Quoted: on Stanford and innovation vs. contemplation

“The entire Bay Area is enamored with these notions of innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, mega-success. It’s in the air we breathe out here. It’s an atmosphere that can be toxic to the mission of the university as a place of refuge, contemplation, and investigation for its own sake.”

David Kennedy, historian who has taught at Stanford University for more than 40 years, in a New Yorker piece examining Stanford’s “gold-rush mentality” — which has people such as venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers calling the university “the germplasm for innovation.” Stanford President John L. Hennessy, a former entrepreneur who is on the board of both Google and Cisco Systems, says the preoccupation with getting rich isn’t unique to the university: “It’s true broadly, not just here.” What’s wrong with that, asks Ashlee Vance of Bloomberg Businessweek: “If there’s a light of hope in the U.S. economy, it emanates from Silicon Valley, and, my word, Stanford has done an awful lot to contribute to that fact.”


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  • RedRat

    “…to the mission of the university as a place of refuge, contemplation, and investigation for its own sake.”
    Oh that’s rich!! Really??? What world is this guy living in? This is laughable at best.

    The mission of the university is to keep the money rolling in so that its tenured professors can be kept employed. It is there to do the bidding of whoever feeds money into the university slot. Kennedy’s view is about an institution that ceased to exist when Uncle Sam got into the funding game, roughly over 50 years ago. Universities nowadays are research extensions of both the public and private sector, woe to the academic who seeks tenure and thinks he or she will get it by contemplation, refuge, and investigation for its own sake.

  • AZ

    It is funny the different perspectives people have on this. While I can’t speak for Stanford, I did work at another research 1 school in the US. The department I was in for the most part did not do research that was funded by the government or industry.

    Even without outside influences, being an assistant professor really is about trying to figure out what the establishment (journal reviewers) wanted as quickly as possible. In order to get tenure, you really can not be taking refuge, contemplating, and investigating things for their own sake. You have to serve the will of the ivory tower or you will find yourself looking for another job.

    I actually envied departments that had outside funding as it seemed their research goals were more pragmatic/useful than the more arbitrary ones that the ivory tower sometimes thought were most valuable.