Stanford education


Stanford - a panoply of programmes, covering the gamut of the arts and sciences.

Stanford - a panoply of programmes, covering the gamut of the arts and sciences.  

A RECENT piece in this newspaper's Sunday Magazine ("Stanford jottings") brought back fond memories. It also underlined one paradox about Stanford and India, about which more below. Having spent three happy years at "The Farm" (as Stanford University is affectionately known and the place where my daughter Amory was born), I would like to complement Sudha Chandrasekaran's informative (albeit written "from the outside looking-in") article with a "from the inside looking-back" perspective.

The reason I went to Stanford (recently ranked number 2 among major research universities worldwide) had little to do with the obvious ones. At the time, the Political Science Department was not the biggest one (that was Michigan, where I had spent the previous summer, thoroughly enjoying Ann Arbor) or the top-ranked (that was Yale); nor had I had the chance to visit beforehand (as I had Princeton and Harvard) to check out the campus and talk with some faculty members. Richard Fagen, perhaps the leading Latin Americanist of his generation, was at Stanford, and I was keen to study with him.

Perhaps it was because of the eucalyptuses and the temperate climate, quite similar to that of Santiago and Chile's Central Valley; it may also have been the red tile design of many buildings, inspired by that of an Andalusian hacienda (which meant a 30 per cent higher cost, leading to many an argument with some fellow students who thought that money should go to scholarships instead); it may also have been the Spanish spoken by the many Latin American (many of them Mexican and Chicano) students one could hear at the Tresidder Student Union, White Plaza and at the Bechtel International Center, but I felt immediately at home there. I also ran into an old friend, Fernando Flores.

An electrical engineer and computer whiz-kid who had been President Allende's Finance Minister at age 28 , Flores had been one of the last former Cabinet ministers released and allowed to leave Chile by the military regime that came to power in 1973. He arrived in Palo Alto in August 1976 with his wife and five kids in tow, plus a modest one-year Ford Foundation stipend , but otherwise not knowing exactly what to do next. A few weeks after his arrival Orlando Letelier, who had been Salvador Allende's Foreign Minister, was blown up at Sheridan Circle, in Washington D.C., with his assistant, Ronnie Karpen Moffit.

As a result, Flores became the senior-most government official of the previous Chilean government in the United States, and many thought he might be the "next-in-line" target of the DINA, the Chilean military regime's notorious secret police. Palo Alto's own police chief, whose most challenging task until then had involved rescuing cats from roofs, was suddenly drawn into checking cars for bombs, programming high-alert security drills and otherwise familiarising himself with the techniques used by Latin American military dictators to get rid of their enemies, not something California suburbs are exactly brimming with ... .

Nothing happened in the end, of course, and Flores, who could have easily joined the lecture circuit speaking about his exploits, decided to do a self-designed PhD at Berkeley instead, combining management, linguistics and philosophy. He eventually became a highly successful Bay Area software designer and management guru. Now a Senator back in Chile, he is one of several presidential candidates cooling their heels for the 2005 elections.

I had heard much about the enormous pressure at top U.S. graduate schools (my master's was from York University in England), yet that was not the impression I got at Stanford. Perhaps what struck me most was the degree to which in the Political Science Department graduate students were immediately considered "members of the guild", in a highly collegial relationship with the faculty. We were also asked to join faculty search committees and the admissions committee.

The atmosphere was incredibly stimulating; especially in the fields I was interested in, International Relations and Comparative Politics. In the former, a true paradigm shift was taking place as the old realist approach championed by Hans Morgenthau gave way to another. Robert Keohane and Joseph S. Nye (now a frequent visitor to India) had just published their by now classic book Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition, and Keohane taught a seminar on International Political Economy that was "cutting edge", bringing new perspectives arising from the experience of the 1973 oil embargo and its consequences for the exercise of power.

One piece of advice Bob Keohane gave us was: "Write out your paper in full, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink; let it rest for 24 hours, and then edit it aggressively, cutting it in half". It literally involved a lot of cutting and pasting at the time, since the PC had not yet been invented and all we had were the good old typewriters, but it is not a bad suggestion.

Alexander L. George (the author, with his wife Juliette, of the leading biography Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House) was the senior IR professor. Just reading the reading lists for his seminars on Foreign Policy Decision-Making or on Political Leadership was an assignment in itself, involving 50 pages or more of minutely selected material. And the joint seminar he taught with historian Gordon Craig on War and Diplomacy was legendary. Rumour was that the first draft of whatever he wrote, be it papers or books, was so impeccable that he never revised anything.

In Comparative Politics, where some of the founding fathers of what is considered contemporary Political Science were to be found, including Gabriel Almond, Seymour Martin Lipset and Giovanni Sartori, a no less exciting atmosphere prevailed. Sartori, now at Columbia, had just published his Parties and Party Systems, in which the "polarised pluralism" of the Chilean party system was analysed and seen as one of the causes of the 1973 breakdown of democracy.

Lipset, (who later pulled off the unheard-of-feat of being elected successively president of the American Sociological Association and of the American Political Science Association, APSA) was fond of the so-called "island theory of democracy". This holds that democracy is more likely to prevail in islands, especially smaller ones, than in continental countries. On one famous occasion he wrote a list of such countries on the blackboard, including, separately, Ceylon and Sri Lanka ... .

Heinz Eulau, another former APSA president, and one of the driving forces of the behavioural revolution in Political Science, who later served on my dissertation committee, used to tell us. "The key to the success of any research project lies in the definition of the problem. Asking the right question is half the job".

This complemented nicely what Richard Fagen (for whom I ended up working both as a research and teaching assistant and who, as planned, was my highly supportive thesis adviser), told me once: "The role model for the political scientist is not the physicist with his white coat in the lab; it is the detective with his magnifying glass at the scene of the crime. To find out what has actually happened is what you must do!"

The Graduate School of Business (GSB), then at the very top of the rankings, had an excellent and rather quiet library, one of my favourite places to study. I have now discovered that, while there, I probably ran into Mukesh Ambani, who, although much younger, was at the GSB at the time. One evening, a rather suspicious-looking gentleman approached me and whispered: "I want to interview you for a job". Somewhat surprised, since I wasn't even looking for one, I suddenly realised where I was, and explained that I wasn't an MBA student. Without missing a beat, he moved on to the next table ... .

Being on the West Coast, Stanford has traditionally looked to Asia and to Latin America, and in Political Science, Japan and China and Brazil, Mexico and Chile got "top billing". So it was odd that all the Overseas Studies Centers were in Europe. In the late 1980s, we fought a hard battle to have such a centre in Santiago de Chile. It finally happened, and one of my more gratifying experiences was to teach the many Stanford undergraduates who trooped from Palo Alto to Santiago.

Having studied under the noted Indian political scientist T.V. Sathyamurthy, my first graduate mentor, at York, I had developed an interest in Indian politics, but was unable to pursue it at Stanford, as there was no faculty specialised in South Asia, which leads me to Stanford's "Indian paradox". As the driving engine behind Silicon Valley, Stanford, of course, is in pole position to work with and further India's IT revolution; there are, I understand, around 1,000 Stanford alumni in India alone, many of which would have gathered on August 21 in Mumbai at the JW Marriot for the Stanford ATI Global Entrepreneurship Conference, "The Rise of the Indian Multinational: Global Business Trends".

As one of the few top U.S. universities with a full panoply of programmes, covering the whole gamut of the arts and sciences, Stanford is in a privileged position to foster high-quality research and teaching on some key issues in Indian society, culture and civilisation. Yet, so far, it seems Stanford has only begun to scratch the surface in terms of its programmatic and curricular activities on matters Indian.

Jorge Heine is the Ambassador of Chile.