Why Stanford Shouldn’t Be a V.C. [OPINION]


Stanford will now directly invest in its students’ companies and has given a multimillion dollar grant to StartX, which funds “Stanford-affiliated entrepreneurs.”

It’s certainly a great idea for Stanford. It’s potentially great for our economy. But it’s rotten for students.

Your time at a university is one of the few points in your life where the focus is purely on learning. This space to learn, this room to grow, is a luxurious gift, especially when you consider the years of intensive work and unrelenting effort that come after it. Learning for the sake of learning should be the focus, especially at a heralded institution like Stanford. College is where you learn to think critically, where you can go deep into abstract thought and theory, exploring its value and real-world application.

This is like understanding computer science versus coding an app. It’s the difference between economics and accounting. Economics gives you the architecture, a framework of understanding and application. Accounting is a skill – and, without question, an important one – but it is highly specialized, something you can use to get a job. There’s no reason not to learn both the framework and the finite – but there is every reason to avoid vaulting past what gives you grounding in a subject and the vision to see its broader implications: you shortchange yourself now and down the road.

Stanford is missing another big point. Truly entrepreneurial spirits will make it in their own time, no matter what. I say this as someone who started his first Internet company as a junior in college without any contribution from my undergraduate institution. Nothing could have kept me from it. My project was my own, built by the initiative and effort of our team, without the support, interference or guidance of my alma mater. That separation was 100 percent positive. It kept my time in classes focused on learning, unsullied by feelings of pressure or anxiety that entwining my project with the university surely would have generated. And the experiences I gained pursuing outside funding built my confidence and business savvy in a way that I feel certain would not have happened otherwise.

I believe in startups. I believe in world-class universities. But I don’t believe that universities should muddy their missions with programs that detract and distract from the seminal learning experiences of its students.

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