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Q&A: President Hennessy on legacy, ‘transformative vision’


Stanford University President John Hennessy sat down with The Stanford Daily on Oct. 29 to discuss a wide range of topics, including online education, Stanford’s failed campaign for a New York City campus last fall, Stanford’s fundraising prowess and more. This is the third of four installments of that interview; this one focuses on Stanford’s success in fundraising and the use of that money.


TSD: A part of that [New York City campus] proposal… [was] how much money Stanford’s raised and how it could raise very significant capital, billions of dollars, for that campus. Will Stanford still be embarking on an aggressive fundraising campaign? And, if so, what will the money be used for?

JH: I think the question is, “Will Stanford…still have ambitious things to do?” And then I think we’ll have a fundraising campaign that – I don’t know that we’ll have a large, integrated campaign like we’ve just finished recently – but we’ll certainly be raising money for important University priorities and I think, to the extent that we have compelling, visionary things to do. That’s what was attractive about New York: it was compelling, it was visionary, it was very different and it opened up some new opportunities for the University.

But if we have other – and I’m sure we will have other – compelling, important things we want to do, then I think we will certainly turn to our alumni and supporters for help with those.


TSD: Over the past few years Stanford’s been almost mind-bogglingly successful at raising money. What do you think contributes to that success? I mean, whether it’s on our end or if it’s just the alumni loving the school?

JH: It’s clearly tremendous affection and loyalty from the alumni. It’s a compelling vision of what we are able to do, whether it be the SEED [Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies] project in the business school, talking about using entrepreneurism as the way to generate economic growth in the poorest countries in the world, or it’s moving ahead on a new Bing Concert Hall, doing something to really raise the quality of the arts and our spaces for the arts at Stanford. Those are big ideas, big vision. They’re the kinds of things people say, “That’s transformative. If Stanford can do that, that will transform the experience that the students, faculty and Stanford community have.”

I think they get excited about that sort of opportunity. I mean the hospital, rebuilding the hospital and building a state-of-the-art, brand new hospital. That’s a compelling vision. That’s what people like to back: [a] compelling vision that they think is going to make a difference…You think about philanthropy, people think about it as a philanthropic investment. It’s an investment [that] doesn’t have a monetary return; it has a social return. But they want to see that it’s going to have a large social return. And then they have great faith in the University as a steward of their philanthropy.


TSD: Do you think that this huge philanthropy and huge fundraising success will be one of the major hallmarks of your tenure here at Stanford, or do you think other things will be pointed to?

JH: In the end, it’s what you do with the money. So, what we’ve been able to do in terms of financial aid, you know, I was just looking at the financial aid numbers and…the nationally defined standard–net tuition, namely. You take tuition, you subtract all the financial aid. So our net tuition number means students are paying about the same amount, after inflation, as they were in the early ’90s. So we’ve managed to actually bring the effective affordability of a Stanford education down for many families. That’s a compelling, really compelling thing for people at a time when, particularly middle-class families, are having a lot of stress about financial aid.

Rebuilding the engineering side of campus. That side of campus…it looked like an industrial slum. I mean literally–pipes on the outside of buildings and all these little cinder block buildings and the streets were all every-which-way. I remember when I got here and the parking lot I parked my car in, I then walked over the top of this old building that housed part of the accelerator stuff in it…on a wooden bridge that went over the top of this old ramshackle building with barbed wire fences on both sides and things like that… It was horrible. So that’s all gone and that part of campus looks really great. We used to never take visitors on the tour to the side of engineering campus because it was so ugly; now you can walk down there and it looks great.

The new business school…the concert hall, obviously, and the new Anderson collection. Those are really going to be transformative things.

And then faculty: we’ve managed to raise [money for] hundreds of endowed chairs, and that’s going to enable us to continue to attract the best faculty. So in the end, it’s really the investments you make of the money. It’s true that our enormous fundraising success has allowed us to accelerate a lot of projects… When we first heard about the business school project, the provost and I thought [it would take] 10 to 15 years for them to rebuild their entire campus. 10 to 15 years. Because we thought, “They’ll build the classroom building and then they’ll fundraise the next building.”

But they have a lot of alumni who not only love the business school and found it transformative in their lives, but [who] really saw this vision of a new way of teaching in business schools that was much more small group-oriented, that needed a different kind of classroom structure, that engaged the rest of the University more and they found the vision compelling and…the new buildings and new campus were needed to fulfill the vision. And they managed to raise the money they needed in three years instead of 10 or 12 years. So that’s a good sign.

– Billy Gallagher

Tomorrow’s installment will focus on President Hennessy’s future at Stanford and long-term projects for the University.

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Billy Gallagher is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. He has previously worked at The Daily as editor in chief, a managing editor of news, news desk editor, sports desk editor and staff development editor. He is a junior from Villanova, PA majoring in Economics. He is also a writer for TechCrunch.