University Ethos at Stanford and Chicago

I came across this article that I found interesting

I’ve read many discussions related to the Chicago Ethos here and the way the Hoover controversy played out at Stanford provided an interesting contrast on how other universities are handling such issues.

I also found the student’s take on curriculum flexibility and the kinds of Humanities courses offered a very interesting contrast to UChicago where STEM students struggle with some hefty humanities requirements and Humanities majors persevere against Physical science requirements that often have them crying

This week being midterm week has been hard on many students who are being asked to strive mightily in courses outside their zone of comfort.

Just thought I would share since I thought it provided a nice contrast to two different approaches to undergraduate education taken at two elite universities


Clearly, this article was written by a young, inexperienced person as demonstrated by the statement that:

“The companies leaving Silicon Valley do not just flee mismanagement and overtaxation.”

The adult version:

Companies leaving Silicon Valley are getting away from excessive taxation and over-priced housing.


Meh. This sounds like a whiny student rambling about various things she finds annoying about Stanford without making any particularly persuasive points. Also, I agree with the above that she sounds young and inexperienced as opposed to a mature young adult. JMHO.


I disagree. It sounds like a student who is sad that the things that they value are going away. A true liberal education. They feel that the humanities are being de-emphasized and that there is not enough diversity of expressed thought, and that the classical idea of student athlete is falling by the wayside. Whether this is true or not at Stanford, I don’t know.

I will comment on the least political issue, which is the student athlete. When my kid’s team had been cut as well, that was the thought I had too. There is value in the student-athlete, and being on a club team is very different than being on a varsity team. How a school wants to allocate its resources (big football team vs more, smaller teams) does impact students’ experiences. I hope that there will continue to be a diversity of colleges so that fencing kids, as an example, can continue to have the opportunity to be a student athlete.


It’s odd to post this opinion article about Stanford in the Chicago forum. I imagine a lot of persons in the Chicago forum are not familiar with the history of the Stanford Daily vs Stanford Review. The latter is an independent paper started by Peter Thiel (Paypal), as a place where more conservative students could express an alternative viewpoint to the more establishment Stanford Daily paper, particularly in regards to an increased focus on diversity and the at the time new CIV (Cultures, Ideas, and Values) course requirements. You’ll find a lot of opinion articles in the Review do not reflect opinions of the student body or college as a whole.


That’s interesting. I didn’t realize that.

I just felt the whole piece was quite poorly argued. For example, she discussed Stanford’s cuts to multiple athletic programs. The article she linked indicated the articulated reason for these cuts was budgetary. Instead of rebutting these arguments pertaining to budgetary concerns, she simply lamented the loss of the “student athlete” at Stanford. She lays blame for Stanford’s “decline” on the “carelessness” and a “concerted effort” on the part of Stanford’s administrators. Apparently, the cuts to athletic programs are due to what she alleges are “carelessness” and/or “concerted efforts” of school administrators, yet she makes no effort herself to indicate how this might be remotely true, or what alternatives might exist to improve the situation.

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Both the argument and the prose could be tightened, but I like the author’s fighting spirit. She is raising real substantive issues and defying the received wisdom. She is advocating for a Stanford that may be dead or may never have existed or may be simply an ideal in her own mind. Regardless, she has thought about these things and has the guts to speak out about them.

She is waging several battles at once - for free speech, for a true humanistic education, and for the dignity of the scholar-athlete. These may be three separate fights, but better too many fights than none at all. Fighting for ideas is okay in my book.

Perhaps Stanford’s ethos is not truly dying. Perhaps the piece melodramatically exaggerates or distorts Stanford’s ethos. Perhaps Stanford never had an ethos at all or perhaps it had multiple ones. I know nothing of Stanford and cannot say. However, exaggeration and melodrama are hardly hanging offences in a young writer, and I applaud the author’s effort to think about these things and to ask the big questions.

I likewise applaud the OP for suggesting that there could be instructive comparisons of the hypothesized vanished ethos of Stanford and the hypothesized still alive and kicking one at the U of C. These are ideas worth fighting for. We graybeards should remember that we once fought for ideas.


Perhaps this opinion piece itself is a clever exhibit providing evidence of Stanford’s deteriorating classics/humanities/writing education. She certainly appears to need some brushing up on her rhetoric skills.


Agree with @amsunshine that this is a poorly written & weakly argued piece. In short, not worth reading.

P.S. Reread the first paragraph of the article. Absolute garbage.

The concluding paragraph is not much better.

With respect to the paragraphs in between, there is no there there. No substance.

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@Publisher and @amsunshine , a bit of engagement with substance might be useful. Dismissal with epithets is not even a good way to mark a paper. I suspect that you both disagree with the author. Why not say so? Or why not say that you either believe or don’t believe the thesis of OP - that the spirit of the old Stanford can still be found at Chicago.

A raised eyebrow of disapprobation is fine in a drawing room. On the Chicago forum we like to debate the underlying ideas.


Author writes “Stanford’s dilution of intensity in the humanities presents another sad example of institutional decline. Stanford’s academic requirements are extremely loose compared to those of the Ivy League.”

Obviously, the author did not bother to look up Brown’s general education requirements.


I neither agree nor disagree with the author as there are no substantive issues raised in the article.

P.S. My best advice to the student author: Think before you write.

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I did give an example of the author’s poor argumentation, above, if you care to read it.

I will, nevertheless, credit the Stanford student’s article with making a strong case for LACs as this is a Stanford student’s writing in a Stanford publication presumably edited by other Stanford students.


My older kid is a junior in HS - he isn’t a super-student like so many who weigh in here, and he certainly isn’t a candidate for Stanford. That being said, he can write and he’d be embarrassed (as a public school junior) to put out an article as incoherent as this one. When I read something like this it makes me wonder. I know that Stanford (and other like schools) admit only the best students - yet this passes for acceptable writing in a formal publication? Yikes.

That isn’t to say there may or not may be issues at Stanford, but my main takeaway is a feeling of surprise that a student at one of the most competitive universities in our country writes so poorly.


Regarding Stanford’s intellectual climate, a professor now at a NESCAC had this to say about his recent experiences teaching there:


As an alum of both schools, I found the piece interesting. Back in the 1970’s when I was a Stanford undergraduate, Silicon Valley was in its infancy. While the STEM and especially engineering areas were very strong, I found the university to be quite similar to its peers in being very preprofessional sending a lot of students to medical, law and business schools. In the senior survey for my class, 91% of the students indicated they intended to pursue graduate studies. I think the author’s paean for a bygone day is somewhat misplaced since the University may have had less of a STEM/computer science emphasis but certainly was not intellectual. When I came to Chicago for grad school, it had an entirely different vibe.

Annika Nordquist - Fencing - Stanford University Athletics indicates that the author was a legacy and high level athlete.

I have just started reading this book so don’t know the entire argument yet but the author takes a dim view of what happened to Western Civ at Stanford in the 70’s. Does anybody have a view of what happened? I only got the

“Hey hey hey, Ho ho ho, Western Civ’s got to go” mentioned in the book and some opinionated internet viewpoints on what went down, so not sure what to make of it. The demand does seem kind of extreme. Ellis argues that Humanities and increasingly even STEM has become idealogically driven and has become isolated from real scholarship at many elite schools.

Clearly he is upset at the lack of idealogical diversity at many of the top Universities and his anger shows up clearly in his writing

Article from 1988 when the “Western Culture” courses became the “Cultures, Ideas, and Values” courses: Stanford Alters Western Culture Course - The New York Times

Article from 1997 about the “culture war” over “Cultures, Ideas, and Values”: Stanford Revisits the Course That Set Off the Culture Wars . It was replaced by “Introduction to Humanities” (“IHUM”).

Article from 2004 about the history of various iterations of the requirement: What Freshmen Need to Know | STANFORD magazine . Includes the following:

Article from 2012 describing replacement of IHUM with “Thinking Matters”: Overhauling Requirements for Freshmen | STANFORD magazine

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