Stanford University: Gene Franklin

I wrote: *I have received from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, with a request for my comments, the text of the section dealing with Stanford from the last edition of C/hoosing the Right College/ (see attachment). Professor Emeritus Gene Franklin writes:  The text attached to your mail makes the claim that when Stanford led universities which 'removed the systematic study of Western Civilization...Perhaps Stanford students have turned away from the liberal arts toward technical fields.'

I have a number of comments related to this claim. In the first place, the removal was the OBLIGATORY study of Western Civilization. As the article make clear later, motivated or well advised students at Stanford can obtain an excellent liberal arts education. As for students turning toward technical fields, the article fails to note that from the beginning Stanford has emphasized science and engineering. David S. Jordan,  the first president of the University, was a scientist and of the first ten faculty appointments eight were in science or engineering. In the 1891-92 year, the largest department in terms of student registration was English, the second largest was Mechanical Engineering.
I do not have specific data but I  believe that at the time of the change in requirements there was no discernible increase in enrollment in science and engineering. The fraction of the undergraduate student body enrolled in engineering has remained between 20 and 25 per cent. The data on the University web site shows that of 1744 BS degrees in the latest year, 320 were in engineering.

While the sense of the article is that not requiring specific study of Western Civilization is the end of liberal education at Stanford, there is no effort to explain why such an action was taken. No mention of the fact that in a future with increasing interaction among many cultures of the world, there is  value in educating our students in more than just the culture of Western Europe. As for Stanford becoming Stanford Tech, the report describes the distribution requirements as follows.  One year of foreign language plus a writing examination; one year of humanities; one additional year of either humanities of social sciences; two courses on world cultures; and one year of courses from either science, engineering, or mathematics.  Thus courses that might be considered 'technical' comprise three of fourteen. It is hard for me to see from this how the re;port can conclude that students at Stanford are at a 'school that is hostile to traditional education but excels in the technical field'.

While the report describes the non-technical courses in some detail, it dismisses the math, science and technical courses with 'More than one hundred courses fulfill the natural sciences, applied science and technology, and mathematics requirement.' This statement ignores the enormous efforts made by many Professors in science,  engineering, and medicine to construct courses that will attract non-technical majors. The language of science and technology is mathematics and in my experience many liberal arts majors (and Professors) seem to be proud of the fact that they can hardly add a column of figures and get the same answer twice. They blanch at the idea of a differential equation such a Newton's laws which describe the physical world in which they live. Thus we have Physics for Poets and Principles of operation of the automobile.
Stanford Tech indeed. Brad Osgood, copied on this mail, can tell you much more about these efforts.
Stanford does, of course, have outstanding faculty and students in science and engineering. I was very interested to note that in the list of sixteen professors known for excellent teaching, six were in science and engineering.

PS  Provost  Fred Terman had his limitations to be sure but there is one item which I wonder if you know. He recognized after WWII that there would be federal government support for universities. He set up Engineering so that half of the academic salaries of most faculty would be paid for by research contracts. Thus he could appointment two faculty in engineering and at no extra cost to the university, appoint another faculty in H&S. Furthermore, he charged local companies such as HP and Varian and Lockheed double tuition and used the second value to support engineering TAs, etc. In this way a world class faculty was built up with minimum strain on university endowment.

Your comments are invited. Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on: Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: December 5, 2004