CAMBRIDGE, Mass. » In academia, where brand reputation is everything, one university holds an especially enviable place these days when it comes to attracting students and money. To find it from this center of learning, turn west and go about 2,700 miles.
Riding a wave of interest in technology, Stanford University has become America’s "it" school, by measures that Harvard University once dominated. Stanford has had the nation’s lowest undergraduate acceptance rate for two years in a row; in five of the last six years, it has topped the Princeton Review survey asking high school seniors to name their "dream college"; and year in and year out, it raises more money from donors than any other university.
Professors, administrators and students at Harvard insist that on the whole, they are not afraid that Harvard will be knocked off its perch, in substance or reputation. But some concede, now that you mention it, that in particularly contemporary measures, like excellence in computer science, engineering and technology, Harvard could find much to emulate in that place out in California.
Stanford is a recognized leader in many disciplines besides the applied sciences, and its sparkling facilities and entrepreneurial culture are widely envied. But in particular, it basks in its image as the hub of Silicon Valley.
In fact, while the university declined to comment for this article, administrators and professors there have voiced concerns that too much of its appeal is based on students’ hopes of striking it rich in Silicon Valley.
Max Shayer, a senior from Alaska, graduated on Thursday after studying engineering and plans to work for a big oil company. But his younger brother has chosen Stanford over Harvard, and is likely to study engineering.
Shayer said he was pleased with his own education, but that big industrial companies, like Boeing, recruited more heavily at Stanford. "I would like to see Harvard build relationships with these long-established industries," he said.
Jill Lepore, the noted historian and Harvard professor, said there had always been a gap between perceptions of Harvard and the reality, citing examples like Benjamin Franklin’s lampooning the school under the pseudonym Silence Dogood and the film "The Social Network."
"The Harvard in that film," she said, "is utterly unfamiliar to me."