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Editorial: Frederick Terman and his legacy

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As the demolition crews begin their work on the Frederick Emmons Terman Engineering Center, the former home of the School of Engineering, we should take a moment to reflect on the efforts of the former Provost to create much of what we appreciate about Stanford today.

Frederick Emmons Terman was an electrical engineering professor who, in the 1920s and 1930s, mentored many students, including David Packard and William Hewlett. In encouraging them and his other students to commercialize what they had developed, he set an important precedent. Specifically, he saw the need for research to expand beyond the lab and reach the boardrooms, factories and homes of this country. The creation of companies like Hewlett-Packard spread new technologies and products and spurred further advances.

In the 1950s, as Dean of Engineering and later Provost, Terman worked with William Shockley to expand upon this idea by establishing what is now Stanford Research Park. Tempting technology firms to what was then the largely undeveloped South Bay unleashed innovation in what became known as “Silicon Valley” as the firms took advantage of proximity to one another and to Stanford’s pool of talent. This was only one side of the equation, however. Terman also oversaw an expansion of Stanford’s science, math and engineering departments in order to better take advantage of these firms’ presence as well as to win grants from the Department of Defense during the depths of the Cold War. This investment in “techie” academics built on an already strong foundation to give Stanford its present legacy of well-rounded academic expertise.

The demolition of Terman is in many ways an indication of the tremendous success this set of actions had. The buildings of the new Science and Engineering Quad bear the names of founders of Silicon Valley giants like Nvidia and Yahoo!. While these firms offer products and services that Frederick Terman could only have dreamed of, their presence, innovation and involvement with Stanford are clearly in line with what he envisioned for the area.

Looking at the next 50 years, we must ask what new visionary approaches Stanford will adopt. The New York satellite campus could become an example of this, taking some of Terman’s tried recipe for success to the Big Apple. The recent expansion of the Graduate School of Business, including an unprecedented $150 million to establish an institute to support innovations to serve developing countries, may be another. A third example may well be in the area of sustainability and environmental science as witnessed by the creation of a park on the site of Terman and the salvaging or recycling of 99 percent of the building’s materials. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that in order to live up to Terman’s tremendous legacy, we must keep Stanford at the cutting edge and continue to ensure that the school remains a magnet and incubator for a strong variety of talent and creativity.

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Editorials represent the views of The Stanford Daily, an independent newspaper serving Stanford and the surrounding community. The Daily's Editorial Board consists of President and Editor-in-Chief Victor Xu '17, Executive Editor Will Ferrer '18, Managing Editor of Opinions Michael Gioia '17, Desk Editor of Opinions Jimmy Stephens '17, Senior Staff Writer Kylie Jue '17, Senior Staff Writer Olivia Hummer '17 and Senior Staff Writer Andrew Vogeley '17. To contact the Editorial Board chair, submit an op-ed (limited to 700 words) or submit a letter to the editor (limited to 500 words) at [email protected]