There is a saying: “California is America, only sooner.” And for good reason: technology, immigration, homelessness, and affirmative action all began here and slowly spread across America. Really, this saying should be corrected to “Stanford is America, only sooner.” Stanford pioneered technological innovations—and extreme politics—in the last few decades, before anywhere in the state, let alone the nation.
Elite universities have always been microcosms of extremities, especially in politics. It is partially a function of universities being echo chambers with a high density of energetic students, but it is also a function of students being at their most malleable and vulnerable point of ease of changing ideologies. Stanford, a century ago at the whim of California’s extremism, has embodied it and now makes California succumb to its extremism.
Today Stanford is the pinnacle of liberalism and progressivism. Its progressiveness in the tech world goes hand in hand with its progressiveness in social justice. From the new Doerr School of Sustainability to the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative, Stanford is casting its net wide in trying to be the leading university of everything progressive. We pioneered the campus sexual assault movement, homeless people dying on campus, ROTC bans, the removal of Indian mascots, standards to quantify IQ, big tech boycotts, and campus police abolition. Stanford has even pre-empted the results of the affirmative action case at the Supreme Court through increasing its Asian enrollment.
It was Fredrick Terman, the Provost of Stanford in 1955 to 1965, that turned the University’s emphasis on to technology. He created SLAC and secured DARPA funding for students and faculty to start companies, not do research. When this led to breakthroughs in technology, Stanford rapidly ascended to an elite university, worthy of the Ivy League. All of the other prestigious universities of the US have been around for multiple centuries, but despite its newcomer status, Stanford managed to do something none of them could: be at the forefront of innovation. In order to stay on the frontier of innovation, it has tried hard to stay ahead of every trend.
The problem with pushing forward multiple trends at the same time is that some movements are more all-encompassing than others. Put simply, wokeism corrupts everything else. To push this agenda is to wipe out the integrity of research, to shame free speech on campus, and, perhaps most important to Stanford, to dampen entrepreneurship. Everything that the university once stood for is affected. If you create a culture where people are afraid to speak their thoughts, you hamper progress. We have seen backlash on speech, speakers, and startups. These trends that cemented Stanford’s reputation today may also contribute to its downfall at this rate.
Stanford has publicly suffered from a slew of scandals over the last few months. When you google Stanford or see it trending on Twitter, it's equally likely to be about a new LLM research project or a woke DEI dean at the law school. To some extent, we can still separate these Stanfords, where there is a thick line in the sand between students who represent woke Stanford and those who are pushing the frontiers of technology, but the University is already trying to blur the lines. Computer science students are taught ‘ethics’—really just thinly veiled woke ideology—and mandated to take courses about social justice in CS. As this happens, they are slowly being indoctrinated so that when they go into academia or industry, their research will be colored by their education.
Stanford might be leading the pack today in terms of both innovation and activism, but it is already falling behind. The insatiable appetite of activists means their demands are getting more and more insane. To maintain its status as an elite university, Stanford needs to drop its current priorities and focus on what will lead to lasting prestige. As Stanford regresses into a playground for the woke, America should proceed with caution as this bleeds over.