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Becoming of Greater Service to the Public

by President John Hennessy

John Hennessy, President, Stanford University

President John Hennessy

This is a time of great opportunity for Stanford.  It has been 120 years since the university first opened its doors, and our vision for the future has never been brighter. 

This year the university successfully concluded The Stanford Challenge, celebrated noteworthy advances in research and education and embarked on several opportunities that will have implications on the academic mission for years to come.

The Stanford Challenge

Launched five years ago, The Stanford Challenge was, by any standard, the most successful campaign ever in higher education, raising $6.2 billion. Its goal was to transform the university and better prepare it to lead in this century.  Most significantly, the Challenge centered on multidisciplinary research that addresses some of society’s most complex problems.

Stanford’s alumni, parents and friends clearly shared our belief in its importance. Despite the global economic crisis early in the campaign, more than 166,000 supporters invested in our vision. The campaign exceeded its original $4.3 billion goal more than a year before it finished on Dec. 31, 2011.

As extraordinary as that is, the real significance of the success of The Stanford Challenge is not in the amount raised, it is in how these gifts have enabled the university to do the work of this century. 

The Stanford Challenge provided essential support for our extraordinary faculty and students. Over the course of the campaign, more than 130 new faculty positions and more than 360 new graduate fellowships were endowed. In keeping with the university’s commitment that a Stanford education be accessible to students regardless of economic situation, the campaign raised more than $250 million for need-based scholarships.

The Stanford Challenge also provided essential facilities to support groundbreaking research and teaching.  By the campaign’s conclusion, 26 new buildings — including 10 that support multidisciplinary research and teaching — had been constructed. Many replaced buildings that were more than 50 years old and completely unable to support modern research or teaching. This past year alone, we dedicated key facilities in law, business and engineering and broke ground for new buildings in medicine and bioengineering. The Knight Management Center, consisting of eight buildings, is the new home for the Graduate School of Business. The William H. Neukom Building provides important support to the law school’s clinics.  The Science and Engineering Quad is nearing completion with the opening of two new buildings and the groundbreaking for the Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering Building.  At the School of Medicine, work has begun on the Jill and John Freidenrich Center for Translational Research. As important as these facilities are for our teaching and research, they have also dramatically improved the quality of the architecture in some of the most neglected parts of the campus. The new engineering school quadrangle is now a stop on the visitors' tour, as opposed to a place that was once avoided!

Investment in the Arts

There were also significant investments in the arts. The Bing Concert Hall is scheduled for completion next year, and we are moving forward on plans for the McMurtry Building, which will house the Department of Art and Art History, as well as a new home for the Anderson Collection at Stanford University.  The historic gift of the Anderson Collection was one of the year’s highlights. In June, Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson and their daughter, Mary Patricia Anderson Pence, donated their magnificent collection of 121 works of postwar-American art to the university. More than 30 Stanford doctoral candidates have interned at the collection over the years, and we are delighted that many more will work with the collection in the future. Together with support for new faculty and for students pursuing Master's of Fine Arts degrees, the arts have been raised to a new level of prominence at Stanford.

New Opportunities

This year, we also launched two new programs that could benefit the nation’s and the world’s economies.  In November, the Graduate School of Business established the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies, thanks to a tremendous gift from Dorothy and Robert King, MBA ’60.  Referred to as SEED, its focus will be to fight poverty by helping create new ventures and assisting existing ones to scale.  Working with entrepreneurs, on-the-ground managers and leaders to address the needs of developing countries, SEED has the potential to multiply the impact of innovations, creating opportunities for people to move out of poverty and advance through their own efforts. We envision that SEED will be the first step in a broader, university-wide effort to focus on the problems of global poverty and development.

The Epicenter at Stanford, launched in September, leverages the university’s leadership and proven track record in educating entrepreneurs.  Funded by a $10-million grant from the National Science Foundation, the center’s goal is ambitious: to change the way engineers are educated and encourage greater innovation throughout the country. In partnership with the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, the Epicenter is focused on improving entrepreneurship education in the United States.

Stanford has always sought new challenges, and last year we began exploring another opportunity — the possibility of establishing a science and technology campus in New York.  In December 2010, New York City’s Economic Development Corporation announced its intention of attracting an applied sciences campus, with the goal of diversifying the city’s economy. It was recognition of the contributions and direct impact a research university can have on economic development.

Stanford submitted its formal proposal to build an applied sciences and engineering campus in NYC in October, after an initial expression of interest in March. Our proposal reflected the founders’ original vision — that the university has a responsibility to utilize its resources to serve the public good. We made clear throughout the process that the final outcome must be good both for Stanford and for New York City. We viewed the project as one with significant risks but also with great opportunity.

After several weeks of negotiation with the city, it was clear that the university’s risks had increased and that continuing to pursue the NYC campus would not be in Stanford’s best interests. On Dec. 16, exactly one year after the initial announcement of the project by New York City, Stanford withdrew its application. We learned much from the process, however, and we have no doubt that there will be future opportunities to explore the issues that were at the forefront of this effort — opportunities to expand our ability to deliver Stanford’s excellent education to more outstanding students.

Interestingly, during this past fall, Stanford faculty in Computer Science began another experiment: providing online education to the world. More than 150,000 students signed up for three Computer Science courses, which included lectures, quizzes, homework problems and exams. This brief experiment has shown that there is tremendous demand for education, at a scale that far outstrips what any physical campus could accommodate. Although we are early on in our understanding of high quality, online education, it is clear that the technology provides a novel and highly cost-effective way to deliver education. We will be continuing our experiment in winter quarter and examining ways in which Stanford can play a bigger role in the world.

Great universities continue to take risks; they continue to innovate and pioneer new territory. Stanford University was founded on the idea that teaching and research could — and should — benefit society. We will continue to seek opportunities where we can make contributions that will support economic growth and advance discovery.

When Jane Stanford exhorted the university to educate its students so they “will become … of greater service to the public,” she could not have foreseen the opportunities before us today.  But there is no doubt that her words have shaped this university and guided its leadership. The events of this past year exemplify that. As we go forward, Stanford University will continue to respond, exploring new opportunities to live up to that charge and serve humanity.