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Stanford Report, March 19, 2003

Coming soon: Insider secrets on how Stanford really works


The unstated subtitle of Charles Kruger's new Spring Quarter course, Research Universities 101, he said, is "everything you always wanted to know about Stanford -- but were afraid to ask."

Kruger, vice provost and dean of research and graduate policy, and Pat Jones, vice provost for faculty development, put their heads together and consulted with the president, provost and others to come up with a seminar course that would be the ultimate insider's guide to how a research university like Stanford really works. The seminar, led by a different speaker each week, will run through the nuts and bolts of successfully navigating academic life at Stanford -- from ethical issues in scholarly publishing with Science editor and former President Donald Kennedy to what happens in the provost's office, as told by the provost.

"We had a sense that young people who are still getting established in their university careers don't know how universities are run," said Jones. "Or you might know how your department is run, but not much about how the school runs, and nothing at all about the university."

Kruger reiterated the second part of his tongue-in-cheek subtitle -- about being afraid to ask -- to emphasize the course is open to the entire Stanford community, both newcomers and old hands. "When I came here as a young faculty member, I was really afraid to show my ignorance."

Kruger said he has been contemplating such a course ever since moving into Building 10 a decade ago, when he became dean. "It seemed to me there are a lot of things about how a university works that some people might find interesting," he said. "Lots of people -- even senior faculty who have been here a long time -- just see what's in their area or department."

Although aimed at young faculty, both newly arrived and those still weighing a career in academe, the course is open to undergraduates and staff as well. (The course grants 1 unit of credit for students; no homework required.) It addresses such basic questions as: "Who makes certain decisions? How do they get made? How is the university organized?"

The course is a primer about research universities in general, and about the inner workings of Stanford quite specifically, Kruger added. On matters such as intellectual property and research policies, which he is teaching with Kathy Ku, director of the Office of Technology Licensing, Kruger said, "Everyone at different universities has the same problems, but they deal with them in different ways."

There also will be a very practical side to the course, Kruger added. "Say you're an assistant professor -- what is the Advisory Board?" (It has the final say on tenure, and the April 8 session is conducted with Jones and Gail Mahood, who has served many years on the Advisory Board.)

In addition to topics quite specific to Stanford, the course will cover external matters, such as how to get sponsorship for research -- with insider tips to navigating important bodies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, and the differences between them, from former NSF chair Richard Zare, professor of chemistry.

While many of the sessions have a science orientation, there is also time devoted to the humanities, and specifically to collaborative work between schools and subjects. The May 13 session, "Collaboration Across Campus Drive," led by Dean Philip Pizzo, will focus on cross-disciplinary work between the School of Medicine and the rest of campus. The following session, led by Keith Baker, cognizant dean for the humanities in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and David Holloway, director of the Institute for International Studies, likewise will focus on interdisciplinary work. "We like to think that we do a good job in interdisciplinary work; we certainly encourage it," said Jones. "It helps that Stanford is physically a small place; there are not a lot of barriers, and there is a tradition of cross-disciplinary work."

Kruger added that the fact that such a course had never been done before -- and yet everyone on his list of key speakers agreed to participate -- was evidence of its need. "Typically, we get no formal training in these things. It's like teaching -- you don't take a course in how to teach; you try to learn from your mentor and from experience," said Kruger. "You learn on the job. It's trial by fire."