By Elena Shao
On Feb. 1, former University President John L. Hennessy was named chairman of the board of Alphabet, Inc., the parent company of Google.
Hennessy has been a board member since 2004, but he has also had ventures outside of Google. In 1981, he pioneered a research effort focused on Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC) technology, which is designed for computers to operate at higher speeds by performing fewer instructions than previously required. Hennessy later went on to co-found MIPS Technologies, a semiconductor design company.
Hennessy joined the faculty at Stanford as an assistant professor of electrical engineering in 1977. Over the years he has held positions as a professor in the electrical engineering and computer science departments, the dean of the School of Engineering, University provost and finally the tenth president of Stanford from 2000 to 2016.
Despite his new position at Alphabet, Hennessy reaffirmed his commitment to fostering leadership and academics at Stanford.
“I will be chair of the board, [but] I will still spend the vast majority of my time at Stanford working the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship Program,” he wrote in an email to The Daily.
Yesterday, the scholarship program announced its inaugural cohort of 49 scholars, just two weeks after Alphabet named Hennessy as the chairman of the board. The graduate-level scholarship program was launched two years ago by Hennessy and Stanford alumnus Philip H. Knight, co-founder of Nike, Inc., under a $400 million endowment that has since expanded to $750 million. The program provides up to 100 students each year with full funding for a graduate degree at Stanford University.
During his tenure, Hennessy oversaw an endowment growth of over $15 million, as well as the construction of research and teaching facilities for the engineering quad, Stanford Law School and the Graduate School of Business. He also oversaw the creation of research and academic initiatives, including the expansion of the Bing Overseas Studies Program and creation of joint humanities and computer science majors.
When asked how he believes his experiences at Stanford would influence his role as chairman, he reflected on discussions with students on the impact of the digital age.
“Students are both among the biggest users of information technology as well as some of [its] most thoughtful critics,” he wrote to The Daily. “Discussing this subject with students has also helped me better understand the challenges balancing free speech with respect and community values.”
As far as future collaboration between Stanford and Google goes, Hennessy said that, with the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, there is much room for collaboration between universities and technology companies.
“It raises all sorts of interesting questions,” he wrote. In particular, “How can universities get access to machine learning technologies (and the massive computational resources required) for use in solving problems that are important but industry decides not to pursue?”
Hennessy also highlighted what he believes to be a common interest between Stanford and Google: increasing the diversity of people in technology jobs.
“This is important to companies like Google and Facebook, as well as Stanford,” he said. “We need to work together to assess best practices both in education and in the workplace.”
Contact Elena Shao at eshao98 ‘at’ stanford.edu.