Inventions in Computer Science. It’s
an opportunity to expose students to
what is intellectually deep and beautiful about computer science as a field,
and to go beyond programming to everything from computability to complexity theory to cryptography to AI.
How have your experiences as president of the university shaped your
views coming back to the classroom?
Do you think they have given you a
I think so. Computing is in a phenomenally interesting place, because
despite everything that’s already
happened with the World Wide Web
and the Internet, the rise of machine
learning and the use of big data are
going to transform the world we live
in. And that means computing is
at the root of so many disciplines.
In the social sciences, the use of
complex, deep analysis of big data
is completely changing the way we
think about creating and evaluating
theories about societal change and
improvement. In medicine, the rise
of big data provides an incredible
opportunity to improve the quality
of health while freeing up doctors to
spend more time on the human side
of helping their patients.
You have been involved with a number of interdisciplinary initiatives
throughout your presidency. Let’s talk
about some of the intellectual and
formation technology will change the
workplace—and the leadership we were
getting. I think it’s a widely held view
that things have gotten worse around
the world in the last few years, and the
challenges we face are more difficult.
This is true not just in government, but
in the corporate and non-profit settings.
So you decided to build the program.
The first thing we did is outreach—
going around the world, talking to
potential future scholars about the
program. Many, many students have
indicated an interest, and we’re hoping
we can create a program that will make
a real contribution toward closing this
You also have returned to teaching.
I’m teaching a freshman seminar
that’s called Great Discoveries and
NO ONE WOULD accuse Stanford University’s John Hennessy—co-founder of
one of the first companies to commercialize RISC microprocessors, co-author of two widely used computer architecture textbooks, and the university’s
10th president—of being an underachiever. Yet the man Marc Andreessen
called “the godfather of Silicon Valley”
stepped down from his administrative
duties last year to focus on an ambitious fourth act: a multidisciplinary
scholarship program aimed at grooming leaders who can solve the world’s
most challenging problems.
It’s been just over a year since you
stepped down as president of Stanford
University, and it was surprisingly easy
to schedule this call. I’m guessing that
wouldn’t have been true in 2016.
I’m certainly traveling less, and my
calendar has a lot of free time by comparison. At the moment, I’m on sabbatical, which my wife says I always fail at.
For one thing, you’re still deeply involved with the ambitious Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program, which aims to
“build a multidisciplinary community
of Stanford graduate students dedicated to finding creative solutions to the
world’s greatest challenges.”
When we began to think about this
program, in late 2014, we saw a growing
disconnect between the kind of leadership that is needed to address the really big problems—whether it’s climate
change or social inequality or how in-
Grooming the Leaders
Former Stanford University president John Hennessy is the academic
architect behind the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program.
DOI: 10.1145/3148854 Leah Hoffmann
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