After more than 15 years as president of Stanford University, John L. Hennessy announced June 11 that he plans to step down. Hennessy informed both the Board of Trustees and the Faculty Senate of his decision to depart his post in summer 2016, after serving in major academic leadership roles at Stanford for more than two decades, the university's news service announced.
"The time has come to return to what brought me to Stanford -- teaching and research. Maintaining and improving this university is the work of many people, and I am deeply appreciative of the dedication of so many colleagues to Stanford and its students," Hennessy said to the Faculty Senate, which gave him a prolonged standing ovation.
Since assuming the presidency in October 2000, Hennessy placed an academic emphasis on interdisciplinary teaching and research that is also reflected in a physical transformation of the campus, all designed to heighten opportunities for intellectual collaboration between faculty and students through programs that are emulated by universities around the world.
"John Hennessy has modeled what it means to be a visionary higher education leader for the 21st century," said Steven A. Denning, chair of the Board of Trustees. "He has guided Stanford to be an exemplar of what a modern university must aspire to be."
LaDoris Cordell, former vice provost for campus relations and special counselor to Hennessy from 2001 through 2009, said his leadership elevated the university's international image -- and its endowment.
"He boosted the image of Stanford as a research, tech and science hub. That really took flight under his leadership," she said.
Hennessy's engineering background also helped position Stanford well during the dotcom boom. Now, technology courses have become the most-sought at Stanford, she added.
Hennessy, a computer scientist who founded technology companies, advocated as president for constructive relationships between universities and industry in order to more rapidly bring academic discoveries to the public, according to the Stanford News Service.
"He championed an entrepreneurial spirit built around collaboration and innovation across disciplines, a spirit that pervades Stanford, Silicon Valley and beyond," Denning said.
Hennessy also built unparalleled support among alumni and supporters, including launching and completing the $6.2 billion Stanford Challenge campaign, the most successful fundraising effort completed to date in American higher education.
"He was a prolific fundraiser, raising money for Stanford's endowment. That was just huge," Cordell said.
Hennessy joined Stanford's faculty in 1977 as an assistant professor of electrical engineering. He rose through the academic ranks to full professorship in 1986 and was the inaugural Willard R. and Inez Kerr Bell Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from 1987 to 2004. From 1983 to 1993, Hennessy was director of the Computer Systems Laboratory, a research and teaching center operated by the departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science that fosters research in computer systems design.
A pioneer in computer architecture, Hennessy in 1981 drew together researchers to focus on a computer architecture known as RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing), a technology that has revolutionized the computer industry by increasing performance while reducing costs. In addition to his role in the basic research, Hennessy helped transfer this technology to industry. In 1984, he cofounded MIPS Computer Systems, which designed microprocessors. His later research was in parallel processing.
He served as chair of Stanford's Department of Computer Science from 1994 to 1996 and, in 1996, was named dean of the School of Engineering. As dean, he launched a five-year plan that laid the groundwork for new activities in bioengineering and biomedical engineering. In 1999, he was named provost, the university's chief academic and financial officer. In October 2000, he was inaugurated as Stanford University's 10th president.
Under Hennessy's presidency, Stanford has undertaken major new academic initiatives to address important global challenges of this century, the university's press release stated. Interdisciplinary teaching and research has expanded dramatically with the creation of new cross-school, collaborative programs in human health, international affairs, environmental science and other areas.
The academic growth of the campus has been supported by its physical transformation, preserving the iconic architecture of the original campus while renewing infrastructure to meet contemporary academic needs. The Science and Engineering Quad, the Knight Management Center for the Graduate School of Business, new facilities for Stanford Law School and the School of Medicine, a new Stanford Stadium and multiple new student residences have been completed since 2000.
Hennessy did not specify his future plans but has expressed interest in ongoing engagement in teaching, research and higher education.
Among numerous honors, Hennessy is a recipient of a 2005 Founders Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the 2012 IEEE Medal of Honor, IEEE's highest award. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Association for Computing Machinery, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
The Stanford Board of Trustees will appoint a presidential search committee this summer, to be chaired by former board chair Isaac Stein. Committee members will be drawn from the board, the faculty and the Stanford community.
The committee will begin work in September and conduct a national and international search. "The group will consult broadly with the community as the search unfolds," Denning said.
Stanford Provost John Etchemendy has agreed to stay on for up to one year with Hennessy's successor but he is not a candidate for the presidency. Hennessy and Denning praised Etchemendy for his partnership in leading the university for the past 15 years.