(2012-04-30) Auletta Stanford University Future

Ken Auletta has a profile of Stanford University and its ties to Silicon Valley. The campus has its jocks, stoners, and poets, but what it is famous for are budding Entrepreneurs, Engineers, and computer aces hoping to make their fortune in one crevasse or another of Silicon Valley. Innovation comes from myriad sources, including the bastions of East Coast learning, but Stanford has established itself as the intellectual nexus of the Information Economy.

If the Ivy League was the breeding ground for the élites of the American Century (Industrial Age), Stanford is the farm system for Silicon Valley.

*Stanford University opened its doors in 1891. Jane and Leland Stanford said in their founding grant that the university, rather than becoming an Ivory Tower, would “qualify its students for personal success, and direct usefulness in life.” *(Goal Of Educating Kids)

William F Miller: "People who came here had to be pioneers. Pioneers had two qualities: one, they had to be adventurers, but they were also Community builders."

But Stanford’s entrepreneurial culture has also turned it into a place where many faculty and students have a gold-rush mentality and where the distinction between faculty and student may blur as, together, they seek both invention and fortune. Corporate and government funding may warp research priorities.

John Hennessy is the godfather of Silicon Valley,” Marc Andreessen, a venture capitalist, who as an engineering student co-invented the first Internet browser, says... Hennessy joined Cisco’s corporate board in 2002, and Google’s in 2004. It is not uncommon for a university president to be on corporate boards... Perhaps because his position is so seemingly secure, and his assets so considerable, Hennessy rarely appears defensive. He knows that questions about conflicts of interest won’t define his legacy, and they seem less pressing when Stanford is thriving.

Could Stanford really reproduce in New York its “secret sauce,” a phrase that university officials use almost mystically to describe whatever it is that makes the school succeed as an entrepreneurial incubator? (see 2011-03-19-NycAppliedSciencesUniversityDevelopmentProject) Another person who is pleased with the withdrawal is Marc Andreessen, whose wife teaches philanthropy at Stanford and whose father-in-law, John Arrillaga, is one of the university’s foremost donors. Instead of erecting buildings, Andreessen says, Stanford should invest even more of its resources in Distance Learning: “We’re on the cusp of an opportunity to deliver a state-of-the-art, Stanford-calibre education to every single kid around the world. And the idea that we were going to build a physical campus to reach a tiny fraction of those kids was, to me, tragically undershooting our potential... But online education might also disrupt everything that distinguishes Stanford.

People may remember Hennessy’s reign most for the expansion of Stanford into Silicon Valley. But his principal academic legacy may be the growth of what’s called “interdisciplinary education.” This is the philosophy now promoted at the various schools at Stanford—engineering, business, medicine, science, design—which encourages students from diverse majors to come together to solve real or abstract problems. The goal is to have them become what are called “T-Shaped” students, who have depth in a particular field of study but also breadth across multiple disciplines... Among the bolder initiatives to create T-students is the Institute of Design at Stanford, or the D-School (Design School).

The danger, he (Gerhard Casper) went on, is “that academic researchers will not only embrace particular solutions but will fight for them in the political arena.” A university should keep to “its most fundamental purpose,” which is “the disinterested pursuit of truth.” Casper said that he worried that universities would be diverted from basic research by the lure of new development monies from “the marketplace,” and that they would shift to “ever greater emphasis on direct usefulness,” which might mean “even less funding of and attention to the arts and humanities... Miles Unterreiner, a senior, fretted in the Stanford Daily that students spent too much time networking and strategizing and becoming “slaves to the dictates of a hoped-for future,” and too little time being spontaneous. “Stanford students are superb consequentialists—that is, we tend to measure the goodness of actions by their eventual results,” he wrote. “Bentham and Mill would be proud."


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