Our Opportunity Now

Photo: Toni Bird

In 1994, Gerhard Casper launched the president’s column at the invitation of Stanford magazine “to address the alumni each issue on a topic of his choosing.” It is a tradition I am enthusiastic to continue.

I am honored to join our incoming students as incoming president, and I couldn’t be more excited about the road ahead. This year marks the university’s 125th anniversary, prompting me to reflect on how its history has shaped our institution and now helps chart the way forward.

Stanford’s commitment to a vibrant and diverse community was heralded by our founders, who established a university that was coeducational and committed to “keeping open an avenue whereby the exceptional may rise through their own efforts.” From the pioneers of 1891 to this fall’s incoming class, Stanford has drawn students from throughout the nation and the globe, and from every background.

The founders’ support of “advanced instruction and original research” stimulated excellence and innovation from the beginning, but Stanford’s rise as a premier research university and center of innovation accelerated midcentury when legendary provost Fred Terman focused on “steeples of excellence” and nurtured a spirit of discovery and entrepreneurship among students and faculty. Scientific breakthroughs led to the start of a steady stream of Nobel Prizes—and in 1962, a group of visionary physicists founded SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. It was a time of tremendous growth, with new programs throughout campus—from creative writing to African and African American studies to computer science.

At the close of the century, Gerhard Casper launched a renaissance in undergraduate education that gave students opportunities to work with Stanford’s most senior faculty in small group seminars and on research projects—as I experienced firsthand as a faculty member.

Today, excellence permeates all our disciplines, from the arts, humanities and social sciences to sciences and engineering, and to our professional schools. Leveraging those strengths, John Hennessy fostered a culture of collaboration across disciplines to solve broad global challenges. Important interdisciplinary centers and programs were launched, including the Woods Institute for the Environment, the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, the Stanford Arts Institute and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

These and other milestones underscore the university’s relentless drive—year in, year out—to build new programs and rethink existing ones in support of our mission. As we look to the future, this history inspires us to build on that legacy to extend the university’s leadership and impact.

This fall, I will meet with all constituencies of our community—faculty, students, staff, university leadership, trustees, alumni and parents—to get a better understanding of the opportunities and your aspirations for the university. We will work together on long-range planning, determining how to continue Stanford’s trajectory as one of the world’s leading universities. We will also focus on how to augment the financial resources needed to sustain the university, particularly in the face of diminishing research support and global economic uncertainty.

Determining our future is a collaborative effort, but I share Stanford’s values; its deep commitment to excellence in teaching; research and scholarship; its ethos of innovation; its interdisciplinary culture and its dedication to making contributions to our society. I believe in the transformative power of education and in giving people the opportunity to advance themselves. Ensuring access to a Stanford education will remain a priority, as will our focus on a broad-based liberal education as the best preparation for life in a world marked by both uncertainty and opportunity.

I am tremendously energized about the possibilities, and I look forward to getting to know you. I am confident that, working together, we will bring Stanford to even greater heights, so that we may give even greater service to humankind.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.