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Stanford Report, August 20, 2003

Kruger set research on steady course

Integrity, flexibility, openness guided dean’s policies for research, graduate students


When Charles Kruger became vice provost and dean of research and graduate policy in 1993, his challenges were daunting. Stanford's relationships with the government were strained, with more than a dozen auditors scrutinizing direct and indirect costs of almost everything the university charged to the government. Plus, multimillion-dollar budget cuts throughout the university and shrinking science support from the federal government stressed faculty and graduate student researchers alike.

"Today, things could not be more different," said Provost John Etchemendy June 4 at a retirement party for Kruger, who leaves his post Aug. 31 to prepare for a winter sabbatical in New Zealand and subsequently resume his research as a professor emeritus in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. "There is no doubt that Charles steps down leaving Stanford a much better place than he found it."

The university's sponsored research program is now among the most respected and successful nationwide. Stanford conducts almost twice as much research today as it did in 1990. Sponsored research now represents 38 percent of the university's operating revenue and, in the last fiscal year alone, increased 10 percent, to $802 million, according to Etchemendy.

Etchemendy said Kruger's contributions will be measured on the same scale as those of Frederick Terman, the former provost who fostered closer ties with the high-technology industry. "Charles has expanded on Terman's work in defining mutually beneficial and appropriate interactions between industry and academia, but always with the university's central mission and integrity in mind, as well as the importance of free access to information."

Steve Jung, director of internal audit and institutional compliance, recalled Kruger's approach to restoring mutual trust after the indirect cost controversy. "Charles in particular understood that to earn it, our policies for the conduct of research had to be unquestionably compliant, clearly stated, understandable to and understood by the faculty and their support staff, and, most importantly, fairly and consistently enforced," he wrote in an e-mail interview. "Under Charles' leadership, Stanford has made great progress in all of those areas, but it is in the area of enforcement, particularly on those rare occasions when individual faculty members were tempted to stray too markedly from the straight and narrow, that he exerted the most personal and telling influence. More than once, I have seen him blow away creative rationales for stretching the rules like a wisp of smoke from his ever-present pipe."

Ensuring compliance without building a stifling bureaucracy is an art that Kruger mastered well, Etchemendy said. "The creation of a solid foundation in basic areas of administration is what has allowed us as faculty, staff and students to excel in so many areas. Innovation and growth need systems that work."

Calm leadership that got results

Life for graduate students improved during Kruger's tenure, too, thanks in part to the Stanford Graduate Fellowships program that he helped initiate. Noting that some graduate students took more than three years to complete their degrees but had grant support that ran out after only three, Kruger with Condoleezza Rice and Gerhard Casper crafted a flexible fellowship to attract the best science and engineering students worldwide. It allowed hundreds of students to choose research topics and mentors based on mutual interest rather than availability of funds.

"It's turned out to be very good for Stanford," Kruger said during an interview in his office in Building 10. "Other places have copied us, and that's a good thing for students to have other people copy us in this way."

To honor Kruger's extraordinary contributions to graduate education, Etchemendy announced at the retirement party that five Stanford Graduate Fellowships from now on will bear Kruger's name.

Kruger also had a hand in developing some of the most exciting recent initiatives at Stanford, including the Bio-X Program, the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning, the Stanford-SGI partnership in biomedical supercomputing, the Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials and the Science and Engineering Quadrangle.

Navigating the complexities of initiatives can be tricky, said Malcolm Beasley, who was dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences during part of Kruger's tenure as dean of research and graduate policy. "Kruger skillfully and wisely guided the university through the era in which multidisciplinary research emerged as a central theme of the university," he wrote in an e-mail interview. "As part of this he played the lead decanal role in the formation of two new independent labs, the Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials and the [James H.] Clark Center (Bio-X). The complexities of such enterprises, which are research centers, not departments, cannot be overstated, and Kruger always made the right moves."

Jim Spudich, Bio-X's founding director, called Kruger "one of those rare altruistic individuals essential for an undertaking as complex and exciting as Bio-X." Kruger and Spudich worked with Executive Committee members Channing Robertson (representing the School of Engineering), Bill Mobley (Medicine) and Steve Chu (Humanities and Sciences) in the early years of the project. "[Kruger] devoted enormous amount of his time and energy to initiate and sustain this program, personally attending most of the almost daily meetings necessary to make Bio-X happen. I was in contact with Charles almost daily for the initial four years of the development of the program. He was always available, any time of day, seven days a week. That's what it took. Without his enthusiasm for and his confidence in the concept, Bio-X would not have happened."

Robertson said Kruger helped steer the Executive Committee through a tangle of interesting yet tough issues as they pushed the project forward. "He was ever optimistic, even in the worst of times -- always willing to give sage advice and help us steer an even course. We would have an hour of, shall we say, lively discussion, at the end of which Charles would capture the essence of what had taken place, encapsulate it in a few words and suggest we move on. We did. Had it not been for his calming presence and deep sensitivity to all concerned, joined by his sense of purpose and commitment to a complex and somewhat controversial undertaking, there is a good possibility Bio-X and all it means and will become to Stanford and the world community might never have happened."

Robertson recalled Kruger's advice to go the extra mile -- literally -- to convince Sir Norman Foster to accept the commission to become prime architect for the Clark Center. "Charles encouraged us to go to London and talk to him face-to-face. I recall turning to him and saying, 'You mean, go to the airport, get on a plane, fly to London and go knock on the door and convince him that this is a once-in-a-lifetime project?' To which Charles replied, 'Yes, and I will pay for it.' He came with us to London and as he predicted, Foster came on board. Because of that, we now have a magnificent facility and space to make our dreams come true."

In honor of Kruger's support for Stanford's bioscience initiatives, Room 363 in the Clark Center is now named the Charles H. Kruger Seminar Room.

Throughout a Stanford career spanning more than 40 years, Kruger has maintained his teaching and research program. Jim Plummer, dean of the School of Engineering, translated Kruger's research for those attending the retirement party: "If you look at Charles' website, you will discover that he works on 'partially ionized plasmas, advanced optical diagnostics, radiation from high temperature air and nonequilibrium plasma synthesis.' What all this means is that he plays with gases that glow in the dark. There actually are some rather interesting applications of the fundamental science work that Charles does, ranging from growing synthetic diamonds to understanding spacecraft re-entry into the atmosphere."

Kruger spent half his Stanford career in senior administrative positions, including chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering (1982-1988), associate dean of the School of Engineering (1988-1989), chair of the Faculty Senate (1990-1991) and senior associate dean of the School of Engineering (1990-1993). "None of these positions has the kind of external visibility that fosters one's academic reputation," Plummer noted. "All of them are critical positions that have a tremendous impact on how Stanford operates. More than any other faculty member I know, Charles has given of himself to benefit Stanford."

Etchemendy agreed: "No one works harder than Charles Kruger. No one is a better spokesperson for the value of basic research or the benefits of investing in graduate education. No one is more ethical, thoughtful or thorough. No one is better at creating consensus and the sense that every opinion has been heard and respected. No one exemplifies the concept of university citizen more than Charles."

That generosity was recognized at the 2003 Commencement, when Kruger received a Kenneth M. Cuthbertson Award for exceptional contributions to the university.

Flexible administration for strong research

Three major administrative offices report to the dean of research: the Office of Technology Licensing, led by Katharine Ku; Environmental Health and Safety, led by Larry Gibbs; and the Human Subjects Compliance Office, led by Kathy McClelland. Kruger had high praise for these leaders, as well as for current and former associate deans of research or graduate policy George Dekker, Ann Arvin, Pat Jones, Craig Heller, Tom Wasow and Godfrey Mungal. "They took a lot of the load. It's not nearly as hard when you have those good people dealing with matters."

The topics that crossed Kruger's desk ranged from navigating the intricacies of federal research funding to complying with regulations for handling hazardous materials. Preventing conflicts of interest was part of the job, too, though Stanford policy has researchers first disclose conflicts of interest to their school deans, who in turn may ask Kruger for advice.

"The most difficult cases are where the faculty member has an outside interest and is saying that it's really important for the outside interest [such as a startup company] to be involved in the research at Stanford," Kruger explained. That situation raises questions about whether involved students will be as free to discuss and then publish their results as they would have been otherwise. Finding a way to proceed while preserving academic freedom often requires a detached view, he said.

While Etchemendy called Kruger "a virtual encyclopedia of research administration," Kruger has never lost the forest for the trees. He has kept his eyes on the big picture to facilitate Stanford's position as a strong player in interdisciplinary research. "Stanford is relatively entrepreneurial, relatively flexible compared to [other] top universities, and our system of independent labs, centers and institutes allows us to respond more flexibly to things like the new G-CEP [Global Climate and Energy Project] and things like Bio-X. It does raise some issues. I believe strongly that interdisciplinary research can strengthen the traditional departments at the same time as we're doing new things."


Charles Kruger