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Tech companies wield influence at Stanford

Public scrutiny over a report confirming that Google Inc. spent $5.4 million on lobbying in Washington D.C. in the first three quarters of 2011 has raised awareness among students and faculty about the influence that Google and other high-tech companies wield at Stanford.

Stanford and Google have had a close relationship since the co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin formed the company as graduate students. Google donates $1 million per year to the Computer Science Department alone, according to CS professor Eric Roberts.

(CAROLINE MARKS/The Stanford Daily)

Google’s predecessor, BackRub, was launched on Stanford servers before it became too large to support. The company’s business plan was also developed at Stanford.

“Stanford faculty members were very active in mentoring the founders,” Roberts said.

Roberts served as a mentor to Marissa Mayer B.S. ’97 M.S. ’99, current Google vice president of location and local services.

“For my role, it was really getting someone like Marissa, who had never imagined doing something like computer science, moving in that direction,” he said.

According to a recent interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt in The Washington Post, Google’s preferred method of influence is “to lobby based on ideas.”

However, according to Roberts, Stanford and Google continue to have close ties, both official and organic.

“Google has continued, through the founders, to have a relationship with Stanford,” he said. “Stanford owns some of the intellectual property. The patents on search and the like generate royalties for Stanford as well, and that’s been helpful.”

“Google has given a large grant. They endowed the Rajeev Motwani Chair in Rajeev’s memory,” he added.

Google’s annual $1 million donation is not directed toward particular projects but is a gift to be used at the department’s discretion.

Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang and his wife, Akiko Yamazaki, funded the Science and Engineering Quad’s Y2E2 building dedicated to the environment and energy. According to the project’s manager Maggie Burnett, the duo visited the site during construction but did not contribute to its direct design

ASSU Vice President Stewart Macgregor-Dennis ’13 noted that Google and other companies do not commonly fund specific initiatives or projects through the ASSU. However, its financial branch, Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE), does include the startup accelerator StartX, which has multiple corporate sponsors.

Roberts further noted that several of his colleagues have gone to work for Google recently on an interim or more-permanent basis.

“Sebastian Thrun, who was a senior faculty member in artificial intelligence, gave up his tenured position just last year to go work for Google,” Roberts said. “Sebastian wrote a letter to all his colleagues in the department about why he decided to go. He has been working on autonomous vehicles, and you can do research at a place like Stanford–there’s no place better in the world for that sort of thing–but to change the world you need resources that are beyond what Stanford has. Companies have that.”

“Now [the industry] is actually depleting some of the faculty resources we have,” he said. “But it’s all to the good in terms of ways to do computer science on the grand scale.”

Macgregor-Dennis said he was able to persuade Schmidt to speak at Stanford next quarter based solely on the fact that he was a Stanford student.

“I went to an event that Eric Schmidt was talking at, and basically, I positioned myself so that I could guerrilla-style talk with him,” Macgregor-Dennis said. After a simple request, Schmidt agreed.

“I had no relationship with Google,” Macgregor-Dennis added. “I think that’s a testament to how much respect they have for Stanford that any Stanford student can just go up, and the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation can agree to come speak. I think they respect our talent.”

According to Career Development Center Student Affairs Officer Beverley Principal, Google is among the companies hiring the most Stanford grads each year.

Macgregor-Dennis sees the relationship between Google and Stanford as two sided.

“On their side, we’re essentially the biggest talent hotbed for their employees,” Macgregor-Dennis said. “On the student side…people just have an insane level of respect, almost veneration, for Google and Facebook and other companies that are using the skills that we have as students and are changing the world. It’s so directly applicable.”

  • Anonymous

    Google’s era under Eric Schmidt had involved into multiple crimes in Stanford which is fascism by nature.

    Google’s Eric Schmidt had abused google resources to financially and politicially supported a criminal suspect named Gabriele Scheler, along with a Stanford Computer Science faculty Sebastian Thrun, against ruling from Stanford and police authorities. During their fight with Stanford, Eric Schmidt’s side had murdered an innocent Stanford student May Zhou in 2007 to threaten me and to terrorize Stanford. When they found I would not compromise a bit but actively tried to clarify the case, Eric Schmidt’s side did plot a murder on me as well. The only reason they didn’t make it a reality is becaue they were closely watched by police and they are afraid of leaving evidence (not becasuse they have any mercy on me as a human being, fascism by nature.) Eric Schmidt lost his CEO position because of his involvment into these crimes.

    Eric Schmidt and Sebastian Thrun had not paid for their crimes and they would have to, despite all the hypes about them.

  • Anonymous

    The crimes Eric Schmidt involved into, including killing the innocent (Stanford Student May Zhou) and conspiring life of the victim (me), is fascism by nature; and such crimes would not be excused by any other reasons (e.g. for business reasons); and such crimes would not be tolerated anywhere, let alone in a civilized country as U.S. Their crimes had extended to U.S. citizen (e.g. May Zhou) and against U.S. authorities, and their crimes are surely far more than what I have described on the web, which I believe had already been well documented at judicial authorities. If their crimes could not be clarified to the public and concurred at authorities, it would be a serious offending to the dignity of the nation of the United States.

    Fighting against these powerful criminals is a tough task, because anywhere this case is going, there are powers on these criminals’ side to cover them up while conspiring the victim. The consequences of what Eric Schmidt and Sebastian Thrun already had done are irreparable and unforgivable. And I don’t think Schmidt and Thrun’s side would ever regret of what they did. In my opinion, Eric Schmidt and Sebastian Thrun would have to face legal consequences and pay for their crimes sooner or later. Until these crimes clarified to the public and concurred at authorities, Eric Schmidt, Sebastian Thrun and power behind them would remain a menace to human soceity.

  • Anonymous

    Eric Schmidt is a large shareholder of Google, which would make google hard to get Eric Schmidt desciplined; however, can anyone take his place to help him deny his involvment into those crimes which had cost human lives? Didn’t Eric Schmidt and Sebastian Thrun already get Google’s name into these crimes?

    As long as these anti-humanity crimes not clarified, all the people invovled would continue to be haunted. I bet no one would be willing to take the responsibility to cover up crimes Eric Schmidt and Sebastian Thrun brought to our lives. All the unfortunate happening in my life in the past 7 years originated in crimes from powers behind Eric Schmidt and Sebastian Thrun’s side. I would not stop public challenging as long as these crimes not clarified and concurred.

  • Anonymous

    >>>Macgregor-Dennis said he was able to persuade Schmidt to speak at Stanford next quarter based solely on the fact that he was a Stanford student.

    I wish Mr. Dennis would understand that Eric Schmidt had threatened my life with the death of Stanford student May Zhou during his fight with Stanford. Eric Schmidt and Sebastian Thrun are part of this plot in May Zhou’s death. He had also conspired to take my life at a later time, and which had cost his Google CEO poisition. I am waiting for Eric Schmidt or Sebastian Thrun to deny any of these accusations. Before these cases could be clarified to the public, Eric Schmidt is in debt to May Zhou’s case, to his crimes on me as well as to Stanford people.