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Although renowned computer scientist John L. Hennessy is about to become the president of tech-savvy Stanford University, many of his first challenges are likely to have little to do with technology. Arts and humanities, faculty concerns and student housing are the foremost concerns at the campus on the edge of Silicon Valley.
When he became Stanford's provost in June, Hennessy pledged to focus on technology, but as president he will be asked by students and faculty to round out what some see as science and technology-heavy offerings.
And despite media reports that Hennessy's appointment signals Stanford's increasing emphasis on technology--he has spent his academic life studying computers--those involved with the search said yesterday that he was chosen for his overall leadership skill.
Hennessy's background would indicate that he could be the ideal Silicon Valley president for a school that has long been associated with the tech world.
According to Stanford's News Office, as dean of the Stanford School of Engineering, Hennessy vowed to encourage the use of computer technology as an instructional and design tool. He was also responsible for overseeing the development of the first online master's degree offered by a major research university, in electrical engineering.
But Kristin A. Torres, a senior who served as the first-ever undergraduate on a Stanford presidential search committee, said yesterday that Hennessy wasn't picked because of his computer science and engineering background.
"That's not what determined our decision," she said. "He's broadly intelligent."
Torres, who juggled thesis writing with what she dubbed "five intense months" of searching, said the effort focused on the individual and not his field.
"Hennessy has the capacity to make the university strong in all areas," she said. "The discipline of the president doesn't determine the direction of the university."
But such protests may be in vain. An article in yesterday's New York Times began with the phrase, "Underscoring Stanford University's deep relationship with Silicon Valley..."
Other national reports have highlighted the 23-year Stanford teaching veteran's successful Silicon Valley business venture, MIPS Computer Systems. MIPS grew out of research begun at Stanford in 1981.
Hennessy's colleagues at other universities also say he will be a standard-bearer for cooperation between universities and the technology industry.
In an e-mail message Monday night, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 called Hennessy "a leader in finding effective and appropriate ways for Stanford to interact and be integrated with the Silicon Valley corporate and industrial enterprises."
But despite his obvious technological strengths, the Stanford community is now calling him to address other issues.
In an editorial yesterday, the university's student newspaper, the Stanford Daily, challenged their new president to focus more attention on the arts and humanities.
They also pushed Hennessy to address issues raised by the rising costs of housing in the Stanford area, the most expensive housing market in the country.
They added that they hoped he would follow through on a pledge to address both issues.
Stanford student body president Mike Levin said Hennessy's strong record of listening to students indicates that they will have a voice in deciding how to resolve such concerns.
Hennessy's selection may also be linked to his proven record as a fundraiser--as provost, he recently played a pivotal role in securing a $150 million donation.
Stanford officials were convinced that Hennessy's background formed the perfect mix to lead the school. According to a Stanford University press release, Hennessy was the sole nominee presented to the Board of Trustees. The 17-member search committee reviewed 400 prospects, including three Harvard administrators. The full board concurred unanimously with the committee's choice at a special meeting on April 3.
Hennessy's colleagues at Stanford say the technology-minded provost will now need to broaden his scope.
"Having an engineer there is a great thing," said Jim Plummer, dean of the Stanford Business School. "[But] I think John's priorities are going to be University-wide initiatives," Plummer said.
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