Undergraduate expansion plan shelved

Citing the university's "dramatically changed financial situation," President John Hennessy announced last week that he has postponed consideration of the question of whether Stanford could or should increase the size of its undergraduate student body.

Hennessy told the Faculty Senate last Thursday that he had received the final report of the Task Force on Undergraduate Expansion, which he appointed in January 2008. He had asked the 20-member task force to explore the advisability of expanding the undergraduate class to accommodate additional highly qualified students.

"Of course, given the dramatically changed financial situation, I've told them we put such plans on hold," Hennessy told the senate, referring to the effect of the national and global economic downturn on the university's endowment and budget.

Hennessy had first proposed the idea of expanding the undergraduate class in a September/October 2007 column in Stanford magazine.

This year, Stanford received 30,349 undergraduate applications for admission to the Class of 2013, a 20 percent increase over last year and an all-time high.

Currently, Stanford has 6,812 undergraduates, including 1,703 freshmen.

In its 31-page report, the task force concluded that expansion was "advisable and viable only if it maintains and extends the renaissance in undergraduate education."

"We believe that there is merit to expanding the undergraduate student body, but at the same time, the task force identified numerous challenges that we believe the university must address prior to, or as part of, any expansion," the report said. "These issues are related to residential education, faculty engagement in the residences, and housing."

Hennessy said the university will study one of the issues raised by the task force: exploring ways to boost the number of faculty members who serve as resident fellows in the dormitories—a number that has dropped significantly over the last few decades.

"We'll be assembling a small group with Deborah Golder, our new director of residential education, to look at that issue," he said.

There are 14 faculty members—assistant, associate and full professors—among the 36 resident fellows now serving. Resident fellows, who live in or near the dormitories, promote the intellectual tone in the residences by sharing their teaching and research interests, involving their faculty colleagues in residence programs, encouraging discussion of important issues and serving as mentors to students.