Farm Expansion: Promoter of Diversity or Danger to the Crops?

On Thursday, November 13th, the Stanford Political Union (SPU) sponsored a debate as to whether Stanford should expand the overall size of its undergraduate student body by admitting additional students. The suggested increase would add one to two hundred students per class, leading to an overall increase of 400-800 students in the undergraduate population.

The panelists on the Pro-expansion side were Michael Wilkerson of the Stanford Daily and former Class President Sagar Doshi. Representing the Con side were ASSU Senator Shelley Gao and Eric Showen of Stanford In Government (SIG). Wilkerson argued that serving the “public welfare” rather than just the students themselves was part of Stanford’s founding mission. He pointed out that a net increase in the undergraduate population would enhance the overall public welfare. He also stated that while there has been a substantial increase overall in undergraduate applications in the last few years, there has not been a corresponding increase in undergraduate size. Furthermore, he mentioned that expansions by Harvard, Princeton, and Yale in recent years have not been matched at Stanford.

Doshi continued the argument in favor of freshman expansion by enumerating the increased benefits of extra diversity in the student body. “For me, the best thing about Stanford has been the chance to meet some really interesting people,” said Doshi. He contended that an increased undergraduate population would provide additional opportunities to meet interesting individuals.

Gao responded that there are already more people at Stanford than one would be able to meet in four years. “Even the most social of people can only realistically expect to meet 800-900 people over the course of four years,” Gao asserted.

Adding onto Gao’s point, Showen contended that expansion was not the most cost-effective way to meet more people. Rather, he advocated more small classes and increased funding for extracurricular activities. In addition, he pointed out that the housing crunch needs to be solved before the freshman class can be expanded.

Ultimately, each side seemed to agree that the freshman class could eventually expand, but the Con side expressed more skepticism and emphasized the need to address immediate concerns first. Also, the cost of additional undergraduates is estimated to be around $1 billion. The con side preferred using that money to improve overall undergraduate education.

Other factors mentioned included the possibility that the increasing trend in number of applications will diminish in the coming years on account of both demographics and the economy. Additionally, a freshman expansion has already, in some sense, taken place, due to the increasing yield rate among new applicants. Finally, an audience member raised the point that the expansion plan might harm Stanford’s reputation, as US News and World Report considers admit rates in its college ranking system.

Tuition Without Representation?

Since raising the idea in a 2007 Stanford Magazine article, President Hennessey has launched a task force into exploring the option of undergraduate expansion. According to the Office of the President Website, there is only one student, Johnny Dorsey, represented in the task force. Meanwhile, there are eight faculty members. The SPU panelists on both sides of the issue agreed that there should be more transparency in the activities of task force. With only one voice out of twenty, students might be doubtful as to whether their interests are being acknowledged throughout this process.

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