A Bold Move Toward Better Learning

Photo: Glenn Matsumura

In the early days of the University, Stanford struggled to balance the goals of becoming a first-class undergraduate school and a major research and graduate institution. Although Stanford's first president, David Starr Jordan, was a fervent supporter of liberal education, resources were so scarce he argued at one point that Stanford could not afford the cost of excellence as both a top-notch research university and an undergraduate college. In the intervening years, of course, we have found a way to balance the two goals, and, as we set out on a new century, I would argue that Stanford cannot afford not to do both well.

From the beginning, Stanford's history has embodied a commitment to undergraduate education. This was apparent in Jane and Leland Stanford's vision as expressed in the founding grant as well as in the actions of President Jordan. We see the commitment in the founders' desire to admit the most deserving students regardless of their ability to pay as well as the priority placed on providing access for undergraduates to the opportunities that arise from Stanford's position as a world-class research university.

Several years ago, President Casper initiated an experiment, called Stanford Introductory Studies, to inject new intellectual excitement and vitality into the first two years of undergraduate study. Whether through Freshman Seminars, Sophomore College, or Sophomore Dialogues, this experiment has significantly strengthened scholarly exchange between faculty and students to the benefit of both. Students have capitalized on opportunities early on for intellectual engagement, and faculty have found that teaching small classes of enthusiastic students in courses of their own design has often been their most rewarding teaching experience. Overall, this venture has dramatically enlivened the first two years of a Stanford undergraduate education.

It is time to build on the foundation of those first two years and extend it to include comparable enhancements in the junior and senior years. This means renewing and strengthening majors, and perhaps, most importantly, increasing research opportunities for our undergraduates. With these enhancements, I believe Stanford could lay claim to having the best undergraduate education in the country.

Moreover, in the spirit of reinventing Stanford, we must find the strength of will--and the resources--not just to make these enhancements permanent, but to build other innovative programs on that foundation. Clearly, this will require some refocusing of our attention, but maintaining and enhancing the undergraduate offerings cannot be achieved simply by reallocating resources or stretching our already overextended faculty. For example, to make the Freshman Seminar program permanent we will have to add more than 20 incremental faculty to a variety of departments. Similarly, we will have to find new permanent resources to support Sophomore College and the improvements to the freshman humanities core.

In a series of discussions with the Trustees and President Casper over the last several months, it became evident that we would need a major fundraising campaign to maintain and expand the excellence of our undergraduate program. This Campaign for Undergraduate Education (cue), focused solely on the undergraduate experience, will have a goal of one billion dollars. It will create an endowment that will support all aspects of Stanford Introductory Studies, making these innovations a permanent part of our culture. The campaign also will seek to double the endowment for undergraduate financial aid so that we can continue to accept the most qualified students without considering their ability to pay. We also hope to raise an endowment to significantly increase the ability of our undergraduates to participate in honors studies and research. Finally, we aim to enhance a variety of undergraduate programs that are a critical part of Stanford, including overseas studies, service learning at the Haas Center and support for newly created interdisciplinary programs such as earth systems.

This campaign has gotten off to a tremendous start--as of last month, we had raised $425 million. I am quite sure that our initial fundraising success results from both the high purpose of our objective and the willingness of Stanford's alumni to be there for us when it matters most. Nonetheless, we still have a considerable way to go and the long-term success of the campaign will absolutely depend on the broad-based participation of our alumni and friends.

In a recent letter to alumni, Bethel Otuteye, '02, beautifully interpreted the Stanfords' vision of what their University should stand for: "Leland Stanford, Sr. could have built Stanford on a hill," Bethel wrote, "so it could be seen from a distance, a lofty goal difficult for anyone to obtain. But he didn't. The Farm is accessible to anyone in pursuit of a higher education."

With the Campaign for Undergraduate Education, we fully intend to ensure that the most talented students will have access to the best possible undergraduate education available anywhere.