RISC Maker

As a computer architect, he rewrote the rulebook, and now, as president of a major U.S. university, he’s ready to shake things up once again

12 min read
photo of John Hennessy
Photo: Robert Houser

“Computer scientists are more than just nerds with pocket packs,” says John Hennessy. “They can have an appreciation for the arts and humanities and history as well as the sciences.”

This pioneer in reduced-instruction-set computing (RISC) now has a chance to prove his point. Installed as president of Stanford University in 2000, Hennessy is responsible for a student population of some 14 000 and a program that boasts graduate schools of business, law, medicine, and engineering and offers undergraduate degrees in over 60 fields, including archaeology, drama, feminist studies, and music. He is the first computer scientist to head such a large and diverse U.S. university.

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