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Eileen Walsh, News Service (650) 725-1949; e-mail:; News Service (650) 723-2558

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Provost John L. Hennessy named Stanford's tenth president

Stanford Provost John L. Hennessy will become the university's tenth president on Sept. 1, Robert M. Bass, chairman of the Board of Trustees, announced Monday, April 3.

Hennessy, 47, a computer science pioneer who has taught at Stanford for 23 years, will succeed Gerhard Casper, who announced last September that he would step down Aug. 31.

"When the search committee began its quest to find a new president five months ago, I said I thought Stanford would be an attractive place for a decisive leader with the vision to set even higher expectations for excellence in teaching, learning and research," Bass said in making the announcement. "With the Board of Trustees' selection of John Hennessy, I believe we have found a leader to be sure, but we also have found the right person for the right time in Stanford's history. John's intelligence, experience and strength of character are a perfect match for the challenges Stanford will face in the coming years. His deep understanding of the university's traditions combined with his passion for innovation make him a choice that not only reflects in the best possible way on Stanford, but brings honor to all of us who are fortunate enough to be associated with the university."

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Hennessy was the sole nominee presented to the Board of Trustees by a 17-member search committee that reviewed 400 prospects over the past five months. The full board concurred unanimously with the committee's choice at a special meeting on April 3.

Trustee James Ukropina, who chaired the committee, said that "from the beginning, John's qualification for the job impressed the committee. The thousands of hours the committee and the staff spent pursuing supremely qualified people for this job only put John's unique combination of scholarship, leadership and integrity into deeper relief. Quite simply, when judged against that stellar field, John stood out. We feel absolutely confident that there is no better person to lead Stanford as it moves into the new century."

In accepting the presidency, Hennessy said: "While Stanford certainly faces challenges, our future is primarily about opportunities. Those opportunities include building on the revolution we have accomplished in the undergraduate program through Stanford Introductory Studies, and expanding our excellence in science and engineering with programs like the Clark Center for Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

"We also have an exciting opportunity to strengthen and enhance the arts and humanities by building on the successes of the Presidential Chairs in the Humanities, the Presidential Lectures in the Arts and Humanities, and on the addition of the Cantor Center to the campus. Pursuing these opportunities and making Stanford the best it can be is a task that will require the engagement of the entire Stanford community: faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends. I look forward to working with all these groups to make Stanford an even more dynamic and innovative center of teaching, learning and research."

Hennessy, an entrepreneur who founded a highly successful Silicon Valley company based on his research in computer architecture, has been provost -- the university's chief academic and budget officer -- since June 1999. The academic program involves approximately 1,600 faculty members and about 13,000 students, with an annual budget of $1.5 billion.

Hennessy was dean of the School of Engineering from 1996 to 1999 and chairman of the Department of Computer Science from 1994 to 1996. Casper tapped him to become provost upon the departure of Condoleezza Rice.

Casper said that "John is the logical choice to be Stanford's next president: an outstanding academic with an unwavering commitment to Stanford's quality and the many excellences the university encompasses. In the years that John and I have worked together, I have come to admire his clarity, intellectual rigor and honesty. He has become a colleague and friend in whom I have complete trust.

"John fully appreciates Stanford's extraordinary intellectual range that covers a wide spectrum of disciplines from the arts and humanities to the sciences and medicine. As provost -- and, before that, as dean of engineering -- he has been an enthusiastic supporter of our initiatives in undergraduate education.

"John brings many years of experience in leadership positions, both inside and outside the university, to the many tasks of a university president. I am very happy for Stanford that he is willing to accept the challenge."

Since becoming provost, Hennessy has begun to tackle some of the tough issues that face the university, including the high cost of housing and the need to reexamine faculty and staff compensation. He also is leading the searches for new deans for the schools of medicine and education and for undergraduate admission. He continues to find time to serve as an adviser to undergraduate students, but currently he does not teach.

Philosophy Professor John Etchemendy, who served as deputy chair of the search committee, said, "In his short term as provost, John has earned the admiration of faculty from the humanities to medicine, from the sciences to law. Everyone who deals with him comes away impressed with his formidable intellect, his extraordinary integrity and his deep love of Stanford.

"He is a great teacher and a brilliant researcher, with a touch of entrepreneur thrown in to the mix. He is the embodiment of everything that has made Stanford one of the world's great universities. I am confident that as members of Stanford's far-flung community get to know John, it will be abundantly clear why he was the unanimous choice of the search committee."

Hennessy received his B.E. in electrical engineering from Villanova University in 1973, and his master's degree and doctorate in computer science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1975 and 1977, respectively.

In the fall of 1977 he joined Stanford as assistant professor of electrical engineering, rising to associate professor in 1983 and full professor in 1986.

In 1981, Hennessy initiated a project at Stanford that focused on a simpler computer architecture known as RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer), a technology that has revolutionized the computer industry. In addition to his role in the basic research, Hennessy played a key part in transferring this technology to industry. During a sabbatical leave in 1984-85 he cofounded MIPS Computer Systems, now known as MIPS Technologies, which specializes in the production of microprocessors.

Hennessy credits his time at MIPS with giving him an appreciation for the world of business and the significance of leadership.

"It taught me about the importance of the people you work with and the importance of leadership, about being able to achieve things that do justice to the people on the front lines," he said. "I think of leaders as servants of their constituents."

In recent years, Hennessy's research has focused on building high-performance computers and in making such machines useful to a wide variety of potential users. One goal is to make computer cycles so inexpensive that massive amounts of computer power can be applied to solve problems ranging from large-scale scientific simulations to simple sensory tasks such as speech recognition.

Hennessy currently serves as chairman of the board of directors of T-span, and he also has been on the technical advisory boards for Tensilica, Microsoft and Virtual Machine Works.

Although he said his outside business experience has been of exceptional value, he has always returned to the university. "In my heart of hearts, I like being an academic and I like working with students," he said.

Soon after taking the helm of the School of Engineering in 1996, Hennessy oversaw the development of a five-year plan that resulted in a major new thrust in bioengineering and biomedical engineering. In 1999, Silicon Graphics and Netscape cofounder Jim Clark, Hennessy's former colleague in the Department of Electrical Engineering, donated $150 million to the university to further that effort. The donation will fund the Clark Center for Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

"The whole notion of biology becoming this foundational science for lots of different disciplines is something that we can build on in a unique way," Hennessy said at the time. "Recent discoveries in genetics and cellular biology, coupled with strides in computing and miniaturization of devices, will provide incredible opportunities for advances in biomedicine, bioengineering and bioscience. The breakthroughs will be at the intersection of biology and other science and engineering fields. Stanford has world-class programs in all of these areas, and interdisciplinary work is already under way."

As dean of the School of Engineering, Hennessy also pledged to encourage the spread of computer technology as an instructional and design tool. He oversaw the development of the first online master's degree -- in electrical engineering -- offered by a major research university.

Earlier this year Hennessy was named a co-recipient of the prestigious John von Neumann Medal awarded by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, of which he is a fellow. He is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery. He was a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator in 1984.

He has lectured widely and published scholarly papers on a range of topics. He has co-written two textbooks that are used internationally: Computer Organization and Design: The Hardware/Software Interface (1993; second edition 1998) and Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach (1990; second edition 1995).

Hennessy and his wife, Andrea, and their two teen-aged sons live in Atherton. He is a fan of Stanford's men's and women's basketball teams and a patron of Stanford's Lively Arts programs.


By Eileen Walsh

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