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make a larger contribution to the world? There were some trustees who were
really nervous about the New York campus thing from the very beginning and
thought, “That’s a bridge too far.” And in the end, I concluded that I couldn’t
make it work.
S+B: Another one of the things Stanford didn’t do, which you write about, was
significantly expand the undergraduate class size.
HENNESSY: That was not my decision. Both the provost and I thought the moral
argument [for expanding it] was strong enough that the answer was, “Let’s figure
out how to do it.” Some of my faculty colleagues thought, “Well, we should make
the Stanford experience perfect first.” I thought, “Well, the Stanford experience
is an A. Maybe it’s not an A+ yet, but it’s an A, all right.” And that seemed good
enough to me. Others took the view that even if you did a moderate expansion,
it wasn’t going to make that big a difference because it would be 100, 200, 300
kids more a year. I said, “Well, you’re not thinking like somebody whose kid’s
applying to college.” But we’re marching down that road at a slow pace, primarily
because we’re a residential undergraduate institution, and the rate at which we
can build residences turns out to be the limiting factor in expanding. I think it is
the right thing to do, and we at least got enough expansion done that we could
make a slight increase in the number of international students without decreasing
the number of American students.
S+B: Do you think it’s a systemic failure of the elite U.S. schools that they keep
their first-year classes so small even as the universe of potential students grows?
HENNESSY: The private universities have not responded to the growth in the
number of high-quality students who are available. And we’ve shoved it on the
public universities, which are now under enormous financial pressure. We probably
have about 7,000 undergraduates right now. If we were to take it to 8,000, it
would be fine. I don’t think it would change anything.