewise, we will have to find new permanent resources to support Sophomore College and the improvements to the Freshmen Humanities Core.

In a series of discussions with the Trustees and President Casper over the last several months, we discovered that we would need a major fundraising campaign to provide the resources to maintain these innovations and further expand the excellence of our undergraduate program. I am pleased to announce that today we are launching the Campaign for Undergraduate Education, which will seek to raise one billion dollars over the next five years. This goal makes it the largest campaign devoted exclusively to undergraduate education ever undertaken by a university. It will create an endowment that will support all aspects of Stanford Introductory Studies, making these innovations a permanent part of our culture. The campaign will also seek to increase the endowment for undergraduate financial aid by more than 60 percent so we can continue to accept the most qualified students without considering their ability to pay. We also hope to increase significantly the support available for undergraduates to participate in honors studies and in research and to permanently enhance the resources available to a variety of undergraduate programs that are a critical part of Stanford, including Overseas Studies, service learning at the Haas Center, and support for newly created interdisciplinary programs such as Earth Systems. Finally, we hope to continue building the Stanford Fund, which plays such a vital role in supporting financial aid and program innovations for our undergraduates.

In thinking about the magnitude of this campaign and our joint commitment to it, I found the words of Louis Agassiz, one of the great biologists of the 19th century, inspiring:

"There are necessities which only the destitute student knows. There is a hunger and thirst, which only the highest charity can understand and relieve; and on this solemn occasion let me say that every dollar given for high education, is likely to have a greater influence on the future character of our nation than even the thousands, the hundred thousands, and millions which we have spent, or are spending, to raise the many to material ease and comfort."

Historically, the founding grant's call to maintain a breadth of studies and, simultaneously, our rank as a university of "high degree" has been as important to our scholarly character as a strong undergraduate program. This dual goal continues to raise complex issues as we consider Stanford's future: How much breadth is practical? Where do we consolidate our strengths? Where do we expand? And, how do we choose new fields as the intellectual terrain changes?

Unfortunately, not all the directions given in founding grant are helpful. For example, in the section entitled "The Nature, Object, and Purposes of the Institution," one of the duties defined for the trustees is "To maintain on the Palo Alto Estate a farm for instruction in Agriculture in all its branches."

A more interesting hint of what fields the university should pursue can be found in Jordan's early writings on the university, where he said: "Work in applied science is to be carried out side by side with the pure sciences and humanities, and to be equally fostered." Although at the core we have been true to this goal, like many of my colleagues, I have seen a disparity in emphasis between the sciences and humanities. Outside research funding has, no doubt, been the dominant source of that disparity and has led to an inequality in total resources, if not in institutional emphasis, and a consequent concern that we are not doing enough for the arts and humanities at Stanford.

President Lyman during his tenure directed resources to the needs of the humanities, and further investments were made during the Kennedy and Casper eras, but I believe a further increase in support for the arts and humanities will be needed. Our real challenge, however, lies not just in finding those resources but also in deploying the resources in new and creative ways. If I might be so bold, I would summarize by rephrasing Jordan's statement for today as:

"Work in the humanities is to be carried out side by side with the pure and applied sciences, and to be equally fostered."

Interdisciplinary study is another area where Stanford has encountered both opportunities and challenges. Our successes are dramatic: a large fraction of our undergraduates choose to major in interdisciplinary programs, such as Human Biology, International Relations, and Feminist Studies. Interdisciplinary centers, such as the Institute for International Studies, the Center for Integrated Systems, and the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, have become successful programs. These centers and programs have succeeded because they have led the way in opening fertile new areas of teaching and research, propelled by the enthusiastic support of faculty and students.

And yet significant challenges remain. Our interdisciplinary degree programs often appear under-funded; competition between interdisciplinary fields and traditional disciplines has sometimes led to difficulty in hiring and promoting faculty; and occasionally school boundaries create obstacles to new programs or collaborations.

I believe that such barriers, whether they are to new interdisciplinary degree programs or to cross-disciplinary research collaborations, prevent us from achieving at our highest level. In particular, given our small faculty size, it is critical to our success that we be pioneers in defining new fields; we cannot afford to be only followers. These barriers also undermine what is one of our greatest strengths: the unity of Stanford as a university, with broad excellence throughout the schools, departments and programs. We need to build on the diversity of scholarship across the university in the pursuit of new disciplines and fields.

Sometimes these new fields are created in the "no man's land" that sits between traditional academic disciplines. I am personally pleased that several initiatives to open up new fields and develop new graduate and research programs are under way: in the Clark Center for Bioengineering and Bioscience, in the activities proposed for the new Humanities Laboratory, and in a new planning effort in the area of environmental science, engineering, and policy. We in the administration will do our best to minimize the barriers to such initiatives and encourage their pursuit. I know that I can depend on the faculty and students to generate both the new directions and the energy to pursue them.

The courage of the faculty to lead us in new directions has been a hallmark of Stanford's success as a university. Other important factors -- including the dedication and vision of the founders, the inspired leadership of the university over the years, the quality and diversity of our students, our beautiful campus and extraordinary location -- have also played important roles. These things notwithstanding, the two characteristics I believe are most responsible for our success have been our unwavering focus on our core mission and our willingness to be bold in interpreting it.

Since the founding, we have been intensely engaged with the core mission of the university: the discovery and dissemination of knowledge for the benefit of all. This purpose should be reflected in everything we do. I hope that as we frequently renew our dedication to that purpose, our friends and neighbors will understand that we share common goals, that Stanford's future is inextricably tied to the future of our community, our state, our nation, and our world.

When we talk about new academic facilities, or the need to build housing, or the role that our lands play in supporting the financial needs of the university and our students, I trust that everyone, both inside and outside the university, understands that all our actions are undertaken to support our fundamental mission and to assure that we will be able to perform that mission for generations to come.

Correspondingly, we at the university must not forget that we exist as a part of a community and that carrying out our mission has an impact beyond our 8,000 acres. We must pledge to be aware of such impacts and we must acknowledge our role in helping to ameliorate them. And, we must never fail to communicate how everything we do supports the university's fundamental mission as well as our vision of Stanford's future.

Stanford University was born with a Western pioneering spirit, an entrepreneurial drive, and a willingness to be bold and take risks. Jane and Leland Stanford clearly possessed this spirit. Jordan fostered it and sought it in his early faculty, and this spirit has continued to characterize how we approach our mission.

In closing, I urge all of us -- faculty, students, staff, trustees, alumni, and our many supporters -- to continue to display the boldness of character and strength of spirit that has defined Stanford from its very beginnings. David Starr Jordan, speaking from the West Portal of the Quad on that opening day 109 years ago made this point with eloquence and simplicity:

"Our university," he said, "is hallowed by no traditions. It is hampered by none. Its finger posts all point forward."

Happily, in the intervening years, we have developed many wonderful traditions. But I am sure you believe, as I do, that we are still hampered by none. Our challenges are many, but our potential is unbounded, and our finger posts all continue to point forward.

Thank you for being here today.

Photo: L.A. Cicero