The Role of Creativity and the Arts in a 21st-Century Education

President Hennessy's annual address to the Academic Council on April 20, 2006.


Good afternoon and welcome. I am pleased to see all of you here today.

This has been a year of great accomplishment and even greater promise and has included the successful conclusion of the Campaign for Undergraduate Education and advances in new research and education initiatives. This afternoon, I would like to briefly review some of the progress we have made and then turn my attention to the role of the arts in the 21st century and, more specifically, how we will incorporate the arts in our pursuit of excellence. After my remarks, I have invited Eavan Boland, David Kelley and Kris Samuelson to join me for a discussion of the broad role of the arts and creativity at Stanford.

Highlights of the past year

Let me begin by sharing a few highlights of the past year.

As you know, five-and-one-half years ago we launched a $1 billion Campaign for Undergraduate Education, or CUE. CUE was at the time—and remains today—the largest campaign for undergraduate education conducted by any university. Thanks to the extraordinary generosity and support of our alumni, parents and friends—and the diligent efforts of so many of our faculty and staff—we have realized great success in achieving our fundraising goals. But our greatest success has been what these gifts have enabled at Stanford:

2,300 students register for Freshman and Sophomore Seminars each year;

680 students annually take part in an expanded Overseas Studies program, now endowed and named for Peter and Helen Bing, whose $25 million gift was matched by funds from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation;

1,300 students participate in undergraduate research projects annually;

103 new athletic scholarships and 300 new need-based scholarships have been endowed;

89 new faculty members in the schools of Earth Sciences, Engineering, and Humanities and Sciences have been appointed using endowment raised as part of the campaign; and

41 of our best undergraduate teachers and mentors were honored with appointments as Bass University Fellows in Undergraduate Education.

These are remarkable achievements and ones that will benefit students for many years to come.

Although our alumni and friends contributed the money and our students will be the primary beneficiaries, it was the commitment and contributions of our faculty that made this possible: from the members of the Commission on Undergraduate Education; from our two vice provosts for undergraduate education, Ramon Saldívar and John Bravman; and from the hundreds of faculty colleagues who have participated in our new undergraduate programs. We could not have achieved this transformation without you.

Last year at this meeting, I announced the university's intention within five years to eliminate financial contributions for families of students with lower incomes. From its earliest days, Stanford has been committed to ensuring access to the best students irrespective of their families' financial circumstances. Thanks to increased student aid support from the campaign and the ongoing success of annual giving through The Stanford Fund, we have been able to accelerate our ability to meet this goal. Effective next academic year, we will no longer ask families with an annual income of less than $45,000 to contribute to tuition costs, and we will reduce the contributions of middle-income families by approximately half. About 1,100 new and continuing undergraduate students are expected to benefit from this policy.

In addition to the successful conclusion of CUE and progress on a number of our multidisciplinary initiatives, which I will discuss shortly, this past year we have been able to attract donations to some of our highest priorities from endowment to new capital facilities. In December, the Graduate School of Business received the single largest gift in the school's history—$30 million from Anne and Robert Bass. This gift will create matching funds and a challenge grant for both endowment and annual giving and fund an exciting new series, Bass Seminars, in which students have an active role gaining hands-on experience with team-based projects. A number of these seminars, such as Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability, will be multidisciplinary and bring together students in the Business School with other schools. We also made significant progress in attracting gifts for our eight-building Science, Engineering and Medicine Campus, for which we now have pledges totaling over $140 million.

The success of our enhancements to undergraduate studies and the changing needs of our graduate students prompted us to look more closely at the graduate experience at Stanford. In September 2004, I established the Commission on Graduate Education, co-chaired by Charles Holloway, the Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield and Byers Professor in Management, Emeritus, in the Graduate School of Business, and Mark Horowitz, the Yahoo! Founders Professor in the School of Engineering. In January the commission delivered its report. Among its proposals were recommendations to:

Increase the number of cross-disciplinary and collaborative opportunities for students and faculty through incentives for curricular development,

Enhance diversity efforts,

Develop a leadership curriculum that complements discipline-based graduate studies, and

Create a new senior position to represent the needs of graduate students.

Earlier this year, we announced the creation of the position of vice provost for graduate education and initiated a search for this appointment; we also approved development of three pilot programs that incorporate other recommendations. One program focuses on diversity; another on strengthening mentor relationships; and another will create a Summer Institute to give graduate students opportunities to take courses in areas outside of their disciplines.

Continued advances in multidisciplinary research

As most of you know, much of our focus has been on new collaborative, interdisciplinary programs. These began several years ago with Bio-X. The Bio-X Interdisciplinary Initiative Program, a venture fund for new multidisciplinary faculty collaborations and a key part of our Bio-X vision, has been a tremendous success. This summer, Bio-X held an interdisciplinary research symposium featuring Stanford researchers from seven departments across campus involved in projects funded from this program. Several of these projects have already produced results and received funding from major external sources. From the beginning, we viewed Bio-X as an incubator for new multidisciplinary activities in biosciences and bioengineering, and perhaps no incubation has ever been more successful than that of our Bioengineering Department, which has already built a stellar record of attracting great faculty and incredible graduate students.

This fall, the International Initiative received $50 million from alumni Bradford Freeman and Ronald Spogli. In recognition of their support, the institute was renamed the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford. In February, the institute awarded its first eight grants for collaborative research on international issues, based on the model we piloted in Bio-X. The newly funded proposals range from "Feeding the World in the 21st Century" to "Combating HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa" to "Ecological Sanitation in Rural Haiti."

Last month, our new Institute for the Environment received $30 million from Stanford University trustee Ward W. Woods and his wife, Priscilla, to support innovative programs and collaborative research on critical environmental challenges. In recognition of their generosity, the institute has been renamed the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford. The institute has recently also launched faculty searches in key environmental areas in collaboration with several departments.

This has also been a remarkable year for Stanford in automotive racing—a claim I never thought I would be making. Last summer, the Stanford solar car team raced 2,500 miles from Texas to Canada, achieving speeds up to 65 miles per hour, and beat UC-Berkeley's entry for our first win in the North American Solar Car Challenge.

This fall, Stanley, the Stanford Racing Team's robotic car, covered a 132-mile, hazard-filled, largely unpaved course and finished first in the DARPA Grand Challenge. The prize was $2 million and bragging rights—only five of the 23 entries who managed to qualify actually completed the difficult off-road course.

Although our vehicles both placed first among the competition, the most important contribution from these efforts is the advancement of science and technology that could one day lead to the design of practical vehicles using renewable energy and the creation of autonomous vehicles that could one day eliminate automobile accidents.

These are just a few of the notable achievements of the past year. While we realize that there is still much work to be done, our progress has been substantial.

The arts in the 21st century

In the last several years, we have asked how Stanford's research and educational programs can contribute to addressing the great challenges of this century. In that same way, the university is beginning to look to the arts, not only as a key part of our cultural lives, but also as an integral component in the university's educational mission.

From the time of the university's founding, the arts and humanities have played an important role in educating our students and in serving the public. In his last letter to President David Starr Jordan, Leland Stanford wrote: "The imagination needs to be cultivated and developed to assure success in life. A man will never construct anything he cannot conceive."

More than a century has passed since the writing of those words, but they continue to guide us.

Artists have always responded to the issues of the day, integrated the latest thinking and challenged our perceptions. The arts develop ways of thinking that can be nonlinear and visual rather than verbal. In addition to the role of the arts in fostering creative thinking, the arts give us a venue for dealing with the complexities and ambiguities of human existence, helping to build a bridge between diverse cultures and experiences.

I have said before that the quantity and depth of our offerings in the arts are not up to the level of a great university like Stanford, but that is not the primary reason for us to seek to build stronger programs. The primary reason is what such programs can do to enhance the ability of our students to think creatively and to contribute in novel ways.

The arts can help us break out of traditional patterns of thinking and adopt fresh approaches to intellectual experiences. Discontinuous innovations require novel thinking and breakthroughs in how a particular problem or challenge is approached. I believe the arts offer an expanded tool set for learning and understanding that can enhance creative thinking skills. But this will also require facilitating more cross-disciplinary collaboration between the arts and other fields.

Of course, we begin with several strengths, including a demonstrated ability to bring cross-disciplinary collaboration to the arts and an existing strong and exciting program in the creative arts. From Eadweard Muybridge's photographic studies that blurred the lines between science and art to the development of the music synthesizer technology that revolutionized the music industry, the arts at Stanford have a tradition of partnership with other disciplines.

Our existing programs in music, from the St. Lawrence String Quartet to the Stanford Chorale and the Stanford Symphony, have provided exceptional opportunities for exploring and creating new musical ventures. Tomorrow afternoon, a special program involving the St. Lawrence and faculty from our Law School titled "Originalism, Music and the Constitution" will explore the ways in which the Constitution is interpreted and the parallels to musical interpretation.

Through Stegner Fellowships, the Lane Lecture Series and the Stein and Mohr Visiting Writers and stellar faculty, the Creative Writing Program at Stanford attracts some of today's leading writers to the university. The Cantor Arts Center with its permanent collections as well as outstanding temporary exhibits, from the 2004 exhibit "Picasso to Thiebaud" to last year's exhibit of masks and headdresses from the Amazonian basin titled "Vanishing Worlds," to the current exhibit of 19th-century American art of childhood, titled "American ABC," has done much to enhance understanding of the past and of remote parts of our world.

So what is next for the arts at Stanford?

The arts have generated much discussion during our long-range planning exercises, and last spring, I announced the formation of the arts initiative. It is a still a work in progress, but several themes have emerged.

In January, a new cross-disciplinary institute, the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SICA), was established to serve as the hub for the arts initiative. Co-directed by Jonathan Berger, associate professor of music, and Bryan Wolf, the Jeanette and William Hayden Jones Professor in American Art and Culture, SICA will explore ways of fostering opportunities for our students to build creative thinking through artistic experiences as well as interdisciplinary creative research collaborations. By bringing together scholars, artists and other professionals—within and outside the university—we intend to create an environment for the arts that has no boundaries, that is open and accessible to all.

We know from our research initiatives that close proximity encourages creativity and collaboration among the faculty and significantly increases student engagement. Thus, we plan to move the Art and Art History Department from Cummings to the Old Anatomy building adjacent to the Cantor Center. As many of you know, our General Use Permit application also included the possibility of building a performing arts center. Finding the necessary funding for new arts facilities—which can be quite costly—has proven to be a daunting task and may take longer than we had hoped. But, our goal remains to have a first-class performance venue on campus and, at the same time, to reduce the overcommitment for our current facilities.

In addition to facilities, we are planning a number of new arts programs. One of the themes of the arts initiative is Creativity and the Arts. To encourage innovation, it is vital that students have opportunities to work with a wide range of artists. We plan to expand the arts curriculum, create new faculty billets and add student fellowships.

We have already introduced a new Film and Media Studies program in the Department of Art and Art History. Film scholar and associate professor Scott Bukatman serves as director of undergraduate studies for the major. Thirty-two students have already declared it as their undergraduate major, and we anticipate student demand will increase. Last spring, a two-year MFA program in documentary film and video was approved, and the first students will enroll in 2006. At that time, filmmakers and professors Kris Samuelson and Jan Krawitz will move from the Department of Communication to the Department of Art and Art History. Other faculty will be hired over the next few years.

We are also working on integrating the arts more fully into the fabric of campus life. For example, a coordinated, campuswide arts calendar is being developed, and faculty involved in the arts are working with the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education to coordinate and expand arts activities in the residences. This fall, incoming freshmen will receive a new CD about arts opportunities at Stanford.

In addition to outstanding artist performances, Stanford Lively Arts is including more programming that offers the possibility of engagement by our students beyond the attendance of a performance, through master classes and residencies. Last year, in a program titled "Encounter: Merce," Stanford offered a series of interdisciplinary events across campus exploring Merce Cunningham's artistic work. From films and improvisational performance to conversations with Cunningham, and performances inspired by his work, more than 15 events filled a one-month period and reached virtually every segment of campus from the Medical School to the Cantor Arts Center, to White Plaza, to Memorial Auditorium.

Recently, the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts launched "Creative Risks," a series that brings contemporary artists to campus for collaboration with different areas of the university. In March, Stew—a Los Angeles filmmaker, playwright and musician—and a troupe of 20, including a choreographer, director and the artistic staff of the New York Public Theater, were on campus for a three-week residency. Co-sponsored by the Drama Department and the School of Humanities and Sciences, the residency culminated in performances of Passing Strange, a musical work in progress. Students had the opportunity to see the creation of the work, as well as the semi-final product; this sort of opportunity helps us understand the creative process and the necessary thinking skills.

A second focus of the arts initiative is Arts, Sciences and Technologies. As the arts move into fields like engineering and the natural sciences, Stanford—with its history of innovation in these areas—provides a rich environment for such collaborations.

Design thinking is one approach we are pursuing. Last fall we launched the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. Led by David Kelley, the institute's founder and the Donald W. Whittier Professor of Mechanical Engineering, it proceeds from the premise that we gain the greatest productivity and creativity when multiple perspectives and disciplines are brought together. Faculty from different fields team-teach project-oriented courses. This year, for example, some of the projects proposed by students explore K-12 education, environmental resource sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

The third area of focus for the arts initiative is the Arts in a Global Society. Diversity—of interests, experiences, expertise, backgrounds, cultures—broadens our worldview and stimulates creativity. The arts as a means of cross-cultural communication and understanding will become increasingly important. For the past five years, the Stanford Irvine Institute for Diversity in the Arts, an interdisciplinary program in the humanities funded by the James Irvine Foundation, has brought artists to campus for programs that explore how the arts can address questions of diversity, race and identity. This winter, for example, Stan Lai, who has created improvisational theater for more than 20 years in Taiwan, worked with students to fashion Stories of the Dead, in which audience and actors switched roles.

All of these plans will engage us in significant new ways in the arts. But to strengthen the arts at Stanford, to capitalize on its enormous potential, we must get better at articulating its importance in today's world. We must possess not only the resources but also the creative flexibility to think differently about the arts.

Concluding remarks

The work of building Stanford's excellence depends on a long-term commitment by many members of the university community. We have accomplished much over the past few years, and I am sure by working together on a vision of what Stanford can be, we can make Stanford an even better university for our students, our faculty and our staff. We should aspire to nothing less. Thank you for your support; I look forward to the journey ahead.


Just as numbers can speak volumes, so too can exhibits and performance. So, this afternoon, we've invited several colleagues involved in the arts and design to join us to talk about their existing programs, their role in fostering creativity and the road ahead.

Please join me in welcoming:

Eavan Boland, the Bella Mabury and Eloise Mabury Knapp Professor in Humanities and the Melvin and Bill Lane Professor for the Director of the Creative Writing Program;

David Kelley, founder and director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design; and

Kris Samuelson, filmmaker and currently professor of communication and, by courtesy, art and art history.