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Stanford President John Hennessy on Stanford University

John L. Hennessy joined Stanford’s faculty in 1977 as an assistant professor of electrical engineering. He rose through the academic ranks to full professorship in 1986 and was the inaugural Willard R. and Inez Kerr Bell Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from 1987 to 2004. From 1983 to 1993, Dr. Hennessy was director […]

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This is KZSU Stanford.
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Welcome to entitled opinions.
My name is Robert Harrison.
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And we're coming to you from the Stanford campus.
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When I say we're coming to you from the Stanford campus,
I mean, Leeland Stanford Junior Memorial University.
In Stanford, California, an enclave of the city of Palo Alto,
which I'm told has the highest quotient of PhDs per capita in the world.
For those of you who are tuning in to entitled opinions from elsewhere,
well, JFK once said, "Life is not fair."
I have a very special guest with me in the studio today.
John Hennessy, President of the Stanford University,
and we're going to be talking with him during the next hour about many different things,
including what it's like to be the president of a university whose very existence is unfair
to all those who happen to be elsewhere.
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One thing Stanford is really good at among countless others is hype and self-promotion.
I vowed to myself that today I would try to avoid the usual bomb-bast about Stanford being one of the finest universities in the world,
and the endless drone about excellence.
I, for one, believe that self-promotion is beneath our dignity.
The French writer Stondale, who spent several years in Parma once remarked,
"El y'alif homage el lupar mesaal."
There are cheeses, and then there is Parma's aunt.
That just about summarizes how I feel about this place.
There are universities, and then there's Stanford.
Most people know that Stanford is in or near Silicon Valley,
which spearheaded the incredible ongoing revolution in computer technology,
which in turn is transforming modern society in ways that have yet to be measured, let alone fathom.
But there's a lot more going on in this little corner of the planet from which I speak
and computer technology.
The major forces that will make the 21st century unlike anything our predecessors could have imagined,
are gathering momentum all around us here.
I mean biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, genetic engineering, stem cell research, cognitive science,
and various other kinds of specialized sciences, the conversions of which creates a force field
that is enhancing our capacity to fuse the synthetic with the organic,
the discrete with the continuous, the cognitive with the performative.
Thanks to these new technologies, many of which are still in their infancy,
humanity is poised to evolve into a new kind of species,
one that is no longer defined by the old human constants,
such as disease, suffering, grief, and even mortality.
Sanford is not only located at the geographical center of this new force field,
it is in several respects the incubator of the force field itself.
Anyone who lives or works here can feel it very palpably, almost in your body as it were.
This is where the future is gestating and taking shape.
This is the nucleus of the cell that will become the transhuman organism.
We are at the center of that which will be disseminated all around the world from here.
That is why when I visit other American universities, however prominent or exalted in reputation they may be,
I feel that I am visiting the provinces.
How's that for self-promotion?
That may sound like over the top hype, but it's actually not.
Don't forget that I am a humanist and what I am describing is in fact very daunting and humbling for a humanist.
It's not always easy being a humanist at Sanford.
We tend to doubt ourselves more here than elsewhere.
And this I think is a good thing for it forces us to clarify and in many cases justify our mission.
What is that mission?
I would call it self-knowledge.
While our colleagues in the sciences are devoted to the pursuit of knowledge, we in the humanities are devoted instead to self-knowledge,
which is a very different kind of pursuit altogether.
In the humanities we still respond to the ancient injunction of the Delphi oracle, "No thyself."
It's the difference between genius, which invents, and wisdom, which we calls.
At Stanford, like at most other top research universities, knowledge is in overdrive, and none of us, especially in the humanities, really knows what to make of it all.
It seems that knowledge has no need of self-knowledge in order to advance in its specialized disciplines.
But, ingenious dispense with wisdom without self-destructing.
Can we go on affecting wholesale changes in the world and in ourselves without really knowing what we're doing, or where we want to arrive, and why?
All we can say for sure is that the university is the place to raise such questions.
In its ideal, the university seeks not merely to promote more and more knowledge, but to transmute knowledge into self-knowledge.
If only by providing a common home for both the sciences and the humanities.
But let's turn now to my guest, John Hennessy, who presides over this university and seek out his eminently entitled opinions on this and other matters.
John, welcome to the program. Thank you, Robert, delighted to be here.
Before we begin, John, may I take this occasion to congratulate, complement, and above all thank you for a job well done.
In fact, much more than well done, fabulously done. I was, and am, a big fan of Gerhard Kasper, our previous president.
But since you took over in the year 2000, you've kept the university on an even keel through some rough storms, the dot-com bubble burst, for example.
When Stanford lost a big chunk of its endowment and things looked pretty grim there for a while.
Our financial house is now an excellent order. You've sponsored a number of great new initiatives.
You've made generous commitments to the personal research funds of the faculty and you definitely understand the crucial role the humanities play in the university at large.
It's hard for people like me to imagine how difficult it must be to run a university like this.
There are so many different constituencies you have to please, and there are a lot of very articulate professors around who are always ready to raise their voices in protest about this or that.
Anyway, we're really grateful for everything you've done for Stanford so far, a university like this really can't thrive unless a substantial quotient of its members give the institution more than they take away from it.
We know there are plenty of takers out there, but you're definitely one of the givers, so thanks for that.
Well, I'm delighted it has been an extraordinary privilege and an opportunity to lead and serve my faculty colleagues.
In the end, the strength of a university begins with the strength of its faculty and the students, and that is where we make our long-term investments in their intellectual endeavors.
I think enabling our faculty and our students to learn new things, to explore new boundaries is what I think makes the university great and seeing that happen and finding the rewards myself when I see one of our faculty members accomplish something extraordinary.
That's what makes a terrific job.
Did you arrive at, I know that you've been a professor at Stanford since the late '70s, is that correct?
Yes, this will be my 30th year and 30th year.
Did you come in, were you drafted or were you like a free agent acquisition?
I came in as an assistant professor.
This was my first job after graduate school.
It was actually the 14th school I interviewed at, the very last one because as you know, we were on a quarter system, so our hiring tends to run a little later in the year than other people.
But when I had the offer, we already had what was recognized as the top computer science department in the country.
And although it was much smaller than it is today, it was extraordinary offer and I took it the minute I got it.
Yeah, I also came in as a draftee as it were and I think that when you come up through the ranks as an assistant professor and tenure and then associate.
So I think that there's something about it gets it seeps into your blood as it were, you know, the Stanford.
It seeps into your blood in many ways, not only culture but of course loyalty and commitment.
And you mentioned my predecessor Gerhard Kasper, one of the things I greatly admire about him was his ability to come to an institution that he hadn't been grown up in and to put his heart and soul into the job.
And it's much harder because I know many faculty across the campus having been here so long and I think that gives you a perspective.
And when times are tough, it gives you an inner counsel that you can talk to and get guidance from that I think is very hard if you come in from the outside.
And sometimes those of us on the outside seem to, we have a tendency to forget how much sacrifice and dedication is actually involved in faculty administration.
Because all of us of course have our vocations as researchers and teachers and when we're called on, you know, either chair departments, in your case you were Dean of the School of Engineering for a while before, and then Provost and so forth.
These are real commitments and it is a sense of loyalty I think to the institutions.
I think how we institute especially Stanford, and I'd like later in our discussion to talk about what is very distinctive about the founding of this university that can create this sort of devotion and some of us.
It's certainly there Robert, I think you're exactly right and I think certainly I came to Stanford, you mentioned the Valley, I came to Stanford at the time when Valley was still backwater, when the computer industry was still focused on the East Coast.
That tremendous opportunity that I had both in my career and what I've managed to do in the Valley really Stanford created that opportunity for me.
And so there's certainly a sense of loyalty in giving back and helping to ensure that the next generation has the same kind of opportunity.
So could I ask you John, when you become the president of a university like Stanford, a lot of things change, the expectations and the job, the job description as it were, what do you consider to be the main responsibility of the president of Stanford?
I mean I've raised a number of theoretical questions in my lead-in about the vocation of knowledge, the mix between the humanities and sciences and so forth.
But as president of Stanford, do you think that your primary charge is to have a grand vision of where the future of history is going or is it rather to make sure that the business of administering the university has a
efficiently, effectively as possible takes precedent?
Well the answer is it's probably some of each. I think the global view of the mission for the university is always been clear in my mind.
It's about that pursuit of knowledge and the communication and sharing of knowledge with the next generation.
So at one level, the president's job really is to ensure that that mission can be kept vibrant and alive, not just for today's students and faculty, but for that generation that'll be here 20 and 30 and 40 and 50 years ago.
Shortly after I got the job and I'm sitting in the president's office, I was actually preparing my inauguration speech.
I'm thinking about Jordan, our first president sitting in that, roughly 100 years earlier, 105 years earlier, 6 years earlier.
And the decisions he had to make and how decisions even made 100 years ago have affected the course of the university today.
And so you certainly contemplate that future commitment that you have to future generations as you think about the job.
The future generations are crucial obviously, that's what we're passing on.
But I'd like to ask about what you mentioned the first president, Jordan, and also the founders of the university, Leeland and Jane.
And what role does the ancestor, or do the ancestors play in keeping those of us here in the present on track towards the future?
Because as you know, the Stanford was founded on the death of a young boy, or it was founded as a result of the early death of the one and only child of Jane and Leeland Stanford,
Leeland Stanford Jr. as it were who died in typhoid in Florence.
Unfortunately, there's a plaque for him there in Florence, and this was a terrible grief for the parents.
And according to legend, I'm sure it's true, Leeland Stanford woke up one morning and told his wife, "The children of California shall become our children."
And she later, after Stanford was founded, said, "I have become the mother of a university."
And so there is some way in which the memorial nature of this university still continues, I believe, to determine its mission.
It absolutely does, Robert.
Every year we celebrate Founders Day, when we recognize the gift that the Stanford gave us, which not only was a gift from Leeland and of course his success as a businessman,
and his estate, which really funded the university.
But enormous dedication by Jane, who after Leeland's death, single-handedly led the university, sacrificed personally her wealth to keep the university alive.
Using her own personal allowance to write checks for the faculty in the crucial period.
And there's a wonderful quote by Jane after she's handing over the reigns of the university to the first Board of Trustees, where she says, "Through all the years ahead, I could keep in mind future generations coming from the east, from the west, from the north, south, are children's children's children."
And it is a reminder of this vision that they had that the university would go on and provide this extraordinary opportunity to future generations.
It's a unique, it's a unique, and I think people who've been to our campus, which you praised so articulately earlier, see a university which certainly in the main quad, has a feeling that's a combination of a monument to learning, but also memorial at the same time.
And I think it's a gift from them that has only increased in value over the years.
In fact, there's the Memorial Court where there's even a plaque for the students of Stanford who died in World War I.
There's also the Muzzle Liam, where the Stanford's are buried with the junior, Leeland-Sanford Junior.
Sometimes I think those of us, either undergraduate students, faculty, staff administrators that when we become part of Stanford, we're kind of inducted into a family trauma or a grief that it's still, it's almost like we're on a mandate to redeem the premature death of that boy through this
personal success. And I'm reading here, I'm looking here at the founding grant of Stanford where Leeland-Sanford actually emphasizes, let me read from the founding grant, where stipulates that the objective of the universities are, the universities are, to qualify students for personal success and direct usefulness in life.
And to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization, teaching the blessings of liberty regulated by law and inculcating love and reverence for the great principles of a government as derived from the inalienable rights of man to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Now, you hear the Declaration of Independence coming through here, don't you? Certainly do. It's an interesting because that juxtaposition of what I would call a certain idealism, a vision, together with this pragmatic usefulness clause is really almost what's characterized Stanford. It's a balancing. Certainly as you mentioned, we are strengthened, the science is an engineering, but at the same time are strengthened, the humanities which look towards those deeply human values and the long term.
And the long term nature of human questions, I think is very much reflects their thoughts.
Well, certainly there's another quote I'd like to read to you from Stanford himself about the role, not only humanities, but this is literature in particular.
And it's literature I'm not sure to say.
Here to me because I am a literary scholar ultimately, and he says I attach great importance to general literature for the enlargement of the mind and for giving business capacity.
I think I have noticed that technically educated boys do not make the most successful businessmen. The imagination needs to be cultivated and developed to assure success in life.
A man will never construct anything he cannot conceive.
Is it in a wonderful quote? I think it is a quote we often use, and when we talk about a Stanford undergraduate education, particularly for, say, engineering or science students, we talk about the strength of the liberal arts and the grounding in the humanities and its long term rewards because it is a, I believe, and I tell this to undergraduates when they come at convocation.
Undergraduate education is a once in a lifetime experience. It's a foundation. It's not just about your first job. It's about taking those courses and opening your mind to the kind of thinking that will have its payback 20 or 30 or 40 years from now.
That I think is very much in the Stanford philosophy. I remember a story one time I was talking to a father who was contemplating sending his son to Stanford.
He was a graduate actually from our medical school, and he said, "My son has lots of acceptance, he is a very talented student."
He said, "But I am sending to Stanford." I said, "Well, why did you choose Stanford?" He said, "Because I want him to know who Thor are as and what he thought about."
That's a wonderful insight into why a young person should come to Stanford.
Well, do you find that you, as president, have to make certain decisions? Of course, there's constraints financial among others about the various disciplines. Everyone is clamoring, always for more resources for their particular fields and disciplines.
How have you managed to negotiate so beautifully this divergent claims from the different segments such that you're able to balance out those claims one against the other?
Well, I think it is one of the more difficult things not only within the university where you have at least multiple disciplinary constituencies, but across a broader constituency that we have in the university.
If you think about what constitutes the constituency of the university, it's students who are here currently. It's alumni, it's faculty, it's staff.
It's the neighboring communities who think they have an investment. It's individuals across the country who hope to send their children here.
Within the faculty realm, certainly we're looking at opportunities that exist. We're looking for leadership and new directions.
But you can't use a simplistic, equation-all method for analyzing this because we've got disciplines which vary so much in scope and differences that it wouldn't work.
You mentioned the recent additions we've made to helping support the scholarship of our humanities colleagues.
Well, this in the end was an easy decision. I was meeting with the group of humanities faculty and when it became clear to me the personal strengths they were under to support their research, where relatively modest amounts of money would make a significant difference.
Well, Stanford's at a point where it can afford to make that kind of investment. So it was almost a no brainer when it got down to it in the end.
Well, would that all governance be that enlightened so that you get, sometimes it's little things that make a huge difference.
And I know that that does and will make a big difference. So we're grateful for that.
And since we're on the topic of money, I'd like to raise, you mentioned that the university doesn't end at its own parameters, but that it's part of a larger community.
And of course, I imagine that a lot of your time is also spent continuing effort to raise money so that the university can perpetuate.
It's mission into the future. How much time or less does that take for the president?
Really, I ask because I'm I'm Navy, is it the majority of your time or is it just a portion of your time?
It's not the majority, but it's probably as big as any other piece. Probably 40% of my time 40% may be as much as 50% on occasion.
In the broad, analyzed in the broadest way because most of that time isn't standing in front of somebody with your hands out.
Most of it is thinking about how to structure what we're doing, thinking about how people might react to it, thinking about how when you look at donors, our donors are making an investment in the university.
They're making an investment not to get a financial return, but to get a social return.
And they think about that social return. How will their investment provide the opportunity for somebody who couldn't come to Stanford to come here?
It might be a scholarship. It might be support for a program like the overseas program. How will it enhance their education?
Or how will it provide the opportunity for a faculty member to do research they couldn't do otherwise?
You look at the area of stem cells where the federal government has been reluctant to fund many areas of research that could have dramatic impact.
But there are lots of people in the world who would like to see that research go forward. So they're willing to support that research.
Well, you've had an astonishing success in fundraising. I know that you've already exceeded in your campaign that billion dollar mark, and we're not even halfway through the year or whatever.
So that's great. At what point when a university like Stanford has already flush with these kinds of funds, at what point does fundraising when it becomes too successful become a mixed blessing?
In other words, is there such a thing as getting too much money and is there any risk that the university slowly, maybe unintentionally, and without realizing it first, becomes enslaved?
to the so-called donor community?
I think there's always that danger if you let donors dictate particularly some condition which would be against your core principles.
So that might be, for example, that they could dictate what research could occur.
And we have always, we've actually turned down gifts in the past that have come with those kinds of conditions.
There's also as you alluded to the possibility of complacency, which I don't think is healthy.
Having so much money that nobody has to think very hard about priorities and what we should be doing would be a dangerous situation.
But let me give you an example of a new program we started, which I think we couldn't have afforded even five years ago, let alone ten or fifteen years ago.
We got a gift recently, which we helped to use some matching funds from smaller donors for, that will allow us to put in a loan forgiveness program for students who go into our teacher education program and become public school teachers.
So this is something you'd say, well, that is a little bit of an extravagance where we're helping people pay off their loans.
But the way I think about it is a Stanford student who makes that commitment on that personal financial sacrifice, which certainly public school teachers are making, is making an important national contribution, important contribution to our society.
And that's something we can afford, we can find donors who will help us afford to do that.
That's a noble cause in my mind.
Now all that is great.
I'm wondering at what point does a university's ability to raise huge amounts of money start becoming a measure of the excellence of the university so that if we raise more than Harvard and all of a sudden better than Harvard or Princeton raises more than us, which is actually not at all the case.
But is there a danger that money becomes an absolute measure of everything else?
I think certainly that danger I think money is not the absolute measure.
Would I like to have Harvard's endowment?
Certainly I'd like to have Harvard's endowment.
It would make some things considerably easier for us.
But that's not the end measure.
And if you look at Stanford and its peer institutions on a per student basis, we have a much smaller endowment actually.
When you normalize for the size of the student body, which in some sense is the real measure of what it costs to operate the university, we're all so younger.
So just as age isn't the right measure, neither is location or the size of the amount of money you have.
And I think we've seen many universities, as Stanford did, I think we just have to remember that 50 years ago, Stanford was not a great university 50 years ago.
It was an OK university on the West Coast, certainly not with a global reputation.
It had a national reputation, but not a national reputation that we put it in the top leagues among the very best universities in the country, let alone in the world.
So there's been a dramatic transformation.
You mentioned that the university is very careful not to let donors dictate things that have to do with academic research.
But I suppose being a humanist, I have a lingering sort of concern about the fact that my field of research, for example, medieval Renaissance literature and Italy is a traditional department of literature and many such traditional departments do exist.
And what we take our mission to be is to be the custodians of historical memory that goes back to the ancients and the classics and the rest to try to find ways to renew the wisdom of the past, translated into our modern terms and so forth, to pass it on in ways that are vital and alive.
But this is not something that one can sell under the guise of new initiatives under the rubric of innovation.
And I know that it's much easier to sell things to donors or to get money from them, contributions from them, when you say that we are going to have this new innovative cutting edge.
All the things at favor, perhaps certain kinds of scientific enterprises, but don't do much for those traditional, more traditional departments, which I say, as I mentioned, maybe are more on the side of the wisdom equation rather than the genius equation.
And I think you certainly have struck a key point there. It's easier to sell the new new thing. But universities are about more than the new new thing.
They have to be about protecting and communicating the wisdom of the past and bringing that wisdom to relevance in the modern age.
You look at many of the things that we talk about the new new thing, you touched on several and the impact of information technology on our lives in lots of ways, I mean loss of privacy, but at the same time the enhancement of access to information, nanotechnology, or what's happening in neuroscience as we begin to explain very fundamental human conditions like attraction between two individuals.
Or we think about the implications of stem cells and our understanding in genetics and what it could do to talk about the human condition. Boy, talk about problems that go to the heart of the humanities and what does it mean to be human fundamental questions of philosophy.
It just reminds us of the importance of having that broad humanistic discipline as a key part of our university.
And I think although certainly lots of people are excited about supporting that new new thing, there's also a core of people who understand that these disciplines uniquely survive in universities.
And that they have to be preserved and strengthened and enhanced over time.
No, and I don't feel that we're in any danger under your administration. No, I don't think we're in any danger. In fact, we're making, I think, a long neglected investment in the arts which happened.
Well, I know I'd like to talk a little bit about this new arts initiative that is getting up and running soon.
Well, I think the motivation to do this was we felt for a long time not only in comparison to our East Coast but P. Pierce, but also given our suburban location at somewhat of a disadvantage. We're not in the middle of a great city.
We don't have access to some of the cultural resources that we would have if we were in San Francisco, let alone say New York or Washington.
And that, I think, has provided less opportunities to expose our students to great art and lots of different ways.
And we perhaps haven't made quite the investment in our core departments that we should have made to really bring them to the level of strength that they should be.
And like the humanities, the arts are sort of their partner in that grounding of understanding the human condition. I think in a time when globalization and internationalization is more important than ever, the arts provide another vocabulary for talking across cultural boundaries.
And at the same time they deal with something which really is the heart of the humanities, which is the human condition and ambiguity.
You know, I'm a scientist. Our goal is to drive out ambiguity. My human colleagues, their job is to deal with it because it can't be driven out of the issues that are deeply human.
And so it's been critical for us to think about that and how we want to restore and enhance even Stanford's presence in the arts.
Are you optimistic that we're going to achieve something really substantial in that regard?
I am optimistic. I think there are several parts to the equation and what we're trying to pursue.
Facilities become a big issue because we haven't had the quality of facilities for performance that we've needed.
The expansion we made to the Cancer Center many years ago gave us desperately needed exhibition space for visual art.
But I think we need to do a better job of engaging our students. We need more faculty so we can really support the student demand that exists particularly in the studio arts.
We need to support not just our PhD students but also our students that are doing Masters in Fine Arts, which is the professional degree for practicing in the arts.
I think all those things will round out our profile and give us a greater ability.
We have lots of donors who are really fond of the arts and I think they, when they see their university doing something in this arena, it makes them proud and interested.
I know from having taught in our continuing studies program for example and I've had guests on the show from outside of the university who from the area are so grateful that they have this access to a university at Stanford where they can take courses at night time where the arts are in their living form as it were.
So I know that the presence of Stanford is very important for the community at large.
The other thing about, when I suppose the question I wanted to ask first is whether you are comfortable with the size of Stanford.
In other words, are we at a stable number of undergraduate students and graduate students, stable number of faculty members?
Because there's something about the American economic system in itself which seems to be so predicated on growth and there's always growing growing growing, but at a certain point, my feelings that we're at a very ideal sort of size as it were.
We are at a good size and I think we're at a fairly typical size for private research university.
Within many of our departments and disciplines see their peers as much larger in terms of the number of faculty that they have in their area, which in another way says we're competing with fewer resources against the very top departments in the country wherever they are, whatever institution they're at.
We will probably need to continue to grow some in the medical school and the clinical side, but that's a very different operation.
The one thing I think we and all the private institutions in the country will need to ask themselves is whether or not we should try to grow the undergraduate student body.
And the argument here is that the growth in undergraduate students who are capable of doing work at Stanford level has grown much faster than the capacity of the private institutions.
And as you know, having seen the articles in the paper recently, the pressure on young people to get into the top schools has just been enormous.
Not only in America, all around the world, it seems like in a certain class there seems to be a premium on getting into the top tier universities in the United States.
Well, I think it's a recognition that education is so important going forward and so important to people's future.
So I think that's something we'd have to contemplate.
Princeton, for example, is just made a decision recently to enhance the size of their undergraduate class. Now they're considerably smaller than we are.
But it is an issue we all have to, all the private institutions need to contemplate.
The difficulty is, of course, for us, expanding the undergraduate population cost money.
Yes, we get tuition, but we'd have to give out financial aid.
We have to enhance the faculty.
We'd have to build student residences.
So it's not something we can do for free, unlike a company that often expands because there's additional profit to be gained.
For us, there's additional investment required.
That would also raise the question of the environmental consequences.
And one thing that's so charming about Stanford and people who come here from the outside for the first time, especially, are always very much in all that such a beautiful space.
The grounds exist.
It seems to be really like a little garden of Eden in many ways.
And are you concerned that this not be compromised by overbuilding, and especially with donors who come in with expectations that their donations for graduate housing and so forth would be in prime locations at center of campus and so forth?
If this is concerned, I think it's absolutely a concern.
I think the physical surroundings, the great vistas that we have are a remarkable birthright that we have at the University and one to be preserved.
And I think we've consciously started to make decisions which clearly benefit that, whether it's deciding to put parking below ground, so it's not to take up more free space and more open space.
But I think it is going to be a long-term issue for us. In some cases, we can build more space, but in a way that's more intelligent and better designed, and thereby actually provide more open space.
When we rebuilt the first phase of the science and engineering quad, the building I was originally in for many years is now below a plaza and open space.
We actually built more square footage, but left more space open. So we've got still left over from an earlier period, a lot of low rise sprawl that we could clean up and significantly improve the look and feel of the University while adding some space.
But the whole issue of sustainability is not only the visual look and feel, but what are we doing to our environment in terms of water demand, energy demand?
So we will be working very hard on those issues as well to try to improve our long-term sustainability.
Great. I wanted to ask you, John, about the medical school. A few years ago, but I think I don't know, ten years ago, it seemed to be in a real crisis.
I know that Gerhard had worked hard there in that regard, and it seemed like things were in a rather worrying sort of state.
Is it just my impression, superficial and mistaken impression that things have calmed down a lot of medical school and those problems are getting resolved?
Things have calmed down. I'd say we still face other kinds of crises.
The challenge of a medical school is not the medical school per se, but that it comes with a hospital.
Sometimes my colleagues will say, "Well, why do we need to operate a hospital?" After all, we have an engineering school, but we don't operate bridge or road building.
We have a law school, but we don't really run a legal service in a business school, but we don't run businesses.
I point out to them that in medical training, you should think about whether you want to be operated on somebody that's never really practiced it before, but only done it in a classroom.
I think that's the reality. Medical training is quite different, and the cutting edge of medicine involves working with patients.
The hospitals are really the challenge and they're a challenge because it's running a business, and universities are not primarily business.
They have business parts, but this is a place where faculty are in the middle of running a business, and it's not what we do naturally.
We have to do a lot of work to align the business interests, to remind everybody that, as we sometimes say over there, if there's no margin, meaning no profit margin, there is no mission.
You can't continue to run the hospital and have it lose money.
Robert, you're exactly right. We had a year where the hospital sucked down tens of millions of dollars in losses.
Obviously, if they did that for very long, eventually the university would either have to bail them out, or we'd have to declare bankruptcy at the hospital or something else.
It was really about realigning the mission of the hospital, understanding that it had to have a viable business plan, and that had to be a key part of what it was doing, bringing in talented leadership to really lead the hospital and the medical school at the same time.
So we completely change the leadership. We change the dean, change the president of the hospital in order to get that kind of alignment.
That's always looking good now.
It looks much better. The challenge we face will be California, as you know, is the middle of an earthquake zone, and the state passed a very high new standard for the ability of hospitals to continue functioning in the event of a major earthquake.
That will require that we rebuild most of the hospital.
Hospitals now cost somewhere in the neighborhood a million and a half to two million dollars per bed when you look at the full complement of facility from operating room to kitchen to all the test and procedure rooms you need.
And people wonder why it costs so much to stay in a hospital above and beyond the procedures.
Well, look at that. Think about the price of that and what you have to pay on a daily basis just to amortize the cost of constructing the hospital.
Well, it sounds like the bleeding has stopped.
We have long-term investments we have to make and we need a hospital until you're too fast.
You know we need to know that.
And it's almost like why do we even need to teach students?
Why can't we just read the row without this vocation of being a cultured and useful person?
There's nothing I can't imagine anything more useful than also running a hospital for people in need of that.
And the whole question of how we do education, I think we were talking about David Star Jordan.
Here was a person who believed from the very beginning that the best education would happen when you brought together students with people who were truly scholars who were exploring the cutting edge and whatever their discipline was.
And that was the ideal mode of education.
And we've been committed to that vision of what's now called a research university from the very beginning.
It's quite a novel idea in the United States.
To have that research.
To have that research and teaching.
But the idea that research can enhance teaching is a very distinctive Stanford signature.
I was reading a column by Stanley Fish.
She's a very famous literary scholar who has become the dean of the College of Illinois.
And he was trying to recruit faculty with very strong research credentials and reputations.
And the state senator of Illinois said let them teach at Stanford.
Why do we need to hire these high powered research people when what we really want is people who will teach our students?
And Stanley Fish has a response there which is very much in the same vein of what you said.
It's the researchers, the people whose passions lead them to write the books or the articles and be the cutting edge of their fields.
Often are the ones who do the best job in communicating that same sort of passion and commitment to students.
And I think the other thing is they do it as a lifelong commitment.
And they are there, they are scholars, they are interested in the discipline and the field because they are committed to it.
And sometimes people will say to me oh the university system is broken because we have tenure and it means you have lots of faculty who are going to get tenure and then they are going to retire.
You look around Stanford, we don't have problems with faculty who are not committed and thoroughly involved in both their teaching and their research.
Sometimes we have to drag them out when the time comes and retire because they are so committed to it.
I agree.
Well it all looks very good John, I really appreciate you coming on to the show to share your thoughts with us about leading this university.
And I wish you continued good fortune, good luck and we are all benefiting from it.
Well I am fortunate to have a terrific job and I was lucky enough to find that I enjoyed helping my colleagues be successful in doing my small part to promote their work and allow their teachers to be successful.
And allow their teaching and research to go forward and it is tremendously rewarding opportunity to be present at the University of New York.
Well great, thanks again, we have been talking to it with John Hennessy, President of Stanford University.
Please join us next week for our next installment of entitled opinions by John.
Bye bye John.
Bye now.