"Peaks and valleys, rather than an even plateau, was the academic landscape favored by Stanford's administrators." Thus Rebecca S. Lowen, in a new book about Stanford and the Cold War, characterizes the pursuit of "steeples of excellence" at Stanford in the 1960s. However that may have been, the university that eventually resulted from the creation of steeples of excellence and the seeking of "available patronage"--both government and private--has, on the whole, many more peaks than valleys. Excellences in some areas beget excellences in others.
A little more than half of the students at Stanford are enrolled in graduate and professional programs, and it is in these programs that the dialectical relationship between education and research is most clearly present. The graduate students qua students are partners with the faculty in the continuing effort to expand the boundaries of knowledge and are engaged in "an unceasing process of inquiry."
Stanford is a vast enterprise. In addition to the doctoral programs in the School of Humanities and Sciences, Ph.D.'s can be earned in all six other schools. Graduate education also leads to professional degrees in Law, Business, Education, Medicine, and Engineering. An account of the developments and changes in curricular priorities and research over the last five years in our graduate programs is impossible within the constraints of this report. I restrict myself to some observations of a general nature.
A fact that surprised even me, when I first encountered it, is that Stanford leads the nation in the production of Ph.D.'s among private universities. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Stanford's 583 new Ph.D.'s in l995 exceeded the total for any other private university, including many that have larger student bodies and faculties. Given that so many Stanford graduate students are pursuing professional degrees, this is a truly remarkable "productivity" figure. And should someone rush to ask if the nation isn't producing too many Ph.D.'s, I would answer: "Not too many high-quality Ph.D.'s."
Returning to the plateau, peaks, and valleys metaphor, a 1997 study by Hugh Davis Graham and Nancy Diamond attempts to measure research performance of American universities using five selected indicators: federal R&D obligations; journal publications in all fields, and in top-rated science and social science journals; and arts and humanities awards. It then adjusts the results for the size of an institution's faculty and eventually ranks institutions on the basis of combining the various indices for the sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities. While Stanford does not do as well in the arts and humanities as some of its competitors, the difference is sufficiently small that, on the combined basis, Stanford was ranked first among private universities. Our public sister across the Bay occupies first place among public institutions. My point is not Stanford's precise position--after all, I am a leading skeptic about spurious precision in rankings--but what these computations suggest about "peaks" and "valleys." Such efforts to quantify quality do not even take into consideration "peaks" in professional education, where Stanford's schools generally are peaks if viewed comparatively.
Probably the most relied-upon benchmark of quality in graduate programs comes from periodic studies by the National Research Council. Though these ratings of doctoral programs and faculty are not perfect, they are relatively sound. The NRC conducts its study roughly once per decade and the most recent study was published in the fall of 1995.
Stanford programs were ranked in forty-one areas of graduate study by the NRC. We tied with three other institutions in having six programs ranked first. No institution had more first-place rankings. Thirty-two of our programs were rated among the top ten in the nation, and all forty-one were in the top twenty. By any reckoning, Stanford has remarkable strength across the board. Indeed, no more than one or two other institutions can come close to matching the breadth of Stanford's strength, ranging as it does from engineering to the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. We achieve this breadth with relatively small departments in most areas, relying on a high degree of collaboration across school and departmental boundaries, and by pursuing excellence in every graduate admission, every faculty appointment, and every research proposal.
Yet we cannot rest on these or any other laurels, for these small departments make Stanford's quality extremely vulnerable. If a subfield is represented by only one faculty member, his or her departure to another university or into retirement may destroy a finely calibrated balance of departmental endeavors. In departments that have only very few graduate students, insufficient financial support for potential students may endanger the future of particular programs almost as much as a failure to recruit first-rate faculty.
Over the last few years, we have made some changes in the nature and number of our graduate programs, often painfully. As I mentioned earlier, we decided in 1996 to close the Food Research Institute--a graduate program with a long history and loyal supporters around the world--because a review determined that it was no longer a leader and that we did not have the necessary unrestricted resources to rebuild it. We have combined and reorganized graduate programs in languages and comparative literature and in the School of Engineering. In both cases, the provost, the deans, and I concluded that action was necessary to revitalize programs that were in danger of falling behind. At the same time, we are expanding and building programs in new areas, such as bioengineering, the study of ocean margins, and comparative studies of race and ethnicity. This is the way change should take place among graduate and research programs: careful and selective pruning combined with the continual reshaping and expansion of fields of study.