Stanford names New York university leader as next president

PALO ALTO, Calif. – A neuroscientist who leads a prestigious graduate school and biomedical research institute in New York City was named Thursday as Stanford University’s next president, a position he said he would use to champion basic research and the value of a liberal arts education.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president of The Rockefeller University, will become Stanford’s 11th president on Sept. 1, the California university’s Board of Trustees announced. Tessier-Lavigne, 56, will succeed President John Hennessy, who plans to return to teaching and research this summer after almost 16 years at Stanford’s helm.

The trustees said he was the unanimous choice of a 19-member committee charged with finding Hennessy’s replacement.

“Stanford is a leader among higher education institutions in the world and in the U.S. We need a president who will also be a leader among leaders. We have found it in Marc,” said Steven Denning, the board’s chairman.

A native of Canada who grew up attending French schools in Europe as part of an Army family, Tessier-Lavigne, 56, was a professor at Stanford from 2001 to 2005. His scholarly expertise is brain development and repair, which he has used to research treatments for spinal cord injuries and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

He was the chief scientific officer at biotechnology company Genentech before he assumed the presidency of The Rockefeller University in March 2011. There, he oversaw a campus community of nearly 2,000 scientists, technicians and students and a $1.8 billion endowment. By contrast, Stanford enrolls 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students and has an endowment valued at over $22 billion.

Tessier-Lavigne described himself during a news conference as a firm believer in the public service missions of research universities and in the “importance of acquiring knowledge simply because it enriches the human experience.” Despite his background in science, he said he was just as committed to the humanities and social sciences.

“Our society celebrates the individual, the new idea and the entrepreneur, and I join in celebrating them as well,” he said. “I’m devoted even more to the great institutions that have shaped the society for the better.”

As a private school, Stanford does not have to disclose how much its employees earn. It reports the compensation for its officers and most highly paid executives in the forms it is required to file as a tax-exempt organization. The most recent available shows that Hennessy earned base pay of $805,963 in 2013 and another $331,213 in benefits such as housing.