Maintaining Stanford

Photo: Linda Cicero

When I arrived at Stanford eight years ago, California was in a recession and temporarily much worried about its competitive position. I could not possibly have predicted that, after 1994, we would spend much of my presidency fighting for the very right to build faculty and staff housing on Stanford land west of Sand Hill Road, to build graduate student housing, to build an ambulatory cancer center, and to preserve the academic reserve in the Foothills as academic reserve in order to keep what the founders called the "paramount purpose" of the University alive.

Central to that purpose for Leland and Jane Stanford was the notion that, in "founding, endowing, and having maintained . . . a University of high degree," they were promoting the public welfare. To safeguard the University's continuing vitality, they prohibited the Board of Trustees from selling its lands. It is hard to believe that their vision of promoting the public interest may now be endangered by real estate markets in Silicon Valley and those who want to appropriate the benefaction of the University's founders for other purposes or even themselves. It is ironic that the spectacular success of the founding and maintaining of Stanford, and the growth in the public welfare to which it has contributed, has now become one of the greatest challenges to our continued excellence in research and teaching.

While some of our housing plans, especially those for graduate student residences, are now more popular than they were a few years ago, at present, some seem to consider our academic needs of lesser importance. Why do we need housing for faculty and students? Because the vitality of the University depends on the quality of faculty and students that we recruit. They need to be housed, but they also need the research and teaching facilities that will keep the University at the frontier. Standing still is falling back. This is not the same as saying there should be unlimited growth of the University. The University must carefully husband all its resources, and it must continue to make choices among programmatic activities. The lesson of the last decade is that resource constraints are real, and they are here to assert and reassert themselves.

Our academic needs and the choices they mandate have taken on a particularly urgent nature as the University has applied for a general use permit from Santa Clara County. It is my fervent hope that it can be achieved as I leave office. The permit will govern our land use for the next 10 years and already has been the subject of numerous public hearings and detailed governmental review. Again, it saddens me that some of our severest opponents have been members of our own community, even our own alumni. The focus of much of the criticism has been a demand that Stanford permanently designate its Foothill lands as open space, even though the use permit calls only for a 10-year plan.

Never mind that Stanford has been a more responsible steward of its lands than virtually anybody else on the Peninsula. Open space has always been a critical concern to Stanford, and I personally -- as have my predecessors -- take it seriously. Fully two-thirds of our 8,180 acres are, essentially, open space and will remain so under the new general use permit under discussion. Few, if any, other landholders in the Bay Area could claim such farsighted protection of open space. This preservation of open space did not happen by accident; it results from careful planning.

We have no plans to develop the Foothills, but rather to concentrate any new facilities in the "academic core" on the north side of Junipero Serra Boulevard. Stanford's lands, however, are held in trust to support the academic mission of the University. To designate any lands permanently for any other purpose would be contrary to Stanford's founding grant. The University must take a long-term view -- hundreds of years, rather than just 10 -- and we cannot limit options for those who will follow.

The importance of this long-term view and the cyclical nature of political demands on the University was beautifully illustrated in a letter I recently received from a professor who is writing a biography of Stanford's visionary provost, Frederick E. Terman. In working through the papers of Terman and former Stanford President Donald B. Tresidder, he found that, in the 1940s, civic leaders in Palo Alto and Menlo Park were doing their best to build up commerce along El Camino Real. They urged Stanford to build public neighborhoods on University land. One can only imagine what this part of the Peninsula would look like if the University had not resisted these entreaties. Moreover, our ability to build facilities for the academic enterprise -- and thereby promote the public welfare as the founders intended -- would be severely limited.

For me this is a vivid reminder that Stanford, despite its strengths, is not invulnerable. Indeed, if we are to maintain the vitality of the University and the founders' vision, we should all be aware, as former President Richard W. Lyman keenly observed, of the "underlying fragility of this seemingly powerful institution."