Stanford And Silicon Valley, Sitting In A Tree

Ken Auletta on the thin membrane separating Stanford University and Silicon Valley:

David Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who has taught at Stanford for more than forty years, credits the university with helping needy students and spawning talent in engineering and business, but he worries that many students uncritically incorporate the excesses of Silicon Valley, and that there are not nearly enough students devoted to the liberal arts and to the idea of pure learning. “The entire Bay Area is enamored with these notions of innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, mega-success,” he says. “It’s in the air we breathe out here. It’s an atmosphere that can be toxic to the mission of the university as a place of refuge, contemplation, and investigation for its own sake.”

Auletta’s article nails whatever low-frequency sense of despair you might have heard thrumming through my piece on Silicon Valley earlier this year.

Related: Stanford’s Design School as seen by Stanford’s Business School.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. As an educator now trying to span the world of academia (40% of my working week) and business (the other 5 days a week), I wonder periodically if “professional” education and business can co-exist and play nicely.

    Some days, I can feel a synergy between my academic work and what I’m attempting as an online business owner & educator. Other days, I find a deep distrust of and disdain for business among my academic friends.

    It should be pointed out that “business” is far from a homogeneous world, even if restricted to businesses selling to teachers. Certainly Big Business is working to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, and will listen to teachers only as long as it takes to find out what they will pay for. But there are also small entrepreneurs who wish to promote change in classrooms via commercial products that do things in ways that haven’t been done before, and to make money along the way.

    Perhaps this debate will always exist, reflecting a tension between those committed to education for its own sake and those wanting to make money while changing the world for the better? I’m not convinced that they are mutually exclusive.

  2. Sounds like he’s saying “creativity” is “…toxic to the mission of the university…”

    I wonder why he says that?