I’m not a particularly sentimental person. I don’t really care for birthdays, I don’t save postcards, I don’t take pictures, and I don’t feel fuzzy during whimsical trips down Memory Lane.
So when I was digging through my old college acceptance letters while preparing for this post, I wasn’t surprised when I felt cold upon finding my Stanford letter. Actually, that’s not true. I felt a little gipped. As I read the letter, all I could do was take note of its exaggerations, half-truths, and outright falsehoods.
Therefore, over then next month, I will be authoring posts meant to be of service to the brand new Stanford University Class of 2014 admits. These posts are intended to serve as an injection of reality into that pending college decision process. Fun huh?
First, here’s a quote from my 2007 letter from John C. Bravman, Freeman-Thorton Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education:
“At Stanford we believe that teaching, learning, and conducting research comprise equally important components of an undergraduate education.”
This statement I qualify as a half-truth at best. At Stanford, professors teach…sorta. Students learn…sorta. And lots of people conduct research…sorta.
A real teacher engages their students and challenges their students to engage with course material. A real teacher pulls from students strands of potential and forces students to use their abilities in order to grow intellectually. And at Stanford? Eh, many Stanford professors don’t teach as much as they speak at you, read off of Powerpoint slides, or boast about their various accolades. Come to Stanford and you may get a few memorable intellectual experiences. But know that they are rare and that the fast-paced quarter system makes them easy to avoid. If that’s what you want, send back you commitment postcard today.
Now this brings me to Stanford students. They easily avoid intellectual engagement. With only 10 weeks in an academic quarter and midterms arriving as early as the quarter’s second week, students here are constantly moving from one project to the next. Those projects often fail to build upon one another or perhaps students simply fail to strive to connect them. Whatever the case, the fact is that Stanford students see outcomes, not processes. If that’s who you are, send back that postcard.
And research! It’s everywhere. In an attempt to keep you shackled to the bleak realm of Academia, Stanford will throw money at you at every point of your Stanford career. The research is usually dry and often purposeless, but the money sure is attractive. If you’re ever broke, check your email and “Research Assistant Needed” will likely appear again and again.
Now, this cornucopia of research opportunities probably seems to reject what I said earlier about Stanford students being non-intellectual. But no, it doesn’t. First, the students generally don’t engage with their research. As I said, these positions are well-paying jobs and they’re everywhere. Stanford students will work mindlessly for $14 an hour and another bullet point added to their resumes. Second, the research positions often require no real intellectual engagement. Thus on either side of the research game, not much thinking is put forth by undergraduates, nor is it required of them. And honestly, research is the real reason why professors are here. It’s not necessarily true that award-winners teach well, but it is true that they put their names and Stanford’s in famous publications, on national television, and in respected record books. That’s just how it is. If that’s the kind of atmosphere you want, your postcard should already be in the mail.
And as you may have discerned, teaching, learning, and research do not hold equal weight at Stanford. For the Administration and professors, Research is King. Teaching and learning matter more to some professors but not many. For students, learning may happen and it may not but its the apathy about that outcome that’s really key to the image of the Stanford student.
Stay tuned for more honest insight into Stanford life. Trust me, it *does *pay to know what you’re signing off on.