One troubled night following the death of his son, Leland Stanford was visited in his sleeping chamber by the boy's ghost. Observing that the old railroad tycoon had been weeping over his tragic loss, the shade admonished him for such self-indulgence and made what seemed a capital suggestion:
"Father, do not spend your life in vain sorrow," it said to him. "Do something for humanity. Build a university for the education of poor young men."
So Stanford did.
That, at least, is one explanation for the founding of Leland Stanford Junior University on Leland Senior's stock farm in Palo Alto, Calif. And though the story may be apocryphal, Stanford people are rather fond of it, for it tends to bolster their conviction that, although their university was erected on solid ground, it was at least celestially inspired.
May 28, 1972
Californians have long held to the view that there is, indeed, something otherworldly about Stanford. It is a prestigious private school of unimpeachable academic and social standing in a state where public education, particularly at the university and college level, has made its highest marks. Stanford is hardly the poor boy's school that the ghost had in mind—tuition will rise to $2,850 in September—but it has been so generously favored with scholarships that nearly half its 11,500 students are receiving financial aid of some sort.
Athletically, Stanford confounds its rivals by competing in the collegiate major leagues with a male undergraduate student body of little more than 4,000, with relatively few purely athletic scholarships and with an approach to sport bordering on the cavalier. Two successive Rose Bowl victories over heavily favored Big Ten schools with a much more orthodox football orientation testify to the effectiveness of this studied nonchalance.
Admittedly, it is no longer fashionable to attach cosmic significance to mere college football games. With the economic ax falling, college athletic departments, once the money trees, are rapidly becoming just additional flora in the groves of academe. But even with this changing attitude, Stanford's approach to big-time athletics seems outrageously casual.
"The schools we should be playing are Harvard, Yale and Princeton," says sociology professor Sanford Dornbusch, articulating a familiar Stanford complaint that invariably galls its colleagues in the Pacific-8 Conference. "But because of our physical isolation—airline costs, scheduling difficulties, etc.—we are to a large extent stuck in the Pacific-8. A lot of people wish we weren't. Athletes at Stanford are not heroes. Many of them feel they must counteract the image that they are animals. They feel a lot of pressure to do well academically and so they usually do. But the university really cares about them, about not exploiting them."
The Stanford athletic department is virtually self-supporting. The only direct funds it receives from the university are for partial support of the physical education program, an amount approximating $400,000 annually. The remainder of the department's $2.4-million budget comes from football gate receipts (Stanford owns its own 87,000-seat stadium), concessions and television revenue, its golf course, gate receipts from other sports, notably basketball, stadium and arena rentals, coaching camps and a gym store. With this income, the department has finished from $100,000 to $400,000 in the black for the past seven years. The $400,000 or so it spends on athletic scholarships is raised not by the university proper, but by the 4,000-member Stanford Buck Club, which is composed of alumni and "friends of the university," some of them transplanted Easterners who find in Stanford the same sort of private school esprit I they had left behind.
A modern American university with a moneymaking athletic department can afford to assume a holier-than-thou posture before those less favored. Still, back-to-back Rose Bowl triumphs would seem an embarrassment to an institution that professes to have put football in its place as an extracurricular activity hardly more meaningful to the academic experience than folk dancing. And so it would, were it not for a certain psychological resourcefulness typical of Stanford. The wins over Ohio State and Michigan, Stanfordites will say, were of true significance because they represented triumphs of life-style. The seeds of these victories were sown not so much on the practice fields, it will be alleged, as in the psyches of the competitors. Stanford football players under their then coach, John Ralston, enjoyed extraordinary freedom. What they did off the field was their own concern. Discipline was not imposed from the outside; it was expected to come from within. The length of a player's hair, the cut of his clothes, were considered to be personal matters.
"You can't do in Palo Alto what you can do in Columbia, S.C.," said Ralston, who moves on to try his blend of freedom and inspiration on the professional Denver Broncos this year. "If I'd tried to dictate, say, hairstyles to these boys, I just wouldn't have had a football team."
While both Big Ten teams were secreted before the Rose Bowl game, Stanford players were roaming. And, while the Midwesterners adhered rigidly to their ball-control game plans, the Stanford teams literally winged it—first with Jim Plunkett, then with Don Bunce at quarterback.
"There was a great contrast in football philosophies," recalls Bunce, a serious young man. "Having so much more freedom gave us a sense of knowing why we were playing football. We were more imaginative. They were so predictable. Football is such a regimented game that sometimes you have to doubt how much of a part you play. I think when the Michigan and Ohio State teams read before the games about the 'Stanford swingers' it had to frustrate them a little, it had to give us an edge."
Although frantic instructions were being transmitted to him from the sidelines in this year's game, Bunce called his own plays in the last hectic Stanford drive that led to Rod Garcia's game-winning field goal against Michigan with only 12 seconds remaining to play. The field goal itself was a triumph of participatory democracy. When it became apparent that only Garcia, a 155-pound Chilean, could win the day for Stanford, Ralston advanced upon the little kicker prepared to deliver an appropriately inspirational message. The exact nature of his address was as yet unclear to him—Ralston has a disarming manner of unloading the most plonking homilies—but he felt the times called for something uplifting, like "Kick it straight, kid." Ralston remembered with a shudder that Garcia's five missed field goals and one extra point had cost his team a shocker of a 13-12 loss to San Jose State in the regular season. As Ralston bore down on Garcia, he was intercepted by Defensive Tackle Greg Sampson.
"It would be better," said Sampson firmly, "if you didn't talk to him."
"I guess Greg thought I bugged Rod," said Ralston after Garcia, without benefit of coachly counsel, delivered the winning kick.
Defensive tackles do not talk that way to Woody Hayes, or even to Bo Schembechler.
The life-style contrasts in these Rose Bowl games were equally apparent in the performances of the bands on the field. Both the Ohio State and Michigan musicians marched militarily before the crowds in more or less traditional neo-John Philip Sousa getups. They played oldies but goodies expertly. The Stanford "Incomparables" appeared in red blazers, black flare pants, jaunty white fedoras and mod neckties. Their eight tubas were psychedelically adorned. Two of the bandsmen marched with bare feet painted white. Actually "march" is a misnomer: Stanford's musicians "walk rhythmically" and in step only when the mood is upon them. Their halftime shows, designed by an inner group called the "Stanford Marching Unit Thinkers"—SMUT—and their repertoire were exclusively contemporary. And not all of them played particularly well. One musician admitted that before the season he had not touched his instrument since he last performed with his junior high school orchestra.
Yet the Stanford bands, like the football teams, were popular successes. "These were victories," claimed band photographer Jon Erickson, "of West Coast culture over the ways of stodgy Middle America."
That Stanford should somehow be representing "West Coast culture" in an encounter of this sort is, in itself, a modern phenomenon. Not that Stanford hasn't usually set itself apart from the middle; it is just that its Ivy League yearnings seemed also to set it apart from the West. Since Stanford places no restrictions on out-of-state applicants and even encourages them, it is probably the least Californian of California colleges. About a quarter of its students come there from east of the Mississippi. In addition, Stanford lived a long time with a decidedly un-Western rich-kids image, one which it is now energetically and successfully shucking.
The "Stanford man" of years past was a happily familiar stereotype, particularly for traditionally antagonistic Cal men in nearby Berkeley. He would be a blond White Anglo-Saxon Protestant with a year-round suntan. He would drink Scotch, not beer, drive his own Buick convertible and play smashing tennis. He would wear a tweed coat, khaki trousers and white bucks. His evenings would be spent at "L'Ommie's"—L'Omelette restaurant near the campus on El Camino Real. His girl friend—later, obviously, his wife—would perpetually be "in the East." He would be a Young Republican.
The Stanford woman? Well, her name would be "Itsy" or "Bitsy" or some such plutocratic diminutive and she would be living testimony to the maxim that "nine out of 10 California women are beautiful; the 10th goes to Stanford."
Like all generalizations, these fell wide of the mark, but there was enough truth in them to sustain generations of Cal graduates. Now they are meaningless, since that particular Stanford is no more. The traditional athletic, political and sociological rivalry with Cal at Berkeley seems to have been reduced to a, well, academic question. By some magical process of democratization, the students at both of these great Bay Area universities seem completely interchangeable. If anything, the Stanford kids look more like the Berkeley kids than the Berkeley kids do.
"Stanford is much more radical than Berkeley," says Reeni Maharam, a Stanford senior and former song girl who is determinedly unradical. "A girl friend of mine had a sister who transferred out of here to Berkeley just to get straight."
And it does seem true that Stanford's radical Establishment is more durable than those in comparable universities. Even before the recent resurgence of antiwar protests on campuses across the nation, Stanford had its share of demonstrations and confrontations—in January and February, for example, over the firing of H. Bruce Franklin, an English professor and Melville scholar whose fervent appeals on behalf of violent revolution led, finally, to a faculty hearing and Franklin's dismissal for, in carefully chosen words, "incitement to use of unlawful coercion and violence and increasing the danger of injury to others." At the press conference following the action—the first dismissal of a tenured professor following a faculty hearing in Stanford history—Franklin's wife stood at his side carrying an unloaded carbine. There followed demonstrations and incidents of vandalism and bomb threats, yet these were minuscule in comparison with the campuswide antiwar disturbances of two years ago.
A longtime favorite radical objective has been the university's job-placement center, where military recruiters occasionally make unwelcome visitations and where so-called war-related industrial firms interview prospective job recruits. The Palo Alto area fairly crackles with electronic firms fulfilling government contracts, and Stanford's own considerable involvement in federally sponsored research is yet another source of discontent.
Doug McHenry, a black youth who led the ballot in the student election in 1971, sees something "basically insincere" about many of the demonstrations. "We blacks view the movement here with mixed emotions. Oh yes, once a year you will see a gathering of the concerned. Then the next thing you know, they're off skiing in Sun Valley. And by their senior year, they've cut their hair and are too busy trying to get into Harvard Law School to care."
In truth, Stanford is probably just what Professor Dornbusch calls it: "a terribly heterogeneous place. There is no typical Stanford kid anymore. There is, instead, an enormous variety of persons here, all of whom think they're in the minority."
Stanford has not come by this heterogeneity accidentally; it was sought. Admission to the university is determined by a complex and flexible formula involving academic standing, test scores, personal recommendations and achievement outside the classroom.
"Twenty years ago our students may all have come from the same middle-class background," says Dean of Undergraduate Studies James Gibbs, exploring a familiar theme, "but our goal now is to get a mixture. If their academic standing is high enough we like to get concert pianists, artists and, yes, quarterbacks. We could, I suppose, admit everyone in the top 2% in high school, but this would not be a very interesting place if we did."
Where Stanford has made its most significant advances in enrollment is in the recruitment of minority students. Under the energetic leadership of President Richard W. Lyman, a 48-year-old Ivy League (Harvard graduate school) migrant, Stanford has, in Gibbs' words, "made a deliberate effort to meet its social responsibilities." Gibbs himself is black.
The results of this recruiting, which dates to a decision made following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, have been startling. While the overall student population has increased by only 24 since 1968, Stanford has more than doubled its black enrollment—from 226 to 548. It has 368 Chicano students now, compared with 58 four years ago, and 61 American Indians, compared with 14. (The Indian students are not without influence, for upon their protest the university last month dropped the "Indians" nickname for its athletic teams on grounds it was racially debasing. Stanford thus became the first major sponsor of a sports team called Indians to do so. Stanford teams had been Indians since 1930, when the term replaced "Cardinals" or "The Cardinal," the official school color. The old name may now enjoy a comeback, although a "mascot search committee," shuffling through some 50 suggested names—including, of course, "Cowboys"—proposed in all sincerity that the teams adopt the sobriquet applied to last year's defensive line—"Thunderchickens." Thunderchickens?) A remarkably high number—85%—of Stanford undergraduates receive degrees. The rate among the minority students is even higher—88% get theirs.
On a somewhat subtler level, Stanford also has improved its relationships with another group protesting its oppression—women. It is no thanks to Mrs. Jane Lathrop Stanford that the school she and her husband endowed is today coeducational. She was opposed from the beginning to admitting members of her own sex into an institution of higher learning. It was only when Leland—no male chauvinist—argued that their son's school should serve "all the children of California" that she relented. But she surrendered only grudgingly, and in deference to her wishes Stanford's female applicants were to receive harsher scrutiny than the male. For many years the male-female enrollment held at a ratio of nearly three to one. Understandably sensitive on this issue today, Stanford administrators point with some pride to an undergraduate enrollment that is now 4,094 men and 2,337 women. President Lyman hastens to emphasize that sexism is not an official policy of the school, that applicants are not judged on the basis of sex, that no formal quota exists and that "roughly the same proportion of women and men applicants are accepted." Furthermore, an informal survey shows the 10th California girl must be enrolled elsewhere now. Stanford has its proportion of pretty coeds.
The university has made enormous strides, academically as well as ethnically, in recent years. "Stanford," says Professor of Religion Dr. Robert McAfee Brown, an ardent civil libertarian, "is no longer a West Coast finishing school."
A 1969 survey by the American Council on Education would seem to substantiate these assertions. Stanford's faculty was ranked among the first five nationally in 16 fields of graduate study, a total exceeded only by Cal and Harvard. Stanford has six Nobel Laureates. Thirty of its departments out of 32 judged were rated "strong to distinguished" by the council—a figure equaled by Columbia and surpassed only by Cal, Harvard and Yale. Stanford's psychology and pharmacology departments were rated the best in the nation. Its engineering courses—chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical—were in the first four. All of its physical-science courses—chemistry, geology, mathematics and physics—were ranked in the top six. Stanford's business and law schools have long been considered first rate and its medical school has achieved international renown through the pioneer work in heart transplants undertaken by a team of surgeons under Dr. Norman Shumway and the synthesis of biologically active DNA by Dr. Arthur Kornberg.
Stanford's most ambitious gains, however, have been in the humanities, where it has been weakest. Of Stanford's seven presidents, only two have not been in the sciences or engineering—J. E. Wallace Sterling (1949-68) and Lyman, both historians. Sterling is credited with bringing about the university's overall academic renaissance and Lyman has been instrumental in improving the liberal-arts programs. Stanford is now rated fourth nationally in the classics, fifth in German and sixth in English by the Council on Education.
Such measurements are always deceptive and, as some educators have protested, they do not adequately represent the quality of undergraduate education. But Stanford is almost more graduate school than undergraduate. Of the 11,500 students enrolled, almost half are in graduate school, and there are nearly 150 more male graduate students than undergraduate. Stanford's growth as an increasingly important research center is underscored by the more than $50 million it receives annually in government grants.
"I see this school becoming more and more like a giant corporation," says undergraduate McHenry. "It is so concerned with research and development and government contracts, you wonder why it bothers having educators and administrators. What it needs is a good systems coordinator."
That Stanford is more corporation than university, says President Lyman, is "a widespread myth. I'm not saying the balance between teaching and research is ideal here or at any other research-oriented university. But you don't necessarily improve undergraduate education by cutting into research programs. You don't direct faculty that way. And you don't get grants unless students are involved."
Lyman, a slender, casually dressed man who might himself pass for a graduate student, is in a position familiar to all modern college administrators—the middle. On the one hand, he needs the research grants; on the other, he must preserve the university's intellectual independence.
"Some students think we're not fighting the battle," he says wearily. "But we are. I think it's remarkable that, considering the dependence we have on outside resources, we have remained independent."
Under Lyman, Stanford has taken positive measures to improve undergraduate programs. Stanford students, for example, have great latitude in selecting their major course of study. They may-even create their own major if they can convince three faculty members and a sub-committee that what they have in mind is sound academically. They have the additional privilege of attending for two quarters one of the five Stanford overseas campuses—in France, Italy, Germany, Austria and England. There are also plans for a program that would allow undergraduates to study for a year in an African university. And Dean Gibbs, for one, sees nothing wrong with a student deciding to drop out for a time to work or simply to reassemble himself psychologically.
Whatever the reason, something must be working, for Stanford undergraduates are hitting the books as never before. The J. Henry Meyer Undergraduate Library is doing a standing-room-only business during the week, and Sunday attendance has almost trebled over two years ago.
This resurgence of book learning would have gladdened the broken old heart of the founding father, although the university Leland Stanford envisioned is hardly the one that stands on his farm today. Stanford saw higher education as preparation for "personal success and direct usefulness in life." A university should teach a person practical things, a trade. The old man's opinion, for example, that "the earth is inexhaustible in supplies for the gratification of every reasonable want of man" would hardly mesh with the birth-control views expressed today by Dr. Paul Ehrlich, the noted Stanford biology professor who sees the earth's supplies so nearly exhausted that he recently suggested the government reward women for not having babies.
But it was through hard, practical—some might say unscrupulous—work that Stanford earned his share of those inexhaustible supplies. Born on a farm in New York, he practiced law in Wisconsin, moved to California during the Gold Rush, made a small fortune as a successful merchant and a much bigger one as president of the Central Pacific Railroad, the West Coast's link with the first transcontinental line. He was Governor of California during the Civil War and a United States Senator at the time of his death in 1893.
Stanford was in many ways the ultimate 19th century nouveau-riche American capitalist—a bloated (260 pounds), glowering, bearded eminence. But he lavished great affection on his only child, Leland Jr., who was born when he was 44 and Jane 39. When young Leland expressed a mild and perhaps hereditary interest in trains, Stanford had a miniature railroad with 200 yards of track built for him on the farm. And when the adolescent Leland developed an interest in art collecting, Stanford saw to it that he could indulge his tastes in the culture capitals of Europe. He traveled extensively, and on one of these cultural explorations the boy fell desperately ill with typhoid fever. The illness lasted three weeks. Then, on March 13, 1884, the Stanfords wired home to San Francisco from Florence: OUR DARLING BOY WENT TO HEAVEN THIS MORNING AT HALF-PAST SEVEN....
His grief was so great that Stanford's own life seemed endangered. In his delirium, he hallucinated. It was after a fitful evening in the company of visions that he advised Mrs. Stanford: "The children of California shall be our children." On Nov. 14, 1885 he donated three tracts of land, including the Palo Alto farm, to a board of trustees for the purpose of building a university in his son's name. The gift was conservatively estimated at $5 million. It was worth four times that amount by the turn of the century. In addition, he financed the college until his death, and insured that it received the bulk of his estate.
Few college campuses have been so favored economically and naturally. Stanford's first president, David Starr Jordan, described the farm in his autobiography:
"Bounding it on the Southwest, rises an irregular series of Coast Range ridges, known collectively as the Sierra de la Santa Cruz—'a misty camp of mountains pitched tumultuously.' Immediately behind the University estate, and forming its higher background, is the wooded Sierra Morena, 1,300 feet high, its cloak of redwood, oak and madro√±o diversified by thickets of chemisal...."
The 8,800-acre campus is spacious, with long pathways through redwoods and eucalyptus groves. Little more than 30 miles south of San Francisco, but protected by sheltering mountain ranges to the east and west, Stanford is about 20 degrees warmer than the city during the summer. And if, as Stanford critics doggedly assert, there is a country-club ambience, so be it.
The Stanford family's fondness for Romanesque architecture is reflected in the rectilinear buff-colored stone buildings, covered arcades and half-circle arches. The university is affiliated with no church, but the total effect, particularly in the quadrangle area, is of a Spanish monastery. A swinging Spanish monastery.
Leland Stanford Junior University did not open for classes until Oct. 1, 1891, nearly six years after the founding. And as the then 67-year-old Stanford and his wife ascended to the stage for the dedication ceremonies, 400 students arose and shouted, "Wah-hoo! Wah-hoo! L!S! J!U! Stanford!" It was a cheer they had improvised that very morning. Mercifully, it has been seldom heard since.
In the charter class was a young Iowan who would become the 31st President of the United States, and over the years Stanford was to have few more devoted alumni than Herbert Clark Hoover. He accepted the Republican Party's 1928 presidential nomination in Stanford Stadium. He founded the Food Research Institute on campus and was instrumental in organizing the Graduate School of Business. The 285-foot Hoover Tower houses the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, and the Hoover home on campus is now the official residence of the university president.
Hoover was also Stanford's first undergraduate football manager and was, therefore, a key figure in the historic first "Big Game" with California in 1892. Some historians blame Hoover for an oversight—no football—which detracted only slightly from the dignity of the occasion. Still, when a facsimile ball—more of a punching bag, actually—was finally secured, Stanford won the game, 14-10. It was, of course, something of an upset.
Upsets, innovation and ingenuity have characterized Stanford's athletic history. Stanford's 1940 team, coached by Clark Shaughnessy, introduced the modern T formation to college football. Stanford's Ben Eastman revolutionized middle-distance running by breaking the world records for the quarter and half miles within two weeks. And, by surpassing the quarter-mile record by a full second, from 47.4 to 46.4, he converted the event from a run to a dash. Stanford's Hank Luisetti changed basketball from a two-hand set-shot game to the modern version with his running, jumping one-hand push shot.
In Fullback Ernie Nevers, Stanford produced one of football's finest all-round athletes. But the school's football specialty over the past 30 years has been in the so-called "skill positions"—quarterback and receiver. Only Notre Dame has fielded as many outstanding quarterbacks, and Stanford's have been even more successful as professionals: witness Frankie Albert, John Brodie and Jim Plunkett. Three Stanford alumni—-Brodie, Plunkett and Dave Lewis—are now playing quarterback in the National Football League. Stanford has also turned out such adept receivers as Bill McColl, Chris Burford, Gene Washington and Randy Vataha.
Curiously, the team most cherished at Stanford is one that scarcely threw the ball at all. But the "Vow Boys" of 1933-35 had a mystical quality that is the special Stanford mark. The Vow that separated them from the rest of the boys was taken when they were freshmen in 1932. It was a Monday practice following the varsity's fifth consecutive loss to USC. As the freshmen gathered in the center of the practice field, Quarterback Frank Alustiza summoned the team to gather around him.
"They'll never do that to us," Alustiza said. "We will never lose to USC."
"Let's make a vow on that!" shouted Halfback Bones Hamilton, caught up in the fervor of the moment. They did, and USC never did beat them, losing 13-7, 16-0 and 3-0. It is beside the point that hardly anybody else ever beat the Vow Boys, either. In three years they won 25 games, lost four (two in the Rose Bowl) and tied two. Nineteen of their 25 wins were shutouts, including seven in a row in 1934.
But it is the Vow, not the record, that endears them to Stanford, where spirit, even among the seemingly disinterested undergraduates of today, is still a meaningful word. It is significant that Stanford football players regard their recent Rose Bowl victories not so much as triumphs of the flesh but of the spirit.
"In both games," said Bunce, "I didn't see how we could win. But we were ready. We were at a fairly high intellectual level."
Indeed, what is often mistaken for snobbery, intellectual or otherwise, is simply Stanford's penchant for setting itself apart. There is, as Professor Dornbusch suggests, an "isolation," whether real or just felt. This is what leads Stanford, athletically, to cast itself so often in the role of underdog.
"The reason you have to take your hat off to Stanford," says the school's sports historian, Don Liebendorfer (and how many schools have sports historians?), "is that we've done it the hard way. Here you have an expensive school with high admission requirements. The coaches have always made the best of what they've had and the kids have always put in that something extra. Something extra. That's the whole thing. That's the spirit of Stanford."
"Come join the band," the fight song resounds. "And give a cheer for Stanford red...."
Somehow, some way, the entreaty seems almost irresistible.