Is Stanford overtaking Harvard?

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Discus: Ivy League Schools: Harvard University: 2004 Archive: Is Stanford overtaking Harvard?
By Snack (Snack) on Tuesday, June 22, 2004 - 06:04 pm: Edit

Much of the general public would say that Harvard is the "top" school in the US. But for the past 10-20 yrs, many in academics would say that Stanford is the closest school to overtaking Harvard (if they haven't already). There was a recent major Harvard Crimson article about this. A few points:

1. Stanford's graduate programs are generally somewhat stronger than Harvard's - and have wider breadth (exception = hard-core humanities, e.g. art, classics).

2. In many cases, Stanford's professional schools are considered slightly better than Harvard's (exception = medicine).

3. The balance of power (e.g. business, economy, population growth) in the US has been slowly shifting Westward for some time, and Stanford seems well-suited to take advantage of that. My anecdotal observation is that "brain-drain" (like general population growth) generally moves from East to West, much more so than the other way around.

4. The balance of power throughout the world may be shifting toward the Far East, and again Stanford seems better-suited for those collaborations.

5. Stanford has close ties with Silicon Valley and other local industries, and the culture there is deeply technology-rooted ... this is where the world is quickly heading. Harvard is unfortunately very far behind in this respect. There was another recent major Harvard Crimson article about this.

6. In part because of #5, Stanford's fund-raising has become better than Harvard's recently. Although they are a much younger institution (100 vs. 350 yrs) and have a less well-established alumni base, they often/usually raise more money than Harvard.

7. Stanford's infrastructure is generally better ... as long as no giant earthquakes. For example, they have >8000 acres of land and can build tremendous facilities ... whereas Harvard is very space-limited and may need a major expansion into Allston to catch up (could take decades for this to happen).

8. Stanford has won many times more Nobel prizes (physics, economics, etc) than Harvard during the past 10-15 years. To me, this raises the question of whether they may be actually doing "better work" at Stanford. Obviously Nobel prizes are only one indicator of "good work," but they're an extremely important one.

Do people feel these are valid statements? Who is Harvard's major "competition" these days?

By Stopps86 (Stopps86) on Tuesday, June 22, 2004 - 08:03 pm: Edit

Please not another one of these threads :( This is supposed to be a helpful and useful website; not a debate class. Honestly, in response to all of your questions and statements, who cares.

By Asterix (Asterix) on Tuesday, June 22, 2004 - 08:27 pm: Edit

At least it isn't a chances thread, at least the debate ones sometimes bring up good points.

By Cornellian (Cornellian) on Tuesday, June 22, 2004 - 09:01 pm: Edit

Stanford in my opinion, is the only university with the potential to replace Harvard as the premier university of the country (world?). As of right now, most would consider Harvard and Stanford to be the top, with Harvard having the lead. However, it will take quite some time until Stanford is the school that pops into one's head when asked what's the best. Either way, who cares.

By Asterix (Asterix) on Tuesday, June 22, 2004 - 09:05 pm: Edit

Yeah, HYPS are all personal preference, so to just pick out one or two as "the best" is dumb.

By Chasgoose (Chasgoose) on Tuesday, June 22, 2004 - 09:31 pm: Edit

Stanford will never replace Harvard as the school the epitomizes the best college in the country. Not that Harvard is the best, but it is just so ingrained in people to be the first thing that pops into their minds.

By Alum (Alum) on Tuesday, June 22, 2004 - 09:44 pm: Edit

"Stanford will never replace Harvard as the school the epitomizes the best college in the country."

Never say never. There was a time not *that* long ago where Cambridge and Oxford were the "first things" that popped into many people's minds. And that has certainly changed.

By Jab93 (Jab93) on Wednesday, June 23, 2004 - 02:24 pm: Edit

Aye carumba... not again...
Look... Stanford and Harvard are pretty much equal-quality institutions... REAL Harvard and Stanford students have much respect for one another, unlike the pre-ivy-wannabes on this site... who amaze me with the level of idiocy despite high test scores...

The ONLY area in which Stanford has a significant advantage is engineering. But there are historical reasons
for why Harvard never developed a strong engineering school (note that Harvard's natural sciences are phenomenal)... that is... they are right next to MIT.
In fact, in the late 1890's/ early 1900's (right around when Stanford was founded), Harvard and MIT were planning on merging to form one university... the merger was eventually blocked in the late stages when MIT alumni sued... they got the merger blocked on a technicality... the real reason why they opposed the merger? unofficially, they were afraid that MIT's identity would disappear, and all of MIT would just be the engineering school at Harvard, with Harvard dominant.
Clearly, the fact that Harvard and MIT are literally neighbors... (you can walk between them in about half an hour)... has hampered Harvard from ever fully getting into engineering...

One of Harvard and MIT strengths though, are the multitude of joint programs (almost all at the graduate level... undergrads can theoretically cross-register between the two... but in practice, it rarely happens because their academic calendars are not quite aligned)...
The strongest joint programs are in the biotech sector... collaborations between Harvard's PhD programs, MIT's PhD programs and Harvard Medical School...

By Davidrune (Davidrune) on Wednesday, June 23, 2004 - 04:01 pm: Edit

who the •••• cares

By Multinational (Multinational) on Thursday, June 24, 2004 - 07:27 am: Edit

I wouldn't say Snack's arguments are valid:

1.Harvard's graduate programs in the social sciences, economics, humanities and arts are better than Stanfords. In the sciences, both schools are pretty much equal, with Harvard having the better chemistry and bio departments and Stanford having a stronger physics program. However, Stanford is stronger in engineering.

2. Harvard's professional schools are phenomenal and probably all slightly better than Stanford's (Considering yield rate, starting salaries for graduates, admission rate etc)

3. and 4. are probably correct, but I wouldn't say that the brain-drain is irreversible, rather, it's dynamic and changing all the time.

5 and 7 are correct

6. Remember that Harvard's endowment is twice as large as Stanford's. Their student bodies have the same size, so that Harvard can spend much more money on each student. Plus, it's not right that Stanford is currently raising more money.

8. Harvard has won many more Nobel Prizes than Stanford over the course of the last century. They are number 2 (behind Cambridge) with 36 Laureates, while Stanford only has 18 Laureates.

Moreover, think about the presidents Harvard has produced, the long history of Harvard, the alliance with MIT (the best engineering school in the world), Boston,... and you will agree Harvard's position as the world's finest institution will not be replaced by any university in the foreseeable future.

By Lurker2 (Lurker2) on Thursday, June 24, 2004 - 08:48 am: Edit

But then again:

1-2. These are definitely subject to debate. My personal feeling is that, regardless of whether Harvard or Stanford is "#1" in graduate/professional schools, there are no other places in the world that are remotely close ... in terms of quality and breadth.

3-4. True.

5-7. True.

8. I think the original post dealt with Nobel Prizes in "recent" years, in which case Stanford has a significant advantage.

By Webhappy2 (Webhappy2) on Thursday, June 24, 2004 - 09:52 pm: Edit

The argument comes down to:
Age (prestige, endowment $$, current #1) vs. Geographic location (younger, has plenty of available space, Bay Area is currently the #1 growth area)

By Webhappy2 (Webhappy2) on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 12:52 am: Edit

Everyone here should see this washington post article.

Harvard's Leader Keeps Up Push To Remake School for 21st Century

By Michael Dobbs

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, June 24, 2004; Page A03


Within weeks of taking over as president of Harvard University in July 2001, Lawrence H. Summers captured national headlines after rebuking a star of the university's African American studies department for lackluster academic performance. A few months later, he was back in the news after suggesting that some Harvard professors and students were contributing to "an upturn in anti-Semitism."

These days, the former Treasury secretary and in-house intellectual of the Clinton administration prefers to stick to less controversial matters. During commencement ceremonies this month, Summers called on American universities to do more to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds, repeating a pledge to provide a free education to any student with a family income of less than $40,000 a year.

Behind the scenes, however, supporters and opponents say Summers has been shaking up Harvard with a no-nonsense, often abrasive style that is in sharp contrast to the consensus-building favored by his immediate predecessor, Neil Rudenstine. Over the past three years, he has moved to curb the autonomy of some of Harvard's notoriously independent fiefdoms, place his own people in key positions and reorganize the curriculum.

Many at Harvard applaud the changes, arguing that the nation's oldest and most prestigious university needs a kick in the pants if it is to adapt to the challenges of the new century. Others accuse Summers of insensitivity, micromanagement and running the university the same way he ran the Treasury Department -- with an emphasis on top-down decision-making and an aggressive public relations operation.

Law professor Alan Dershowitz, a Summers supporter, speaks for many Harvard faculty members when he says that Harvard may be "a china shop that needed to have a bull let loose in it."

The scion of a family of distinguished economists, Summers was 28 when he became in 1983 one of the youngest tenured professors in Harvard history. He moved to Washington in 1991 to serve as chief economist of the World Bank before joining the Clinton administration in 1993 as undersecretary at Treasury. He succeeded his patron, Robert E. Rubin, as Treasury secretary in 1999. In Washington and Cambridge, he gained a reputation for combining brilliance with arrogance.

In an interview in his Harvard office, Summers acknowledged treading on a few toes. "The greatest danger for a university is to be complacent and comfortable," said Summers, his feet propped on a coffee table as he sipped a Diet Coke. "I have tried to resist the idea that the fact we have done things in a certain way is the reason why we should continue to do things the same way."

Remaking an institution founded 140 years before the United States is a formidable challenge. Harvard is on the verge of one of the most dramatic expansions in its history, developing a new campus in Boston across the Charles River that will more than double the school's physical size. This comes on top of a lively debate about the research priorities, admissions policies and teaching practices of a university that aspires to set trends for the rest of academia.

One of Summers's recurring themes since becoming president has been the need to break down the traditional barriers between arts and sciences. He complains repeatedly that many students graduate without knowing "the difference between a gene and a chromosome." And he is proud that Harvard has become an international leader in stem cell research, thanks in part to a partnership with his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"He is unafraid of major decision-making," said David Gergen, a professor at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and adviser to Republican and Democratic presidents. "When he first came here, there were some who believed that his tenure might be short, controversial and bruising. Today, most of us think it will be long, productive and extraordinarily creative."

Other opinions range from outright opposition -- almost exclusively expressed off the record for fear of retribution -- to complaints that he stifles debate and fails to involve the faculty in important decisions.

"Larry is a strong-willed person who often expresses ideas before he has thought through all the consequences," said Everett Mendelsohn, a veteran professor of the history of science and one of the few members of the faculty willing to criticize Summers publicly. "You have to have a fairly strong stomach to take him on."

A Money-Making Machine

A huge white-and-yellow canvas tent was erected in a corner of Harvard Yard to host the more than 400 members of the Class of 1954 who returned for commencement week. Over the centuries, Harvard has succeeded in turning its alumni into a money-making machine that is the envy of the rest of the academic world. Typically, a 50th-year reunion such as this one can produce upward of $20 million. The record is more than $50 million.

Although Summers carefully avoided crass talk of fundraising, his message was clear. Harvard may be the richest university in the world, but it needs even more money to face the challenges ahead, which include "building a campus for the 21st century" and serving as "ground zero for a scientific revolution" based on stem cell research. Harvard would have to recruit one-third more professors to catch up with its rival Princeton in student-faculty ratio, he said.

"Of course they need more money," joked securities lawyer David Gerstein, after listening to the president's pitch. "They only have an endowment of $19 billion."

A glance around the tent revealed that the members of the Class of 1954 are being asked to contribute huge amounts of money to a university very different from the one they attended. Virtually everyone here is white. With the exception of a handful of Radcliffe graduates, the alums are male. By contrast, the newly recruited Class of 2008 is more than 50 percent female for the first time in Harvard's history. Minority students account for nearly 40 percent of incoming freshmen.

'A More Conservative Place'

A few weeks before commencement, Summers accepted an invitation to speak to the class of popular religion professor Brian Palmer. A passionate advocate of progressive causes, Palmer has opposed Summers on a number of issues, including a campaign to persuade Harvard to increase wages for its lowest-paid employees and demands that the university sell stock in companies that do business with Israel.

Summers seemed barely able to contain his disdain as he implicitly accused Palmer and others of seeking to turn the university into a "political institution." "It's not for Harvard to have an opinion on the merits of the Iraq war, or the right to choose versus the right to life," he told the students.

Harvard has become "a more conservative place" under Summers, said Palmer, whose three-year contract expires at the end of this month and has not been renewed. In addition to his own imminent departure, he cited the case of African American studies professor Cornel West, who left Harvard for Princeton after Summers criticized his lack of scholarly output.

From the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, government professor Harvey Mansfield praises Summers for setting a "less politically correct" agenda for the university through his appointments and his statements as president. "Commencement used to be a celebration of liberal ideas," said Mansfield, who describes himself as a rare conservative on the faculty. "It's now less political, more evenhanded."

Others note that Summers gained credibility in neoconservative circles because of the West controversy and his September 2002 denouncement of the divestment champions, whom he called "anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent."

Summers has asserted the long-dormant right of Harvard presidents to have a final say in senior faculty appointments, and has vetoed several candidates on academic grounds. This has led to clashes with several of the university's semiautonomous parts.

Summers says he has tried to put "an emphasis on accountability and performance around the university," which has sometimes meant "more intrusiveness, more involvement of my office in decisions than was the case before."

The jury is still out on his long-term effectiveness. Some faculty members, such as Joseph S. Nye Jr., outgoing dean of the Kennedy School, say Summers's legacy will largely depend on how well he handles the expansion to Allston across the river.

"It's far too early to tell whether he will succeed," said Robert B. Reich, a former Harvard professor and Clinton labor secretary. "Changing Harvard," he added, "is like pushing a boulder up a raging river. It's hard work, and all the currents are against you."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

By Ares15 (Ares15) on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 01:23 am: Edit

I like Summers, he's got balls. All the stuff he's doing sound like things I would do.

By Hstudent (Hstudent) on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 10:23 am: Edit

yea hes got guts - and thats what we need right now - especially with this huge expansion

Harvard in 20 years is going to look very very different...

it'll be pretty damn awesome (even MORE awesome than it is already)

By 08pride (08pride) on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 04:02 pm: Edit


By 08pride (08pride) on Wednesday, July 07, 2004 - 02:49 am: Edit


By Stanfordman99 (Stanfordman99) on Wednesday, July 07, 2004 - 03:51 pm: Edit

I think Stanford has already overtaken Yale and Princeton, but not Harvard........yet.

By Snack (Snack) on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 11:17 am: Edit

"Harvard in 20 years is going to look very very different... it'll be even MORE awesome than it is already"

That may be true *if* the Allston expansion succeeds. Harvard has the best medical campus in the country, but a major goal of the Allston project would be to bring their science departments "up to speed" in areas such as multidisciplinary collaboration (e.g. science and engineering) and academic-industry joint ventures. That's the wave of the future. So far Harvard has been very far behind others (particularly Stanford) in this respect, and Summers recognizes that it's a major problem.

But the underlying issue is that others like Stanford (e.g. Bio-X) and UCSF (e.g. Mission Bay campus) have long recognized those needs, and began addressing them over 10 years ago. And now their achievements have become the models that Harvard is hoping to emulate.

Problem is that by the time Harvard gets around to actually "doing" it (because of infrastructure and political issues in Cambridge), it may be 10-20 years in the future ... at the minimum. And by that time, a very possible scenario is that the visionaires at Stanford will have moved on to "the next big thing," and Harvard will again be left 20 years behind.


P.S. This wasn't intended to be a childish "who is better" thread, and I'm definitely not trying to troll for any particular school. It was intended to discuss cultural & philosophical differences between two superb institutions.

By Suzannegrenvill (Suzannegrenvill) on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 12:39 pm: Edit

No. Standford overtakes none of the HYP.

By Hstudent (Hstudent) on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 01:55 pm: Edit

they arent quite as "far behind" as you suppose

look at the collaboration with MIT over stem cell research...

By Alum (Alum) on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 04:01 pm: Edit

Agreed that the stem cell institute may be successful for Harvard. You're also correct that it may be an exaggeration to say that Harvard is "very far behind" anybody in anything. On the other hand, some Bostonians have the mentality that Harvard is inherently better than everybody else ... and that's simply ridiculous.

Re the Harvard stem cell institute: (1) Stem cells may be an important emerging technology, but it's a relatively isolated field. (2) The Harvard Stem Cell Institute doesn't physically exist yet (so far, it's only a group of researchers who are interested in that field). (3) Stanford is actually developing an extremely similar Stem Cell Institute ... without nearly as much fanfare in the popular press.

By Hstudent (Hstudent) on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 05:16 pm: Edit

haha as to your bostonians point, if there is anywhere in the world where harvard is underrated, its by the locals :)

By Mysticwistful (Mysticwistful) on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 11:01 pm: Edit

"Stanford overtakes none of the HYP."

Internationally and anywhere outside the Northeast corner of the United States, Stanford is more prestigious than Y and P. It is more prestigious internationally because it places a higher emphasis on science than Princeton and especially Yale. It is more prestigious domestically because it rules in college sports and has become a household name. I think some Yalies and Princetonians are just bitter that a younger university has overtaken them.

Harvard is still more well known internationally and domestically. But hey, that could all change later on. Didn't Oxford use to be the best college in the world?

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