Stanford in Turmoil

CAMPUS UNREST, 1966-1972
By Richard W. Lyman

Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2009 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-6079-9

Chapter One


STANFORD UNIVERSITY in the early 1960s was a peaceful, bucolic place, often referred to (without conscious irony) as "the Farm," in recognition of its origins in the place where Senator Stanford raised trotting horses. When I arrived there as a nontenured associate professor of history in 1958, one colleague told me that anyone in search of intellectual excitement would have to journey fifty miles to Berkeley. Another asked, in a conversation about Stanford's role in the world, whether we were "going to go on educating the children of the middling rich of Los Angeles" or find more exciting things to do.

But just under the placid surface, plenty of excitement brewed. Since 1949, J. E. Wallace Sterling had been Stanford's president, and since 1955, the former dean of the Engineering School, Frederick E. Terman, had been provost. Together, by 1960 they were well on the way to converting a respectable but largely regional institution into one of the world's great universities.

They were an odd couple. Sterling, a huge bear of a man-Time magazine said he "looks like a heavyweight Jimmy Durante, sounds like Edward R. Murrow, and thinks like Tycoon Stanford"-the son of a United Church of Canada minister who was a recent immigrant from England, worked his way through the University of Toronto pitching hay, stringing telephone wires, and serving "as an advance man for a Chautauqua show," inter alia. He also played football until suffering a permanent back injury, and he met a student body vice president named Ann Marie Shaver, who went on to teach dietetics and who in 1930 became Mrs. Sterling.

In 1928-30 he coached football and basketball while earning his MA at the University of Alberta. He was about to turn down an offer to coach the professional football team at Calgary in favor of purely academic pursuits when Ann intervened: "If you coached at Calgary during the fall, you could study at Stanford during the other three quarters," she said, adding that then they could get married. This plan suffered a setback when on arriving at Stanford in December 1930 they got the news that Calgary had cancelled its season because of the Depression. That Christmas, Ann's gift to her new husband was several history books from the Stanford library, wrapped in cheerful Christmas paper.

Sterling found employment as a research assistant at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace; in 1935 he became an instructor in history at Stanford, and in 1938 got his PhD and an assistant professorship at Caltech. During the decade he spent there, he rose to be made chair of the faculty and developed a second career as a news commentator on CBS radio. In 1948 the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery in San Marino made him its director. That berth must have seemed ideal-a prestigious position with enough flexibility to allow him to continue with scholarship, with more news analysis, or both.

Back at Stanford, Donald Tresidder, president in succession to Wilbur in 1943, had died unexpectedly. Sterling had scarcely settled into the Huntington when Paul C. Edwards, president of the Stanford University Board of Trustees, showed up to ask him to take on the university's presidency. Despite Stanford's rather precarious position at the time-or perhaps in part because of it-Sterling accepted, and in 1949 began a nineteen-year stint as Stanford's fifth president.

Like most colleges and universities, Stanford had had to scramble to survive during World War Two. Its problems were exacerbated by the cap on enrollment of undergraduate women imposed by Mrs. Stanford in 1899 when she had feared the development of a female seminary in place of her "University of high degree." As elsewhere, training programs for the armed forces supplied replacements for students who left for wartime service. But the university that emerged in 1945 was an institution with serious financial and morale problems. Donald Tresidder, who had been chairing the Stanford University Board of Trustees before succeeding Wilbur, never won the full support of the faculty. Although, like Wilbur, he had been trained as an MD, Tresidder's career was in business. Some of his notable achievements were of a kind that faculty seldom fully appreciate; for example, exploiting the confidence that he had from his board colleagues, Tresidder ended the decidedly weird arrangement under which the business manager reported directly to the trustees, rather than through the university president.

Financially, Stanford's once dazzling endowment had long suffered from lackluster management and inadequate attention to fund-raising. Faculty salaries stagnated well into Sterling's presidency. In a striking memorandum to the board of trustees, written several months before taking office as president, Sterling wrote:

The standing and progress of any university is directly dependent in the first instance upon the quality of its faculty and derivatively in the second instance upon the quality of its student body. I recognize that financial conditions directly affect the attainment of high quality in these related fields, but assuming that financial conditions are such as to place no real barrier in the way of high attainment, then every stress should be placed on effort to build a faculty not merely of good men but of the best men, and to attract and sustain a student body capable of high academic performance. Stanford has ground to gain in both these particulars.

This seemingly casual assumption about finance cannot have reflected the incoming president's real view. He devoted much time and energy to fundraising, involving the trustees more than had previously been the case, and working with the Stanford Associates, a body created in 1934 when a group of alumni, concerned that the university's early wealth had bred a complacency that was no longer justified, waited upon President Wilbur to offer their help in fund-raising. In 1955 Sterling made a key appointment on the management side in the person of Frederick Emmons Terman as vice president and provost, the number two official at Stanford.

Terman had Stanford roots; his father, the psychologist Lewis Terman, was among the most eminent of the early faculty, known nationally as the father of intelligence testing. Trained as an electrical engineer at Stanford and MIT, Terman gained invaluable experience (and broadened his own outlook) when he went to Cambridge during World War Two to head the Radio Research Laboratory at Harvard.

He and Sterling were a study in contrasts-and complementary talents. The real wonder of Stanford's phenomenal rise in the later 1950s and the 1960s, and a fact that is hugely to the credit of both men, was their ability to work together. Terman was what one can only call intensely quantitative in his approach to all problems. Smilingly gruff, he wasted no time on small talk or discussions of context. He talked a great deal, however, and often didactively. Yet he understood his own limitations better than many people of great ability. He used to remark, ruefully but without resentment, that someone whose request was turned down by Sterling would emerge from the President's Office happier than the same person with the same request would feel upon Terman's acceding to it. Sterling told warm and funny stories; Terman analyzed numbers. Sterling played the piano and sang popular songs for relaxation; it is difficult to imagine Fred Terman engaged in any comparable activity. He would insist on receiving budget requests for the coming year on Christmas Eve, so that while others were celebrating he could get a head start on the next year's work.

Fred Terman fully shared Sterling's determination "to build a faculty not merely of good men but of the best men," and he had a degree of ruthlessness in the pursuit of this objective that was lacking in the president. The oft-quoted phrase that denotes Terman's approach was the construction of "steeples of excellence." By this he meant that one went about building a given department or program by first attracting one or two truly preeminent scholars, and then giving them free rein to go about the task of appointing junior colleagues, building research programs, and so forth.

If to concentrate the resources necessary to do this required downplaying or even eliminating established programs or academic emphases that lacked promise for the future, Terman did so with equanimity. Thus in biology the traditional study of taxonomy got short shrift in favor of modern molecular biology, much to the anguish of the taxonomists.

All of this depended to a considerable extent on success in pursuing the vision of scientific and technical progress that Fred Terman derived from his World War Two experience-including years spent in close proximity to such models as Harvard and MIT. Convinced that the federal government would retain its role, taken over in wartime from the philanthropic foundations, as chief funder of research in technology and the sciences, and that in the United States, in contrast to most of the world, such research would take place preponderantly in universities rather than in federal laboratories, Terman saw the implications for Stanford. His faculty of "the best men" would have the best chances of success in attracting federal research monies. The recovery by the university of its indirect costs would help to provide support for the university's infrastructure in general.

Building the financial base for Stanford's rise involved more than the search for federal research support, of course. One huge but dormant asset when Sterling took office was the 8,800 acres of mid-Peninsula real estate that constituted the heart of its endowment. The Founding Grant forbade the alienation of any of this land-it could not be sold and the money put to work for the university. But with an entrepreneurial spirit that has become a shibboleth at Stanford, a way around this inconvenient (but wise and farsighted) restriction was developed: long-term (up to ninety-nine years) leases. In due course, the land became a significant source of unrestricted income. Seventy acres of the land became the Stanford Shopping Center, which in its year of completion, 1957, included half-a-million square feet of retail space and brought in nearly $1 million in profit to the university. (The retail space was expanded significantly in the 1970s, and by 1990, the center was bringing in roughly $5 million per year.)

By the early 1960s, some five hundred acres were devoted to an industrial park replete with companies generated directly or indirectly by the energies and ideas of inventors and entrepreneurs bred in the formidable School of Engineering-and especially its Department of Electrical Engineering-built by Fred Terman. The word "built" is used here in the most direct sense: David Packard and William Hewlett were but the most celebrated of the many for whom Terman had served as mentor.

The 8,800 acres were helpful in two more respects. They made it possible for the new Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences to become $1-year tenants just across Foothill Boulevard from the main campus, and in these disciplines it became a rueful national joke that a scholar would be exposed to the joys of life at Stanford (climate, proximity to San Francisco, and so on), then wooed (successfully) by the relevant Stanford department. And once a tenured member of the Stanford faculty, she or he could build a home with money borrowed from the university on campus land leased from the university.

But if Sterling's and Terman's vision was to become a reality, something more was needed, beyond learning how to profit from the inalienable land endowment. By what turned out to be a masterstroke, in 1959, the administration launched a pioneering study of its funding and costs, with careful projections of its future needs. The study, "Stanford's Minimum Needs in the Years Ahead" (otherwise known as "The Red Book"), was the product of years of financial forecasting by Ken Cuthbertson (vice president of finance and development), Robert Moulton (presidential assistant for long-range planning), and Ken Creighton (university controller). It recommended that Stanford establish a stronger salary structure and steadily recruit more faculty, that it increase and renovate its physical facilities, including improving student and faculty housing, and that it create means for long-term financial growth. Essentially, the study argued that Stanford, although it had made admirable gains in prestige, would need to increase substantially its resources if it wanted to compete with the Ivy League. The university would need at least $150 million beyond existing income and gifts to accomplish these goals.

Fortunately, the timing was perfect; higher education nationally was enjoying growth but was concerned about its durability. The Ford Foundation, the country's biggest organization of its kind, had an embarrassingly large monetary surplus to dispose of and was casting about for ways to push large sums out the door in a way that would be responsible but quick. To no small degree on the strength of Stanford's self-study, Ford offered the university an unprecedentedly large challenge grant: $25 million to be matched 3-to-1 by Stanford's fund-raising from other sources. Better still, while the matching money could come from anyone (except government) and be restricted as to purpose, the Ford dollars were unrestricted. They could therefore truly serve as the financial foundation for the Sterling-Terman adventure in institution building.

The ensuing campaign bore the Madison Avenue title Plan of Action for a Challenging Era (PACE), but Vice President for Finance Kenneth M. Cuthbertson saw to it that the faculty was engaged to the extent possible. He met with one academic department after another, explaining how the campaign would work, what its success should make possible, and how faculty members could participate. Cuthbertson, a polio victim who walked with a cane, a Stanford graduate of the class of 1940 and student body president whose ebullient wife, Coline, had been student body vice president, was uniquely attuned to faculty mores and ways of looking at things. Sterling's 1948 memo to the trustees remarked, "It is common knowledge that large faculties are frequently too readily given to ... cliqueishness and sniping at trustees and administrative officers.... I venture the opinion that the broader the base of responsible faculty participation, the less the bickering and the less the deleterious effects of grapevine apprehensions."

Sterling did not always act in accordance with this insight-I recall his racing through a quarterly meeting of the Academic Council (tenured and tenure-track faculty) so fast that the following quarter he had to apologize for having failed to call for "any new business." But turning to Cuthbertson to run first the self-study and then the campaign itself fit the doctrine of enlisting faculty participation perfectly. All but the most determinedly contentious felt that PACE was in a real sense theirs.

The campaign lasted from 1961 to 1964 and exceeded its $100 million target, the largest to that date in the history of higher education, by $9 million. Meanwhile various other things were going on that brought Leland Stanford Junior University to the point of "trembling on the edge of greatness," as the novelist and Stanford professor Wallace Stegner famously put it. The faculty was expanding rapidly, often by raiding other institutions for superstars.

The History Department recruited four future presidents of the American Historical Association within the space of a few years. The Medical School, moved to Palo Alto from its deteriorating San Francisco quarters-a move derided by some as "Wally's folly" because of the expense, the resistance of many clinical faculty and their spouses, and questions as to where the patients were going to come from amidst the apricot orchards of the Santa Clara Valley-recruited Nobel Prize winners Joshua Lederberg and Arthur Kornberg from the University of Wisconsin and Washington University in St. Louis, respectively.

Stanford, again turning its abundant acreage to advantage, secured the Atomic Energy Commission's contract to build and run the $114 million Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) that stretched for two miles and brought leading high-energy physicists from around the world for research visits. For some years conflict between the university's Physics Department and SLAC caused the blessing to be seen as somewhat mixed, but Time called this "Sterling's most audacious 1962 coup."


Excerpted from Stanford in Turmoilby Richard W. Lyman Copyright © 2009 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission.
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